It was in the morning rush. He was slightly bent. An old man, may be in his 70's. Wearing an old discoloured and unwashed dhoti and shirt, he stood there - in the ladies compartment of the Delhi Metro that was heading to Central Delhi. And then, he stretched out his thin, bony hand, begging for a penny, to the female passengers. Most of them took out a rupee or more and gave it to him.
How did a beggar get into the metro? How did he even pass through the security checks and entries where he has to use a token or an entry card? Where were the security guards? Why was nobody saying anything? Why were the people even giving him anything? Breaking the rule is bad enough. Why should we encourage a crime? While giving alms could be an act of love, it be could sheer ignorance too.
"Why did you give him money? Do you know that begging is against the law?" I asked a girl sitting next to me.
Taken aback by the unexpected question, the girl replied nervously, "Oh, I wasn't aware. I felt bad for him". Many seem to be unaware of the law.
"Begging is a punishable offence" - a big signboard at the entry of the metro station reads. Does anyone even bother to read it?
Right below the signboard, another beggar sits. She sits there quietly everyday. Not begging, maybe, but waiting for alms. Many commuters drop a coin or two as they hustle past her to catch the train.
Begging is a crime, according to the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. And, in 1960 Delhi adopted the Act. It became the Delhi Prevention of Begging Act, 1960. The Act which was formed with the aim to wipe out beggars from its surroundings states that anyone found begging can be detained in "Receiving Centres" and trained to be eventually employed.
While the law is in place and many continue to debate over the issue--should begging be considered a crime-- the mindset of most Indians that panders to alms-giving is intriguing.
"They are poor. We should give to the poor," Sheena (name changed), another commuter said. Is it something to do with a particular faith or the religious-cultural environment that we are brought up in - to be kind to the helpless. But are we really kind to the helpless... do we help enough? Do we give to all the needy or only to beggars?
Should we encourage the poor to beg by giving or should we help them find a living to overcome poverty?
What is the government doing besides setting up a law? Is it strictly implemented (which doesn't seem so at the outset)? Implementation and execution of rules and work requires absolute integrity in our outlook and approach, a principle hard to find in many.
Wherever we go in India, we see beggars everywhere, perhaps not so much in the Northeastern states, except in Assam. Nobody drives them away. Or, are some arrested? How many beggars are detained in Beggars Home or Receiving Centres? How many are trained and employed now?
Most people in villages and rural areas live in poverty, but survive by the dint of hardwork and dignity of labour. From where do the poor or beggars in the cities come from? Should they be begging when they can find livelihood somewhere. Well, there are many unfortunates who have nowhere to go and may not be in a position to work and earn their livelihood. And, there are children forced into begging. How do we reach out to the thousands of them across the country.
While it could be a habit difficult to die, if begging is a crime, how should we treat beggars?