I do not beg for money I beg for survival

  • SAMEED KAKROO
  • Publish Date: Aug 19 2018 10:13PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 19 2018 10:13PM
I do not beg for money I beg for survival

SAMEED KAKROO writes about the wretched life of beggars, questioning the ethics of banning seeking of alms by the poor

 

As the traffic light changes to red and vehicles come to a halt at Bathindi Chowk, Jammu, a lot of women and children emerge almost out of nowhere and go from one car to another, knocking at the windows, begging for money. They are often ignored, sometimes despised and abused and occasionally helped. Yet, they always return, hoping and trusting in the charity of strangers. 

In the ensuing chaos, a frail Hadi Mohsin just sits on the divider and waits for people to get their cars near him and give him alms. Mohsin, a 32-year-old orphan, is unable to move from one car to another as he is a polio victim. His legs aren’t strong enough to carry his weight and he uses his arms to move. 

“My parents died when I was very young. I do not even remember their faces. What I do remember is how polio destroyed my life,” says Mohsin, with a look of annoyance clearly visible across his face.

Mohsin was brought up by a Hindu family in his native village Sambha, Madhya Pradesh. “They were really good people and they took good care of me. They taught me about Islam, my religion, and never forced me to pursue their faith. The family shifted to Jammu and that is how I landed up here. After a point, because of some personal differences, I left their house and started to live alone and that is when the real struggle started.” 

Begging is a matter of dire necessity for Mohsin, as even after claiming to have completed his MA Final in Hindi, no one wanted to employ him. “I have been begging for the past 15 years now. Every year, I would beg for six months, save money and then spend it on my education. I have lived a very hard life, but I always felt that education would change the game for me. Alas! I am still here, begging. No one wants to employ a cripple,” he says, with misty eyes. 

Just like Mohsin, Radha Kumari, a 75-year-old woman with a hunchback, begs for sustenance. “What can I do other than begging? I am just too old for a job. My kids left me a long time ago and I think they feel that I must be dead by now,” Kumari, wearing a half torn kameez salwar, says.

Kumari, a native of Rajasthan, studied till class 8, after which she was forced into marrying a scrap dealer in her native village. Her husband passed away in less than a decade and left her with two sons, one of whom later died due to drug overdose. “After my husband died, I started working as a maid in the city. Life was moving on, but then my younger son died. That broke my back. Now I am really old, and I just have to beg to feed myself,” she says.

The hunchbacked woman, as Kumari is commonly known around the Rail Head area, Jammu, can be seen outside the Rail Head Mosque on most Fridays. “Once a week, I come here (Rail Head) to beg as Fridays bring along hope. There is heavy rush in the mosque and people are more generous,” she says.

Around 5 km from Rail Head, in one of the labyrinth by-lanes of Residency Road, 28-year-old John Andreas sits on a pavement, with a wooden block with four wheels kept right besides him. Around 10 years ago, he lost an arm and a leg in a road accident. “I used to own a rehdi (small cart) and I would go around the city selling a variety of items, like Chinese toys, magazines, newspapers, etc. I was happy working hard. But then an over-speeding car hit me, turning me into a cripple. I lost everything that day,” he says.

Andreas too, like Mohsin and Kumari, lives alone in a dingy shanty nearby, even though he is a local. “I am glad that I have a home to come back to every night. If I didn’t had one, I would have to sleep on the road, just like a lot of the beggars do,” he says.

From being despised to being abused, beggars survive through pain and hardships everyday. “Sometimes, people assault us. They hit us, knowing that we can’t harm them. I have had people snatching money from me as well. They just ran away with all my money, and I, being a cripple, could not chase them. I just cried, thinking on why God created me in the first place,” Mohsin says, with tears streaming down his face.

While most of the beggars in Jammu and Kashmir are not locals, there are more than a few who are. “I had to sell my house to provide for my family. My parents and I had to live on the road then. As I did not have any land to till or job to earn money, I was forced into begging. Even though my self respect goes for a kick everyday, I live to show the scars I bear,” says Abdul Qadir, a 38-year-old man, who begs on the stairs of Makhdoom Sahib Shrine, Srinagar.

