Begging is the outcome of a society that has failed in its responsibility to offer its citizens a fair opportunity to learn, earn and live a quality life, which all its citizens deserve.
Unfortunately, begging has grown to an alarming proportion in all major cities and towns of Haryana. Begging is no more a mere destitute individual’s activity to try and survive in an uncaring world but is a full blown organised activity, where the money is collected and passes up a pyramid of collectors and at the top of this pyramid are businessman, officials and even politicians, who profit from this.
In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, the monthly collective turnover would run in millions of rupees. So why has Haryana allowed this to go on for so long?
As per the Haryana Prevention of Beggary Act, 1971, Section 2; a beggar is defined as: any person who is found begging; soliciting or receiving alms in a public place whether or not under any pretence, such as singing, dancing, fortune-telling, performing tricks or selling articles.
Under Section 4 of the Act, a beggar can be imprisoned for a minimum period of one year and maximum of two years, while a repeat offence can result in imprisonment up to three years, under Section 5. So if the law is clearly laid out, can this administration state what steps it has undertaken to prevent begging on the streets of Haryana? And how many have been prosecuted for the same? The truth is that the state government is guilty of having turned a blind eye to this problem and has allowed it to grow to a point where it has now become a menace to ordinary citizens and society.
There is no doubt about the fact that beggars too are part of our society and need to be included instead of being excluded from it. To do that we must try and understand what makes a person a beggar and once he becomes one, why does he want to remain a beggar, even when he gets a chance to an alternate and better life.
Begging as a profession
There are mainly two types of beggars. One, who are born to parents who are beggars and who at a very young age know no other activity other than begging. The second category are of those who are introduced to begging or forced into begging by other persons. In both cases, begging is seen as a relatively easy way to earn and live from one day to the next. Most beggars lead miserable lives with no social security or medical care available to them.
This is further compounded by the fact that most of them are drawn to cheap drugs and chemicals that offer a quick high. Very often they are encouraged to take to drugs by their controllers, as this offers a steady additional stream of income for them. So most of what a beggar collects is spent on drugs and shared with his controller. Only the remaining amount is retained by the beggar himself or herself to buy that day’s food. The controllers follow a pyramid chain of command that is fairly well organised.
Strategic areas within each city like important traffic junctions, market places, temples, parks etc. are earmarked and allocated to certain beggars. It’s the responsibility of the controller to provide them protection from police harassment. The police in turn collect their share of money on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. In cities like Mumbai, the underworld controls the begging industry which has a high turnover. Yes, it is now an industry.
Danger to society
If begging was simply restricted to just begging, it was one thing. The problem is that it has now extended to various forms of crime. Beggars are now increasingly expanding their activity to entering people’s homes to steal. The stolen goods then contribute to the chain that recycles stolen goods within a short time.
Many beggars have graduated to stealing cars as they find this more lucrative and exciting. The beggars are also being used as look outs for homes where the owners are either out to office or out of station. In many cases, beggars are used as informants who establish contacts with maids and other domestic helps and get information on suitable homes to target.
Beggars are also graduating to selling and distributing drugs, which is highly lucrative business. In fact, in most cities the youth which are part of the fast life that includes frequent visits to pubs, bar and parties, will tell you of their contacts from whom they get their supply of sophisticated drugs. In many cases, these are street beggars-turned-drug suppliers. The organised gangs prefer them, as they are low risk and with no liability to anyone and therefore they are targeted to be drawn into the trade.
Then again, the most dangerous fallout of street begging is graduating to become a professional killer for organised gangs. The gangs prefer these people for their low risk, low liability factor and if they are addicted to drugs, then offering them a cash reward is usually too tempting to let go an assignment to kill. The gangs get the work done at a low cost and with little risk of exposure to themselves and don’t care if the beggar gets caught or killed in the process.
All the risks and fallout of begging is fully known and understood by the administration. Therefore, it’s a matter of shame for Haryana that makes tall claims of being a rapidly developing state, while we have a growing number of people taking to begging on the streets. The responsibility for this menace lies squarely with the state government that has either abdicated its responsibility or is in collusion with the system that allows this menace to continue to operate with impunity.
So how can Haryana free itself of this menace?
The first thing needed is political will. If this administration doesn't show it, then the people will have to ensure that they bring in an administration that does have the political will.
Next, the state government will have to bring together all stakeholders to this problem and must include NGOs, members of civil society, social activists, members of the police, RWA members and local government officials and jointly address the options of rehabilitation of beggars that offers them a visibly better life, backed with a concrete option for sustained income through alternate career options.
There will always be a section of beggars that will resist giving up begging. The rest who are willing to opt for an alternate life have to be handled with love and care and offered a holistic option, which offers them a life with dignity, something they never had, and backed with a concrete plan to ensure that they can sustain themselves under the new program.
We hope that under Naya Haryana, all beggars are offered alternate lives and brought into mainstream society that will see Naya Haryana permanently free from this social menace.