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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Random thoughts on the world of begging?

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 Norway)? Were there any beggars when we were hunter-gatherers or is begging only a result of civilization?


Anu said...

Beggers are there, everywhere. I have seen them on streets on London, NY, and most of the cities in US. Its just that they are not as badly dressed and they do not come to you and ask, rather they will hold a board explaining why you should give them, I always wonder why always Indian beggers get written about, may be because of their numbers.


Jayesh said...

The incidence of begging is linked to traffic, crime and economics and success is linked to captive time in the economy. The latter makes India a healthy begging state. Many beggars in India are part of a syndicate which is appalling. As regards the amounts, any amount given to a beggar who is not part of a syndicate or does not have to pay hafta benefits the beggar and the economy. One should start a movement to disintermediate middlemen in the begging chain for optimum results.

Anonymous said...

Did this ever happen to you..a beggar who just gets some money from you (read 20 bucks!), comes back begging for more. Its sad but sometimes, what just feels like the right thing to do, you may end up wanting to undo it.

You might just ask yourself, why cant he WORK and earn his next 20 bucks.

Anonymous said...

We always complain why beggars don’t earn their own livelihood but the question is who will give them work. Is there enough work to cater the needs of uncontrollable population growth? If the answer is no then does it justify begging on their part? Who will feed them, at least they are able to eat something at the end of the day by begging, which no doubt is far from a tummy filling or descent food.

We may argue when there is a will there is a way but try imagining yourself in a position when they are bound to beg, it’s quite horrifying and its reaches a position of paranoia when brains stops working.

It’s a wild world outside. Everyone has chosen their own ways to survive from the venomous bite of life, some of which we might think as low esteemed, but maybe that because life give us less or no choice. I’m not being pessimistic but just trying to be realistic.