Counting on Ramzan alms, beggars flock to Srinagar

 Perhaps nobody follows the newly-installed traffic signals in Srinagar as intently as Nasreen, 12, who stops begging the moment the lights turn green. She cherishes the few moments of inactivity on a day that can stretch from 10 to 12 hours. 

The minor has been forced into begging, a practice that flourishes despite preventive laws, by her parents. “We belong to Bihar. My family includes my father, mother and four brothers. People easily give alms during the holy month of Ramzan. I earn about a hundred rupees daily,” Nasreen said as she pocketed the money a waiting motorist had given her. Srinagar is booming with hundreds of beggars who catch the faithful outside mosques and shrines and at busy traffic crossings. While labourers in the rural areas are paid a daily wage of Rs 110 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — and that too for only 100 days a year — a beggar in Srinagar is believed to earn around Rs 200 daily for as many days as he or she wishes to work. Evoke sentiments

“Begging does not require much physical effort. All that the beggars do is implore and try to evoke the nobler sentiments of the people. This becomes very easy during Ramzan, when people spend most of their time in prayer and penance,” said Nisar Ahmad Shah, a local doctor. Women carrying infants in rags and physically challenged children being ferried in handcarts are a common sight in the city these days. The Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Beggary Act, 1960, specifically states: “Any beggar, exhibiting any sore, wound, injury, deformity or disease to earn money is a cognizable offence and any police officer under section 4 can arrest the beggar without any warrant and the offence is punishable with imprisonment for one year to three years by summary trial.” Despite the law against begging, the menace continues unabated as thousands of tourists have arrived in the Valley during the summer months, as have hundreds of non-local beggars.  Interestingly, there is competition of sorts between the local and non-local beggars.

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