Succour for the helpless
The Beggars’ Colony in Bangalore has an interesting past. Since 1927, the question of the beggar problem had come up for discussion both in the Representative Assembly and the Legislative Council in the Princely State of Mysore.
The members of these bodies had been continuously drawing the attention of the government to the problem which was assuming alarming proportions, especially in the cities of Bangalore and Mysore. Most of the members desired the government to act on the lines adopted in England and elsewhere, and open poor homes for beggars. The government directed the municipalities to look into the problem by gathering statistics of beggars in both cities of Bangalore and Mysore.
On June 8, 1935, the Bangalore Municipality formed a subcommittee which took the statistical census of beggars in Bangalore and found that of the 795 street beggars, 385 were non-Mysoreans. Later the census report of 1941 disclosed that there were about 5,749 beggars in Bangalore, of which 2,200 were non-Mysoreans.
The Maharaja, in August 1942, constituted a committee headed by N Balakrishnaiya to thoroughly look into the question of beggary in the whole State and to formulate proposals for providing facilities for the infirm and the disabled, and suggest measures by which beggary could be effectively put down. The committee, in its report, recommended that non-Mysorean beggars be repatriated from the State; seek help of private charitable organisations and to open relief homes in places where vast lands are available with the help of the Agriculture Department to be converted into lands fit for habitation and cultivation.
As a result, the Prohibition of Beggary Act XXXIII of 1944 was enacted which prohibited beggary as a means of living and made provisions for the relief of beggars. This Act was extended to the city of Bangalore with effect from February 10, 1946. To carry out the provisions of the Act, a Central Relief Committee was constituted with 20 members headed by a Chairman. A Receiving and Relief Centre was started in the Giddanna Choultry on October 28, 1946 with a superintendent in charge.
In the beginning, a police staff consisting of one daffedar and four constables were deputed for arresting beggars in the City. Later, the police staff was replaced by one head warder and 18 warders under the direct control of the Chairman. A motor van was used to bring the beggars to the relief home.
Some of the arrested beggars on promise not to beg again were released by the receiving officer and the rest produced before the Magistrate. Habitual beggars were sentenced to simple imprisonment ranging from two to twelve weeks in Central Jail, while others transferred to the Relief Centre. At the Relief Centre, they were provided food, according to prescribed scales of diet and clothed. Those with diseases were admitted to hospitals. Non-Mysorean beggars were repatriated up to the State border by placing them in charge of the Railway guards.
On July 1, 1948 the ‘Nirashrithara Parihara Kendra’ (Beggars’ Relief Centre) at Magadi Road was opened by the Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. The Kendra consisted of four dormitories each to accommodate 40 beggars, a kitchen block, dispensary, workshop, primary school and quarters for the staff. On January 9, 1949 the beggar relief centre which was originally situated at the Giddanna choultry was shifted to the new Kendra.
Beggars had several facilities in the new Kendra. Apart from food and clothing, they were provided with entertainment through a radio with a loud speaker which was operated in the afternoon and evenings. Boys were allowed to play football, volley ball and carom. A primary school and an adult literacy section were also established. Philanthropists used to donate money to the Kendra and on special occasions distributed fruits and sweets to the inmates. The hospital at the Kendra had a qualified doctor, and a health register was maintained and the weights of the inmates recorded once a month. Able-bodied beggars were given training in mat weaving, envelope making, spinning by charakas, tailoring, bee keeping, book binding, poultry, sheep rearing, gardening, cooking, domestic service, hospital attendants work and agriculture. About 130 acres of cultivable land was attached to the colony out of which 60 acres were cultivated with the help of the inmates of the Kendra, the remaining leased to farmers of the neighbouring villages. The inmates used to grow ragi, jowar, horse gram, and a variety of vegetables which were sold in the open market.
All these measures saw many beggars being released from the Kendra and join the mainstream of society.