The Ever-growing Begging Population: with special reference to Kerala
By Gowri Meempat
As a country which faces a massive unemployment crisis, India has an increasing population of destitutes and beggars. Though we have population growth in an alarming rate, we fail to make use of our human resources. The situation is no different in Kerala, a state with a cent percent literacy rate. As per the data, Kerala has 3,715 beggars on its streets and among them 1,533 are literate. We see them everywhere, in villages and towns, the handicapped, the old, transgenders, even breastfeeding women indulging in beggary for livelihood. Most people would at most sympathise and offer them alms and carry on, never once giving this issue much thought. But the attitude towards beggars has been changing lately. Beggars are often accused of crimes like kidnapping children, thieving and many a times even the innocent ones are punished. There has been intense anti-beggary campaigns in social media and incidents of mob lynching are reported in various parts. Banners warning "beggary prohibited area" are found in most public areas within the state.
This anti-beggary wave caused the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 . Now 20 states have adopted the same or have made their own anti-beggary legislations. The Kerala Prevention of Begging and Protection of Destitute Beggars Bill aims to make begging illegal in the state. The police can take into custody without warrant, any person taking alms from the public. Persons found begging, except juveniles or a destitute beggar, should be produced before the court in 24 hours. Those incapable of manual labour would be put in ‘relief centres’ where education and vocational training would be given while able-bodied persons would be lodged in ‘work centres’ where skill trainings would be given.
No one is to be kept for more than a month in these homes. If any person gets caught the second time, he would be put in the centre for a maximum of 3 years. The bill also suggests that if the beggar has a guardian he could be asked to provide maintenance if he is able to. If there is a person wholly dependent on the beggar, as in the case of a baby or a mother or both, the state government shall introduce a scheme to take care of them. Whoever exploits a person for beggary shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend upto 3 years. He is also liable to pay a compensation needed for the total rehabilitation of the beggar as ordered by the court. The detained shall be released on condition or unconditionally if the superintendent is satisfied that the person detained would abstain from begging, recommending to the court.
The bill is an efficient one in social, constitutional and legal terms. But the execution of similar anti-beggary acts in other states wasn't successful. Police brings in beggars or destitutes to the Settlement only when some sort of public nuisance is caused by them. Else they do not take any sort of action or initiative. The conditions of rehabilitation centers are worse. There is mixed reception over such beggary eradication projects. "Alleppey was the first Kerala town which joined the project and it was named hunger-free Kerala and not beggar-free Kerala, which I think was a duplicitous tactic of the state. In the pretence of rehabilitating beggars and providing them with skill development programs and making them self sufficient, the state acted to get rid of them off the streets so that the place look more appealing to tourists. They didn't even ensure the rehabilitation of the beggars.", a student from Thrissur, who preferred anonymity said. While some consider it as a violation of human rights, the majority is enraged over how we often find even able bodied men go begging and use the money to buy liquor. They are annoyed that even our limited resources are wasted by this act and thus satisfied with the bill's proposition for employing beggars. Yet mostly they either ignore the beggars or assault them, never trying to get the officials into action.
It is imperative for the government to implement welfare schemes to prevent any further increase in the population of beggars in the state. As per Article 41 of the constitution of India, the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want. Article 23 again, prohibits the trafficking of human beings and forced labor.
Children are kidnapped by the begging mafia and crippled. They are tortured and trained to beg in the streets and not many manage to escape. The Directive Principle ensures that the state shall strive to minimise income inequalities and endeavour to eliminate economic inequality as well as inequalities in status and opportunities, not only among individuals, but also among groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations as per Article 38. The State should aim to secure the right to an adequate means of livelihood for all citizens, both men and women as well as equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
The State should work to prevent concentration of wealth and means of production in a few hands, and try to ensure that ownership and control of the material resources is distributed to best serve the common good. Yet, the rich of this country keeps growing and the lives of poor worsen day by day. Article 21 says to live means live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to health, right to pollution-free air, etc. Hence it is the government's duty to get its citizens a respectable life.
The State does spend huge amounts of money for the purpose of rehabilitating beggars. However this money is not channelized in the right direction. Homes set up for beggars do not serve their purpose. Wastage of public money therefore adds on our list of queries. Proper employment opportunities in the form of vocational trainings, setting up of micro or tiny units of industries and financial support to small scale farmers and other traditional laborers could check the creation of beggars to a great extent.
Poverty alleviation programmes need to be executed effectively. The reach and effect of these programmes shall not spare any individual even in the remotest parts of our country. Sympathy, ignorance or mob lynching is not the answer to the ever-growing begging population. Instead of treating them as a hindrance to our path to become a developed nation, we need to look at the root causes and find a resolution. They are to be rehabilitated, trained to fend for themselves and also to be equipped with staple resources to make a living and also to lead their lives with dignity.
“For just 4% of its GDP, India could at least provide a basic and modest set of social security guarantees for all citizens with universal pensions, basic health care, child benefits and employment schemes.” says UNDP, Human Development Report 2015. What then causes the hurdles is a matter that needs to be pondered upon seriously. Let's ensure that no person turns to begging due to lack of alternatives.