Most of the footpaths and abandoned corners are occupied by beggars in Mumbai. They beg across the city, which includes important monuments, railway stations, religious and spiritual sites, and shopping malls. Here you will find most of the beggars at major traffic joints as well, where they approach vehicles while the lights are red. The number of beggars is relatively high in Maharashtra. However, as it’s difficult to determine who is a beggar, there are issues over the accuracy of data available.
In Mumbai, we are often approached by a child or woman wanting some powdered milk to feed a baby. Or someone claiming a dead body is placed at home needs money for a funeral, or you will get two ladies with children asking money to return to their village as they lost their purse, they pretend as if they are very naïve and someone robbed them. Sometimes with some medical prescription in hand, they will assist you to a nearby medical shop that suitably happens to sell the medicines. However, the medicines will be expensively priced and if you hand over the money for it, the shopkeeper and the beggar will simply split the proceeds between them.
Beggars also rent babies from their mothers each day, to give they are begging more credibility. They carry these babies who are sedated and hang limply in their arms and claim they have no money to feed them. In the worst of cases, they make that child cry so that you can melt. On some signals, they are an utter nuisance, by mistake, if you are on a bike or in auto rikshaw, they will touch you and nag by coming very close to your body.
Beggars come in all shapes and sizes in India, and they have many different methods of pulling at your heartstrings in an effort to get money. Unfortunately, too many foreigners feel that they MUST do something to help Indian beggars. The beggars are also often quite persistent and won’t take no for an answer. As a result, tourists start throwing out money. Most foreigners feel privileged to click beggars’ pictures to portray Indian poverty. There are literally photo sessions on the street. Our Indian beggars know the pulses of Firangs and they leave no stone unturned to exploit them.
While it can appear callous when you hush the beggars, the best is to ignore beggars in India. There are so many that even if you want to give them, it’s not possible to give to them all. Another common problem is that if you give to one beggar, such a gesture will quickly attract others. The reality is that you’re not responsible for solving India’s begging problems. The beggars can be very misleading, even the children. While they may be all smiles or pleading faces, they can be very rude to you when you turn them down.
Mumbai has dedicated beggars’ homes if they wish to go, however, the irony is that nearly 70 to 80 per cent of the people brought into the beggars’ homes are not beggars, nor were they caught in the midst of the act of begging. The cops are not trained to identify beggars, and they randomly round up people whom they feel might be a beggar. The beggar act also gives immunity to the police, as it has many loopholes.
Most inmates at Beggars’ Home are not from Mumbai, nor were they all lifelong beggars. They were mostly poor, mentally ill, disabled, hearing-impaired, addicts, or victims of abuse. That being said, not all of them came from economically vulnerable backgrounds. Many other women at Beggar’s Home ended up there by mere “accident”.
The police conduct regular raids in certain spots across Mumbai and arrest people suspected of begging. For those who have not previously been detained under the Act, the Magistrate Court in Mumbai’s Kurla neighbourhood solicits a summary inquiry on the allegation of begging. Till the inquiry is made, the person is remanded in custody at a “receiving centre” — like Beggars’ Home. It is likely that this is what happened to most of the inmates. The actual beggars on the streets know how to bully or avoid cops.
There are many NGOs like Koshish working for the Beggars’ Home. Koshish plays an active role in representing their clients at every stage. Due to the arbitrary definition of begging, many remanded in custody at Beggars’ Home are not “beggars” so, Koshish works with the Probation Officer and every client to ensure the release of the wrongfully convicted. However, many clients that come to the Home are unable to remember key personal information. In that case, Koshish gathers as much information from the client as possible and then follows up on leads with the help of the police and other women’s welfare departments.
The only way to go forward from here is to redefine the problem: it is obvious that the issue is not begging and that defining it as such lends a negative connotation to the public perception of beggars. They are viewed as scammers, as lazy citizens who can make a living but choose not to. Beggars’ homes need to be set in order, cops need to identify actual beggars, there should be a full proof plan to rehabilitate them. Eradicating beggars for Mumbai Street is a collective responsibility and we all must do our bit.
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