Qadir, a blind man, is forced to sleep under the open sky as he does not have a house anymore. “During summers, it is fine. The problem starts in the winters. No matter what you do, the cold can kill you out here in the open. As I have been living here (Makhdoom Sahib) for more than a decade, the people know me now. Someone or the other provides me with shelter during the winters and I survive,” he says.

Recently, in May, the Jammu and Kashmir government issued an order banning begging at public and religious places in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, and directed the police to arrest offenders. “Begging being an offence under the Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Beggary Act 1960, it is imperative that strict necessary action under law be initiated against the offenders,” the order read.

It further stated, “Any person found soliciting alms in a public place, or in or around a mosque, temple or other place of public worship, whether or not under any pretence and entering on any private premises for the purpose of soliciting alms shall be immediately arrested…”

“Those exposing or exhibiting with the object of obtaining or exhorting alms, any sore, wound, injury, deformity or disease whether of human being or an animal shall also be arrested,” it read.

The day after the order was issued, Jammu and Kashmir police detained around 50 beggars from Srinagar city’s commercial hub Lal Chowk. Even though they were released later, the mental trauma the people suffered only amplified the pain they go through on a daily basis. 

Even though the ban on begging has not been applied to Jammu city, the beggars live under constant uncertainty as it can be applied here anytime. “Though I am not scared of the ban, as people come to my house to give alms on the days they do not see me on the road, but I am terrified of the fact that I will have nothing to do, no reason to venture out of my house and nothing to look forward to each day,” Mohsin says.

Kumari and Andreas also share Mohsin’s view. “The government can ban anything, as long as it is for the betterment of the society. But, isn’t the government at fault for not ensuring that all its citizens are provided with the bare essentials? I do not beg for money, I beg for survival,” Andreas says, with a look of dismay.

A senior officer in the Jammu and Kashmir state civil administration, wishing anonymity, said, “Barring my personal opinion, I am a civil servant. I do what the government orders me to. It’s my job. If the government says that begging is a menace, which it is at some level keeping trafficking and begging nexuses in mind, I will follow the order and try to stop beggary.” 

Though he also added, “For some people, begging is the only means of survival. The government needs to pursue some schemes or modes of rehabilitation for these people (beggars). Once everyone has access to at least the basic essentials, we can go ahead and catch the habitual offenders. That is the only way one can actually stop the menace.” 

Recently, the Delhi High Court quashed the legal provisions that criminalise begging in the national capital, saying that the state is to be blamed for not being able to ensure even the bare essentials of the right to life to all its citizens. “Criminalising begging was a wrong approach to deal with the underlying causes of the problem and state ignored the reality that people who beg were the poorest and marginalised in society,” the court said.

The Delhi High Court Bench also said, “The state cannot fail in its duty to provide a decent life to its citizens and add insult to injury by arresting, detaining and imprisoning those who beg in search for essentials of bare survival, which is even below sustenance.”

Criminalising begging violates the most fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable people in the society. Begging, per se, is a very dehumanising phenomenon. It strips the person of all dignity and lays him open for barbs aimed at hurting his soul, and ridicule. It raises the giver on a higher pedestal even if he or she is not worth it and it makes the beggar vulnerable to exploitation. It might put some morsels of grain in the beggar’s belly or hide his outward nakedness, but in turn, it bares his soul. It does not enrich his being in worldly affairs as it holds nothing to be remembered. It is the proverbial Frankenstein who hits the man/woman where it really hurts. It does not take into account the person’s dreams and aspirations, but tries to satiate his present at the cost of his ego and self respect. It is a marauder of his soul. It makes him filthy in thought, word and deed.

Even after going through so much, some people cannot help but beg as their will to survive serves as an example that life always wins when pitted against death. Amid the constant hue and cry surrounding beggary, terming it a menace, beggars find the courage to fight for survival everyday. 

“Either the government should provide us with the bare essentials for survival or legalise euthanasia. The fight against begging is not only about getting rid of a menace, it is also about rehabilitating the beggars and making sure that no one is forced to beg,” Mohsin says, as another car comes near him and he goes off to receive alms.

 

(Sameed Kakroo is Bureau Chief Greater Kashmir, Jammu Edition)