If we see and think from a broader perspective, we all—privileged and underprivileged—are beggars in our own way. Politicians beg for votes; we beg God for riches, well-being, and whatnot. People visit spiritual leaders to beg for solace and prosperity; beggars on the street beg for their basic needs. Remember as you think that God can fulfill your entire wish if you demand it. Similarly, beggars on the street see you as God because they know that when they ask, you have the capacity to give them something. Most of the time, we disregard our abilities and compassion by insulting and humiliating those who seek assistance. Mumbai has a history of having the richest beggars; they might have what you never thought of, but still they beg because they chose to do so. Mumbai appears to be the dream city for beggars, because here they somehow manage to meet their basic needs.
The majority of beggars in India are leading a pathetic life. Many are suffering from various diseases. Their outward appearance itself creates nausea in one’s mind. Their tattered clothes, emaciated bodies, and unclean body frames, followed by equally unclean mangy dogs, are an eyesore. There was one beggar at Krishna Nagar, Borivali. He was my morning walk partner. He used to stay alone on the footpath of a bungalow. Later on, the landlords asked him to evict the pavement and shift to another side. The area was not fully developed, so he could hardly ask for some help. One day, I saw him sitting on the other side of the pavement. It was raining badly, and the man was so fragile that he could hardly call us. He just raised his hand to ask for assistance.
I had both an umbrella and a raincoat, so I gave him an umbrella. He wanted something else, but I failed to understand his sign language. I returned home, but while going to the office, I saw someone give him food, but he did not eat it. The footpath was full of water, and he somehow adjusted himself in the corner with that umbrella. The very next day, I approached some BMC staff and asked them to help this old man. But they were not ready to encourage beggars by providing them a safe place to stay. I called my home help; she brought meters of poly sheets and created a small tent out of it. That tent became the home of that old man until his death.
From that day on, he became my street buddy. Every morning I used to give him some money for food and tea; gradually, people in the locality also started giving him food, water, and leftovers. Monsoon season approaches; every year, my organization distributes blankets to the people on the street. That year, I got two blankets for this old man too. His happiness knew no bounds. Looking at his happy face, I felt scared. In sign language, we conversed for ten minutes. Can you imagine him looking like the king of his small tent with new clothes and blankets? Some people gave him some bed sheets and a mattress too. His asset was a dirty bag that he always used to keep under his head.
By now I could understand him completely. During COVID, many NGOs in Mumbai made special efforts to reach beggars on the street. Mumbai might be a concrete jungle, but it has a lot of humanity and love for deprived people. Each one of them does something or other in their capacities. But an old beggar in a remote corner gets neglected. During those days, there was one young boy who started his catering start-up. I gave him his first job, providing two full meals to such beggars who were not part of the mainstream street population. Throughout his time in COVID, he served these people wholeheartedly. His start-up needed funds, but getting a bank loan was not possible for him, and meanwhile COVID had also financially broken everyone, so no one was ready to give him financial assistance. Still, he continued doing his job.
Let me cut the story short. In those days, the old beggar met me as I walked past that night; he was trying to say something by showing his bag. I was very busy with my own priorities; I just ignored him and, as usual, asked for his well-being before moving ahead. Next morning I came to know that he had passed away. I rushed to his hut; his body was taken away by BMC personnel. His stuff was also taken into custody; to our surprise, when that bag was opened, there was a big amount in it. Well, the cops did charity work for other beggars with that money and made sure the small streetside eatery of that caterer got some funds for its makeover. Well, this was one of the rarest of the rare stories to tell, but we need government policies to make our country beggar-free.
In the whole of India, one may find a dozen rich beggars. Rich people may possess lakhs of rupees. Some may lend money to small traders at a reasonable monthly rate of interest. Even if they possess so much money, they cannot lead a decent life by buying or renting a house in a decent locality because the whole town would know them as beggars, and there is a fear of losing their clients. Despite having so much money, they are unable to abandon their begging profession because it pays well.
Most of the beggars are working for a gang that collects money from them every evening; worse still, they dress them to look like beggars. These normal people, fully capable of doing manual labor, are dressed and, yes, touched up to look poor. In this case, charity does not help; there are a number of children who are stolen from hospitals, homes, and streets. Worse, their poor parents sell them to these gangs to be used as beggars. Their limbs are operated upon, and they are made physically handicapped so that they can get alms. It is an endless chain, which is a vitiating circle; you give more money, the gangs want more, and they steal more children to create more beggars for society.
In order to improve their condition, successive governments have to formulate schemes in their favor. Beggars Rehabilitation Centers should be established in all states where beggars can be assigned a task and given food, shelter, and income-generating skills so that, once released, they can easily make a living in the outside world. However, the majority of those released continue to engage in the same illegal activity, are apprehended by Rehabilitation Center employees, and are returned to the center to repeat the process.