Destitute and needy children, adults, and even elderly, on the streets, around traffic lights, outside religious places, in markets, near tourist spots and almost everywhere else is a common sight in India.
According to estimates, around 5,00,000 people in India resort to begging for their daily needs. And it is surprising to find out that in most cities, begging is often done as an organized activity. There are gangs which have leaders. The beggars hand over all the money collected during the day to their gang leader for allowing them to ask for alms in the particular area.
The industry has become a kind of profession and its professionals, the beggars, are known for going to any extent to earn more money. This includes impairing and disfiguring themselves, and even kidnapping small children who would accompany them in their activity.
According to statistics by the Indian National Human Rights Commission, close to 40,000 children are kidnapped every year. Most of them are kidnapped to be forced into the “profession” of begging. It is even more disheartening to know that almost 300,000 children across the country are beaten, drugged and made to beg every day.
Many of us do not know that begging has been criminalized in 22 states (including some union territories) under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959 while states have their own anti-begging laws as well. As per a rule by the Delhi Traffic Police under the Motor Vehicles Act, a fine of Rs. 1000 can be levied on those found giving alms to beggars at traffic lights.
An Authorized police officer can arrest beggars without any warrant and send him/her to court. Children below five years that are found begging are sent to juvenile justice tribunal. The aim of anti-begging laws is to remove beggars from their current profession, which is illegal, to something legal by training them and employing them elsewhere.
While the statistics are alarming, the police do little to tackle the problem. The government has rules and regulations against begging in the country but there are impediments in implementation. And the result is an expanding “begging industry” in the country.
People who give money to beggars are not showing pity but directly supporting their activity, which is illegal as well as inappropriate. This encourages groups that carry out begging on a large scale to further expand their groups by kidnapping, disfiguring, drugging and torturing more and more children.
There are a few things that, if done, can reduce the scale of the activity to a great extent, if not eradicate it completely. Foremost of all, the government itself needs to make its laws more serious and implement what it has formed. Pension for the old and incapable, means of livelihood for the capable and education for the children who beg should solve a major part of the problem. Also, it’s high time that NGOs be more proactive in this matter than they are at present.
Most importantly, the people who give money to these beggars need to think a little more about their long term welfare and stop giving them money. The money that we give to them is the only thing that keeps them motivated to beg and bring more and more people to the streets to beg for them.
We must remember that by giving them our so-called helping hand, we are doing nothing but ruining the lives of thousands of more like them who will be brought into this illegal exercise if we don’t stop “helping”!