A life worth living: Meet Chandra Mishra helping beggars turn into entrepreneurs in Varanasi
A journalist-turned-social worker is helping beggars in Varanasi reclaim their lives by imparting entrepreneurship skills to them, reports Namita Bajpai
UTTAR PRADESH: Journalist-turned-social worker Chandra Mishra (59) believes that beggars should be given a chance to live a life of dignity by creating alternative means of livelihood for them. “If beggars can be entrepreneurs, then nobody would be unemployed,” says Mishra. The former journalist hails from a remote village in Odisha. He relocated to Varanasi in December 2020 leaving his family behind in Bhubaneshwar with a mission to make the holy city free from unemployment. He says he has also worked with the state governments of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Haryana, and Delhi on employment policies.
During his stay in Varanasi, Mishra set up ‘Beggars Corporation’ in 2021 to impart entrepreneurship skills. “During the COVID-19 lockdown, thousands of people from the unorganised sector lost their jobs and returned to their villages. This period changed my priorities and my style of functioning,” he says. The huge population of beggars across the ghats of Varanasi moved Mishra who has so far helped 12 families in shunning beggary and getting engaged in making products like conference bags, laptop bags, and shopping bags.
Mishra even approached top hotels and multinational companies in the city to supply the products created by the beggars-turned-entrepreneurs.
As per Mishra, these families, which had been surviving on alms, have now formed a self-help group.
“In 2021-22, people invested Rs 5.7 lakh to boost the business of those beggars. In 2022-23, they were able to make 10 times the investment, taking their business to become worth Rs 57 lakh. These beggars have returned whatever amount was invested in them,” says Mishra.
“The mindset and approach towards beggars need to be changed. If given a chance, they can make a fortune. Earlier, they were dependent on unstable income through begging. Today, they are able to earn at least Rs 10,000 a month,” he claims.
Mishra says that having decided to work on the issue of unemployment, when he went to Kashi Vishwanath temple, before he could take darshan of the deity, he spotted beggars sitting in a 500-metre queue. “I started interacting with them and since I used to live near the ghat, I used to be in constant touch with them,” he recalls.
Gradually, the idea of engaging such a huge human resource for some fruitful purpose led the formation of ‘Beggars Corporation’. Mishra remembers the first person to join the initiative. “Along with her 12-year-old son, Khushbu (name changed) used to beg at the ghat. She was forced to beg as her husband had kicked her out of the house to marry someone else. A single mother, Khushbu readily agreed to learn stitching renouncing begging forever.”
The same year, a dozen such families were engaged in bag making and they came up with a consignment of 500 bags, the biggest ever order, within a span of 10 days for the delegates of a national executive meeting. “It seemed difficult, but they worked day in and out to make the bags,” says Mishra. In April this year, ‘Beggars Corporation’ received the Best Social Impact Award in the Innopreneurs Global Startup Contest organised by Lemon Ideas in collaboration with Startup India.