Restoration of land for rehabilitation of beggars

In the midst of gloom, there are times one sees a sign of hope. The city of Bangalore is globally well known for its prowess in Information technology.

In the last few years, the city has been transformed into a city for the wealthy and the affluent. Hailed as India’s “silicon valley”, money has just kept rolling for the privileged few. With the greedy asking for more and more, demands have been made to take away whatever had been allocated to the poor.

The poor have been evicted from pavements and slums without any rehabilitation package. This has also led to an unprecedented rise in the number of beggars.  Thrown out of their dwellings, where else can they go? Even the state expected to look after the poor has attempted to shunt beggars out.

It is in the midst of these developments, concerned citizens surely would feel a sense of hope in the state judiciary. Those officials of the state should feel ashamed that the Division Bench of Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen and B V Nagarathna had to direct the government to restore the land at Sumanahalli meant for rehabilitation of beggars to its original purpose. How proud one feels about the judiciary!

How can any government if it is sensitive to the plight of the poor even think of developing the Beggars’ Colony into an “upmarket” residential-cum-commercial space for the rich?  If any government that thinks of taking away from the poor what is given to them, that government should not have the right to continue in office.

 The primary purpose of any government in office is to offer bread for the hungry, clothes to the naked and shelter to the homeless. If those functions are not performed by any government, why should that government exist?

 While the corporates and the wealthy can get anything from the state, it is sad that the state decided to take away the little that was allocated to the impoverished.  Rightly, those who took the cause of the beggars contended that such a move would completely defeat the very purpose of land acquisition as the sole objective for acquiring the Sumanahalli land was for the rehabilitation of the beggars.

Untruthful numbers

The data that the state has offered on the number of beggars is far from the truth. Nobody will believe that the total number of beggars in the 27 Assembly segments of Bangalore is a mere 11,000. If any citizen has to take a walk in the city even at midnight, it is common to find beggars at rubbish dumbs, road sides, bus stands, railway stations, traffic lights and under flyovers.

The frail, crippled, deaf and dumb, widows, physically challenged and mentally ill share space with children, women and able bodied men. The line that separates beggars from the casual poor is getting slimmer in a city where one in every four goes to bed hungry. It would be a realistic estimate if one has to conclude that the city has at least 60,000 and more beggars.

Instead of starting more institutions where the helpless, unwanted, neglected, widows, orphans, and other helpless people find shelter, the government was even contemplating to hand over the only place for commercial forces is a sad reflection on governance.

 One of the ways through which we could lessen the number of beggars is by placing the impoverished and the helpless into homes where they are offered not merely food, clothing and shelter but care and concern.

There are provisions for vocational training in the government run beggar homes. If each of those is offered a skill, they would feel productive. It is unfortunate the conditions at the Summanahalli beggars’ colony were far worse than the third rate jails.

With the nation aspiring to achieve world standards in every field, socio-economic measures are needed to curb the begging problem in India. The solution calls for a comprehensive programme and reorientation of the existing programmes. Philanthropic approach to beggar problem should be replaced by therapeutic and rehabilitative work.

No human person with dignity and honour would like to beg.  Begging is a humiliating experience. What make the beggars to feel more humiliating are the laws of the state. India’s beggary laws are a throwback to the centuries old European vagrancy laws.
Instead of addressing the socio-economic issues, these laws make the poor criminally responsible for their position. There is an urgent need to look at those laws as well.
 (The wrtier is a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla)

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