BENGALURU : According to the 2011 Karnataka Census, the average literacy rate in Bengaluru is 87.67 per cent. Now, even seasonal beggars, who visit the city at least three-five times year, are coming here to ensure that their kids get quality education.Children selling pens, roses and balloons at several traffic signals in the city is a common sight. This number has gone up now, especially because schools have shut down for the summer. Migrating to the city from Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Nagpur, these beggars find that the standard of education is higher here than what their children receive in their native places. Bengaluru, Kerala, Delhi, Mumbai and Pune are the most common places they migrate to.
'Education here in different languages, unlike in native'Nagamma has been in Bengaluru for over a year, and had migrated from a village in Andhra Pradesh. She arrived here with her kids, hoping for a better life. “Back home, we only get `100 a day, but here in Bengaluru, I am able to earn `200-300 a day,” she says. With the little money she earns, she is able to enrol her kids and her brother in school. The kids, along with their mother, sell roses and pens to earn money for their survival.
Bhagya, a mother of two, arrived in the city just two weeks ago, and has been visiting at least three-four times a year, whenever her children have holidays from school. Although she and Nagamma belong to the same village, they met in the city and have been friends since then, and share the same dream - to ensure their children lead a good life. They come out in the evenings at 4 pm and sell or beg till 11 pm.
According to Nagamma, “In our village, schools only teach in our native language, Telugu, and the quality is not up to mark,” she says, which is why she left her hometown. Government schools here are able to teach in English, Hindi, Kannada and Telugu, which will help them if they need to migrate to another city. These seasonal beggars move from place to place to avoid stringent laws when implemented.
While Nagamma’s kids and her brother attend a school in Corporation Layout, Bhagya has been visiting Bengaluru with her kids to save money before shifting permanently with her husband. Her husband, who is a truck driver back in the village, earns `300 a day, which is not enough to meet the needs of the family. Hence, Bhagya, and her friend Sita, along with their kids, sell goodies during the holidays, enough to buy food for the day. “We are hoping to send our children to the same school as Nagamma and make a living here,” Bhagya says. At present, the group stays at Nagamma’s shed near the school, and beg or sell on St Mark’s Road.
Meena, a mother of three, resides at Goraguntepalya, and also sends her children to a government school in the area. Her kids have been selling roses since they arrived in the city last year from Tamil Nadu, which helps in paying school fees of `8,000 a year. “Life is hard back in my hometown, my children get to make their own living here,” she says.
'Difficult for kids to attend school once they start begging'
Vishalakshi, a member of the Childline Department at the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA) for over 20 years, says that there are those beggars who are willing to send their children to school, and want the best for them simply because they themselves did not have the opportunity to receive the same. However, it is difficult to manage these kids since they are migrants and parents can easily discontinue their education to take up begging as a profession. “Keeping track of these children is hard since most of the beggars don’t have permanent residences here, and they usually take their kids out once they reach high school,” she says. Jenifar Balan, a Childline Coordinator and counsellor for BOSCO, says it is difficult for children to go to school once they resort to begging. “Once they see that they are earning money, they start skipping classes without their parents knowing, visit internet cafes and roam around the city.”
family tradition of Begging hinders education
Nagamma is hoping that her kids won’t have to dropout due to financial circumstances. According to Father Edward Thomas, member of the Karnataka State Commission for Child Rights Protection (KSCCRP), most beggars usually prefer to have them beg, as it has been a tradition in their families, while also agreeing that this isn't the norm. In 2014, Nagarakana D, block education officer, Vijayanagar, came up with an initiative to set up some space in an ICSE English-medium government school in Hosahalli, and enrolled 25 children from the balloon community (a community of people that sells balloons for a livelihood), which includes food and stay and free education.
“The parents were very happy and were willing to send their children to school initially,” says Father Edward. While the programme started out with 25 children, eight-nine of them dropped out over the years due to parents' unwillingness or due to them migrating outside Bengaluru. “It is a very challenging job to get them to stay in school and not drop out. The children are happy to go along as well, not realizing what is at stake,” says Nagarathna. Currently, there are 24 children, including five from Madhya Pradesh who are joining this year.