The Chatwal-Sachdev wedding has been touted by news channels as to have cost Rs 200 Cr. The Art of Living group celebrated its 25th anniversary in royal splendor (They claim to spend a lot on poor, but by the looks of their buildings and non-Indian followers, it seems they also spend a lot on themselves). On the contrary an urban beggar makes his living on roughly Rs 20 a day. I often consider the following questions: What is the right amount to give to a beggar? Which beggars must I give alms to? Why should one give to a beggar?
When I was a kid, beggars in my small town were usually given alms in kind (two fistful of rice, potatoes, and clothes); occasionally one would give 10-25 paisa to them. The beggars were familiar to us, we often knew their personal details; and each beggar would visit only his/ her patron households. In big cities like Mumbai, beggars are complete strangers. They don’t visit houses; they are usually at train stations, public places, and traffic signals. I have noticed that people usually give Re 1 to beggars. Is that amount in sync with inflation trends? How frequently do we adjust our alms-amount to be in tune with our salary increments? How much do we give away as alms in a year – Rs 5, 20, 100? How does it compare with our other expenses or as a percentage of salary- What is the ideal ratio?
And is it right to donate to a beggar? Mainstream logic has come up with interesting theories – Never give to a kid beggar – since it destroys his faith in the value of work. Isn’t the 4 year old’s faith in everything already destroyed? Is a total of Rs 10 from alms a day sufficient to provide him the luxury of junking work? One of the related maxims is that beggars are a nusiance to India's tourism industry. Is a tourist's momentary discomfort worth more than a day long hunger of the beggar?
And then why should one give to a beggar? Some religions like Islam make it an explicit demand on its followers to give alms. Others give, believing that his little donation will bring him good fortune in future. Many Samaritans give, believing every man has a duty towards the other. I, an atheist and a believer in myself being nothing more than an accidental collection of atoms, am blind to all these rationales. Whenever I give to a beggar, it’s an innate reaction to the shock of the situation of someone being in such a poor state (as to beg) in the same world I live in. And sometimes, it’s an anthropological experiment on my part to see the facial expression of the beggar when he/ she gets something unexpected (say a Rs 10 note).
Is begging inevitable in any society (I have seen them even in HDI topper