Most people in the city spent their weekend shopping for Deepavali, but meeting beggars was the agenda for a group of students and social workers from Madurai. While the majority of today’s general public looks down on beggars and some among them drop a coin or two into their out stretched palms, very few have interacted and sympathised with them. Students from the Madurai Institute of Social Sciences did just that this weekend, travelling to 32 different spots in Chennai to understand the life realities of a beggar.
This enthusiastic group of students met with beggars as part of a survey to assess the reasons and misery that they face. They found that alms-seekers are a diverse populace. There were parents abandoned by children, young people unable to find employment and children from poverty stricken families. Each one of them had a heart-wrenching story to tell. “Usually people tend to look at beggars with derision but when we listen to their stories, we were emotionally moved”, said Sivagurunathan, a student doing his Masters in Social Work. Their life is a struggle every single day.
There were many able-bodied beggars and some are even skilled. “They are ashamed of begging and asked us to help them find jobs,” said Nishanth, a professor at MISS. The students even found one person who was a post graduate but had turned to begging because of unemployment. Mendicants who are smart operate in an organised way, soliciting crowds who throng temples, churches and mosques on particular days. But many of them have expressed a desire for a normal life, given an opportunity.
Data of over 2,000 panhandlers’ begging strategies, their physical and mental health, living conditions and income status were collected from 15 cities and towns in Tamil Nadu. The institute will submit a report and recommendations to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment after a comprehensive analysis of the data. Mayor Saidai Duraisamy, who inaugurated this survey, promised that the Tamil Nadu Government will also take up these recommendations and work towards eradicating begging from our society.
Chairman of the Madurai Institute of Social Work, Captain DVP Raja, who has been involved in Social Work for over 60 years called for government involvement to rehabilitate beggars.
“Our aim is to make them leave begging, train them and help them get jobs,” said M Kannan, the principal. Overall it was an eye-opening experience in the field for these social work students.