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Begging as employment

The societal evil of begging must be countered with pragmatic legislation that is held up by effective oversight and public co-operation

Begging as employment

Selling pakodas is employment. Even begging is employment, said an RSS leader. Perhaps the statement is not entirely off the mark. Recently, police found Rs 3.5 lakh in the bag of an old beggar who died in Anantapur of Andhra Pradesh and had begun begging only four years ago. But what concerns people is the advantage of poverty taken by cartels for trafficking of humans and their organs, be it for prostitution, begging or for kidney transplantation.

Decades of efforts of governments through welfare measures, schemes, job reservations, etc., have not yielded any results. On the other hand, in our paradoxical economic growth, over 60 per cent of the people still reel under stark poverty, while 1 per cent of the population holds 58 per cent of India's wealth and pockets 73 per cent of the wealth generated. The report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) showed that the employment rate slumped to 39.42 per cent, whereas the unemployment rate climbed to 7.91 per cent. Gangs of profiteers are flouring in this situation.

Law prohibits selling of kidneys. Yet, lure of big money makes the poor fall prey to the designs of mafias to part with one of their kidneys, although in reality, they get only a pittance while the rest of the roughly Rs 30 lakh amount is pocketed by the middlemen, doctors and hospitals, even with the use of fake Aadhar cards, etc. Two corporate hospitals, Seven Hills and Shraddha have been booked for such cases in Vizag in the recent past. When such things can happen in hospitals, there is no wonder that begging also becomes a prosperous racket.

Although begging is a crime, poverty is real as well and sometimes leaves little choice in this matter. There are also many for whom it is an easy and lucrative profession. There are also those who have mastered the art of begging. Thus, they come in all ugly shapes and sizes, children, able-bodied, elderly or legitimately crippled or maimed to gain sympathy. It is a common sight in tourist centres, railway stations, religious and spiritual sites, market places, traffic intersections, etc. They mob people, persistently, using different methods of pulling at one's heartstrings. Showing rented babies limply hanging in their arms after sedation, they try to gain credibility and plead for money to feed them with milk. They even assist the visitor to a nearby stall or shop that conveniently happens to sell tins or boxes of such milk. However, when the soft-hearted visitor pays for the expensively priced milk, it is simply shared between the beggar and the shopkeeper.

The money collected by begging is so much that when an old female beggar at a temple died, people found Rs 2 lakh concealed under her sleeping bag-bed. And it is well-organised too. For the privilege of begging in a certain territory, each beggar hands over a good part of his takings to the gang's ringleader. If one wants to arrange an anna daan for poor people, he is advised to contact the kingpin on his mobile, who would help in arranging the number of beggars suggested. Often one has to wait for a date from him. This preoccupation is so rewarding that the numbers are growing each day.

Varying estimates put their numbers as 5 lakh to 15 lakh across the country. According to the government census results (2011), West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have the most beggars. Child-begging is particularly prevalent in UP while there are more beggars with disabilities in West Bengal. The number of beggars is also relatively high in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Assam and Odisha. However, there are questions about the accuracy of the data available.

Although it all looks innocuous, it is worrisome that young children are sucked into these rackets. Every day, at least three lakh children are drugged, beaten and even maimed or burned to elicit sympathy and forced to beg. According to the Indian National Human Rights Commission, up to 40,000 children are kidnapped every year, of which at least 11,000 remain untraced. It has become a multi-million rupee industry controlled by human trafficking cartels, sometimes in connivance with the police.

Action by the police, who are the enforcers of the Anti-Begging Act, is lackadaisical. Firstly, they find futility in enforcement since the young children are let off only after a reprimand. Moreover, for every 50 children rescued, there will be many more that are being added every day. Secondly, they feel, these children are not orphans since they either have parents or god-parents to take care of them.

However, a conscientious exercise, 'Operation Rakshane', was launched by Bengaluru police in 2011 in coordination with government departments and charities. Months before carrying out a series of rescues, they spread out across the city, taking pictures of children on the street, documenting their daily activities and shadowing them back to their homes. The meticulous work of teams of police and health workers, led by IGP Pronob Mohanty, ultimately succeeded in rescuing 300 children on a single day and arresting the traffickers. Even booklets were prepared on suggestions for surveillance, data collection and rehabilitation. It is indeed a template that can be replicated across the country as a model of inter-agency cooperation.

Apart from the police, the other important institutional mechanisms to deal with the problem of begging are the social welfare departments, which run the State Beggar Homes, along with many other shelters. However, these delivery systems have been consistently failing. For example, a few years ago, the age-old fraud in the SWD-run Beggar Home in Delhi was exposed by the ACB through a sting operation. The institution would show the number of beggars on record and claim huge amounts for the expenditure on their maintenance. However, in reality, the beggars were free-birds, using the place only as a night-shelter. The whole day they would be out in the field to earn money through begging and share a part of it with the institution people.

In fact, the same SWD was found indulging in frauds in all other Homes as well – destitute women, rescued prostitutes, old age, children, etc. The ACB arrested over a dozen senior officers along with others. It is a story of blatant loot, happening for decades. A contractor prepares inflated estimates running into crores of rupees for the maintenance of all these homes using forged invoices of government supply agencies like Kendriya bhandar, These notes are prepared from his house on behalf of the concerned officials and are followed up for sanction. Once sanctions are obtained, he would pocket the orders for supplies. Then, there is another fraud – short and/or low-quality supply, at higher prices. Obviously, the delivery mechanism fails and a huge budget is pilfered quietly, without any public glare. SWD of Delhi is only an example of the murky elements in the country. There are several other cases of abuse too, like the incident at Tirupati.

In a recent incident, urban police of Tirupati nabbed the Superintendent of a government-run shelter home for girls in a case of rape of a minor girl who was sent to the shelter when her mother died and her father was serving a jail sentence. The crime came to surface only when the good-natured Chairman of the Committee of Kadapa shelter home, where she was shifted, found her depressed and interacted with her. Only then did the traumatised girl reveal her ordeal that involved the superintendent in Tirupati raping her for the past four years under threats of physical harm. Many other girls were also revealed to be his victims. An innocent-looking Jekyll in a position of authority and trust; a predating Hyde in action, like Swami Chinmayanand of UP!

Instead of making the delivery mechanisms effective in accounting for every penny of public money spent, governments routinely provide budgets and the systems are maintained symbolically without working for a change or without a vision to ultimately help in curbing the malpractices. It needs a real commitment to tackling the anathema of beggary.

It is necessary that departments like Social Welfare, Endowments etc., put their heads together to come out with innovative ideas. But, primarily, it should be felt that one should not promote laziness. For instance, temple authorities should not allow beggary in their areas. All those who are really poor and are sustaining themselves on alms should get registered with them and be provided free shelter and food. At the same time, all the able-bodied among them should be made to work and contribute in some way to the temple in tasks like cooking, cleaning, looking after trees and plants, growing vegetables etc. Instead of allowing them to harass devotees, a donation box requesting devotees to liberally donate for their welfare would help in raising funds. Even their medical needs could be taken care of and their children could be sent to school. It is not difficult to organise such things at all temples, churches, Gurudwaras, mosques etc.

The action of Bengaluru police and that of the Anti-corruption Branch of Delhi are standing examples of success with public initiative and participation. Therefore, it is imperative that in each of these matters – trafficking of organs or humans, prostitution or beggary, responsible members of the public are assigned a specific role in bringing about innovation and change. Ultimately, the delivery mechanism should work towards achieving the mission of their creation. Since Central and state governments have not been successful in generating employment and alleviating poverty, they should work to mitigate the situation.

Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal

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