Friday, March 22, 2013

Child Beggars Mushrooming at Pune's University Circle

Before watching Slumdog Millionaire, I had disregarded the very notion of mafia-controlled beggars crowding popular places in large cities. But the stark reality portrayed left an indelible mark on me. It stayed somewhere in my subconscious for a long long time, before I got its first-hand experience some days back.

En-route home I travel through this huge traffic junction called 'University Circle', called so due to its proximity to the Pune University offices and colleges.

It was a regular day. I was returning home that evening when I noticed a few child beggars loitering around the signal, dangerously close to the transiting vehicles. As soon as the signal turned red, these kids (ranging 5-13 yrs) ran amidst the idling cars and started cleaning their windshields and rear windows, while others tried selling toys to urban parents sitting comfortably in their AC cars.


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The beggars were so oblivious to the signal turning green that some passengers had to carefully move the kids to the footpath. The older child beggars started screaming at the little ones, directing them to the footpath.

Many more days passed after this incident. What I saw yesterday, alarmed me even more.

The beggars had grown in numbers. In just about 20 days. Now I could count at least a dozen beggars manning different outposts at the University Signal. In another 20 days, will it triple in number?

Two questions came to my mind -

1. How were they proliferating so fast?

2. Why aren't the local authorities controlling the situation?

I feel the situation is grave. Most of the newer lot of beggars I noticed are children, from 6 months to 13 years. The 13-yr old girl beggars were seen nestling the 6-month olds while begging. Every time the signal turned red, these kids would hurl themselves onto the incoming vehicles - much to the consternation of the drivers.

The irony is that begging is flourishing despite being a crime in India. It is an unanswered question as to how these beggars confidently loiter even in the presence of traffic authorities.

I know this is a vast topic to write about and there are many aspects to voice my concerns for. As a part of the larger Indian community, I am seeking answers and looking for ways to curb begging as a means to fuel bigger mafias and gangs. As much as I don't want to believe what is portrayed in the movies, I know that there is some element of truth in them

I am trying to play a wee bit part: I avoid giving cash to beggars (children and adult alike). By not giving them cash, I hope to dissuade at least one beggar from begging. But who am I kidding? There also needs to be heavy-duty rehabilitation programs run by civic bodies and NGOs at the state and the national level.

What do you feel when you encounter a beggar? Empathy, Sadness, Anger, Hopelessness, Helplessness or Indifference? Empathy is often the last feeling we experience, Indifference being the first.

What do you think are some ways to curb begging in India? What role should the government actively play? How to de-link beggars from mafias? How to give a new and enjoyable life to these child beggars?

Too many questions. Fewer answers. But I am hopeful.