People suffer from guilt sanitation. We feel guilty about so many things. So, we give alms and this encourages beggary,” says Vidyakar, a social worker who runs Udavum Karangal, a home for the destitute, sick and dying in Chennai. Beggary, Vidyakar contends, cannot be attacked legally, but only through a change in social mindsets and attitudes. Recalling the round-up of beggars by the police in places like Chennai and Coimbatore about two or three years ago, he said, “The story always ended with the arrests. Nothing is done. There is no scope for rehabilitation because of lack of infrastructure,” he rues.
Add to that the stark fact that most beggars are not poor. “Some are actually well-to-do and have associations and lawyers,” he points out. “So, even if somebody is arrested, there are people to bail him/her out immediately.”
These are the “professional beggars,” who refuse to be reformed. On the other hand, there are those who have been thrown out of their homes, orphans or maimed and end up on the streets. Sick and dying, they are rescued by various NGOs such as Udavum Karangal.
Citing his own experience in tackling the menace, Vidyakar says his organisation spotted a nine-year-old girl, her legs in plaster, regularly begging near LIC building on Anna Salai. “We tried rescuing the child. We put her in a juvenile home. But her advocates came and got her released and she is now back in her old place.”
And not all beggars are happy about being rescued because they find it difficult to give up their old habits. The social worker cites the example of an old man, who was picked up from the street, given a bath, shave and then good food. At the end of it, he asked for a beedi kattu. Refused, he took to ranting. “You people don’t even have the capacity to get me a beedi. Then why bring me here,” Vidyakar quotes the beggar as saying.
He also points to some North Indian women dressing up like pregnant women and begging. Some, like children, are hired for begging. In tourist spots like Mamallapuram, these children “sell their poverty”, following and touching the foreigners, who shell out the money to escape them. “These beggars know how to get things.”
A change in attitude is essential to rid beggary from Indian society. “We give, so they take. We should stop the practice of giving alms in the name of pariharam and so on,” Vidyakar declared, showing the need for a sea change in mindset to end this evil.