Associated with the problems of poverty and unemployment is the problem of beggary which is a social problem of great magnitude and grave concern in developing countries. Begging is a problem for society in as much as a large number of beggars means non utilization of available human resources and drag upon the existing resources of the society.
According to a recent survey by Delhi School of Social Work there has been a phenomenal increase in the numbers of beggars in India. In a decade since 1991 their number has gone up by a lakh.There are some 60,000 beggars in Delhi, over 3, 00,000 in Mumbai according to a 2004 Action Aid report; nearly 75000 in Kolkata says the Beggar Research Institute; 56000 in Bangalore according to police records. In Hyderabad one in every 354 people is engaged in begging according to Council of Human Welfare in 2005.
It is common to find beggars at rubbish dumbs, road sides, and traffic lights and under flyovers. The frail, crippled 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 country where one in every four goes to bed hungry every night and 78 million are homeless. Over 71% of Delhi's beggars are driven by poverty. More than 66% beggars are able -bodied. The survey reveals that begging as a livelihood wins over casual labour. For 96% the average daily income is Rs 80 more than what daily wage earners can make. Spending patterns also reveals a unique pattern: 27% beggars spend Rs 50-100 a day.
Mumbai is home to majority of beggars. According to the Maharashtra Government they are worth Rs. 180 crore a year with daily income ranging between Rs 20-80.Almost every survey profiles beggars as a largely contented lot unwilling to take up honest labour. Nearly 26% in the DSSW survey claimed they were happy.81% claimed that they do not face any problem during begging and only 15% mentioned humiliation from public and police. A survey done in 2004 by the Social Development Centre of Mumbai revealed similar attitude. The majority of beggars see it as a profitable and viable profession.
However study published in the International Journal of Psychological Rehabilitation by Dr Yogesh Thakker reveals that 39% of the 49 beggars surveyed in Gujarat's Baroda district by a group of medicos suffer from one or other psychiatric illness. Nearly 74% of them had a history of addiction, psychiatric illness in the family and poor attitude of family members towards them. Over 68% admitted to feeling of shame and losing self-esteem, 25% to guilt, 4% to suicidal tendencies and 8% to anti-social activities.
There is no proper enumeration of beggars in the country. Moreover the number of women and children is ever increasing. The 1931 census mentioned just 16% women beggars. The figure shot up to 49% in 2001.There are 10 million street children many among who beg for livelihood.
The biggest problem lies in the changing attitude towards beggars. According to Mr Upendra Baxi former vice-chancellor traditionally begging has been an accepted way of life in India. Giving alms to the needy was built into the social fabric. That changed with the colonial rule. To the Victorians beggary embodied laziness and moral degeneration. Colonial laws held a beggar punishable for his condition. The newly independent nation imbibed this attitude towards poverty. In the new millennium the Government doesn't want them lying around middle class regards them as a nuisance.
India's beggary laws are a throwback to the centuries old European vagrancy laws which instead of addressing the socio-economic issues make the poor criminally responsible for their position. The definition of beggar in law states as anyone who appears poor. The anti-beggar legislation is aimed at removing the poor from the face of the city. The beggars who have spent years on the street find it very difficult to live in confined space. There are provisions for vocational training in the government run beggar homes. But these are worse than the third rate jails where convicts can spend up to 10 years.
India as a nation needs to think for its begging population. 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.