June 07: Beggary in India is not something which is new to the society and has a long history in the Indian context. It is considered dharma to give alms to a beggar and many sadhus also beg strictly for food as their traditional way of life limits any income. Even Shiva, is believed to have run his household by receiving alms among rishis and sadhus. Buddha used to receive alms as mendicant, who happened to experience change by seeing beggar, and not only did he become friendly with him, but he accepted the beggar as a disciple in the holy Sangha later on.
However the story of begging today is not the same as it used to be in the ancient times although some practices have still remain unchanged. Like other professions begging has also become a multi dimensional exercise. The elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed are taking to begging. The lepers and destitutes graduate to this profession. From beggars who cry in front of you asking for food to entertainers who beg with the help of pets and children, most homeless fall into the category of beggars with more or less the same yard stick.
World knows a beggar by names like “panhandler”, “vagarant”, “untouchable” as a great number of them are found to be inflicted with leprosy and other contagious diseases. Some are even beggars for generations and continue their family tradition of panhandling. Many beggars in the subcontinent even have sizable wealth which they accumulate by "employing" other smaller and newer beggars. They can claim to have territories and then may engage in verbal and physical abuse of encroaching beggars. And this gave rise to the need of doctors, who could help cripple humans, including children to take the trade forward. Quite horrendous is the current picture.
People have witnessed our doctors acting like butchers in India, amputating healthy limbs to aid begging. Surprisingly, it has never created a furore. More than anything else people feel cheated. Cheated by the beggars for one and cheated by one of 'our own' who fell low enough to take money from the beggars and their ringmasters.
No doubt poverty remains the root cause for increase in the number of beggars but also there are numerous places were it has taken a shape of an age old tradition. Rather unfortunate is the fact that India still remains the place with largest population in the world that goes to bed without any food; the largest population who has no clothes to wear and not surprisingly constitutes largest number of beggars.
According to the census of India, there were 750307 beggars and vagrants in India in 1981, which declined to 542875 in 1991, though it further increased to 627688 in 2001. Out of the total, about 2/3 beggars were in rural areas while 1/3 in urban area. Vilas Awchat, an MLA, who raised the issue through a short discussion, said that the number of beggars in Mumbai, which was 20,000 in 1963, rose to three lakh in 2004.
The fact that substantial sections of Indian population suffer from serious deprivations of their basic needs, such as adequate food, shelter, clothing, basic health care, primary education, clean drinking water and basic sanitation at its worst possible.
It has been more than 55 years for Indian Republic still we find that justice (social, economic and political) remains an unrealized dream for millions of our fellow citizens. The benefits of our economic growth are yet to reach them. We have one of the world's largest reservoirs of technical personnel, but also the world's largest number of illiterates, the world's largest middle class, but also the largest number of people below the poverty line, and the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition. Tragically, the growth in our economy has not been uniform. Many a social upheaval can be traced to the neglect of the lowest of society, whose discontent moves towards the path of violence.
The condition of beggars is such that a common man has to completely ignore him and not look at him in order to avoid his own guilt feeling for not helping the same. The bigger problem is that the guilt doesn't go away even when you are done with giving your daily quota of alms. You cannot wash it, little by little with the rupees you throw away. In fact, after you have given that rupee you often end up feeling more guilty- for giving too less. Obviously one does not help the cause at all, this way or that way, and just puts the whole society in dilemma.
Read More: Mumbai
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