Professional beggars: More greedy than needy

Published: April 29, 2012
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At times when you offer beggars your change, they refuse to take it. PHOTO: QAZI USMAN / EXPRESS

Allah keh naam par 10 rupay dey dey beta.

(Please give me Rs10 in God’s name, son.)

Roti khila dey, tujhey ek naik aur khubsurat biwi miley.

(Give me bread to eat and you will find a beautiful, decent wife)

How many times have we heard this and cringed from deep within?

Such phrases are played like rhythmic rhetoric every time you park your car on a signal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a feudal lord’s son who will throw acid on his wife, neither do I commute in a chauffeur driven, air-conditioned SUV. I’m a common Pakistani who walks the same streets like millions other do.

Yes, I may be privileged, but I’m not callously living in a world where anything to do with ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ is unrealistic and delusional.

However, irrespective of where you are positioned on the social ladder, everyone has experienced harassment by these ‘professional’ beggars. Allow me to take the liberty of narrating a personal experience.

One fine day, I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green while deep in my thoughts, until consistent knocking on the car’s window pulled me out of my reverie. Upon looking up, my gaze was met with that of a teary eyed old man.

He requested,

Agey tak lift dey do beta.

(Please give me a lift.)

I obliged.

As we travelled, he finally explained why he was crying. His daughter had died and he had no money to arrange her funeral.

Iss mulk mein ghareeb ki koyi jagah nai.

(There is no place for the poor in this country.)

His ordeal was heart-wrenching and by the end of it, I had tears of my own. He was dropped off where he wanted to go, with whatever cash I could give to him at that time.

Lo and behold! Three days later, on a different signal but in an identical setting, I heard familiar knocking on the window. Looking up, I found the same old man crying with the similar anguish in his eyes and repeating the same old line!

When asked if his daughter had died, ‘again’, the aged beggar just laughed callously and went away, leaving me astonished, perplexed and offended at this cruel, unfeeling deception.

There’s no denying that most people live under the poverty line and barely manage to make ends meet. Some pursue selling their kidneys, while others look for potential clients who would ‘buy their children’. This sorry state of affair witnesses no end, and Pakistan’s Human Development Index keeps falling to dismal levels.

But this should not let beggars take advantage of the situation and play with people’s sentiments; people like you and I who are fooled by their emotional blackmailing tactics. We want to help and make a difference in their lives, but we are discouraged by their dishonesty and it is hard to gauge who is sincere and who isn’t.

I have come to understand that ‘professional’ beggars are not needy, they are greedy!

Ask any one of them to work instead of begging, and you’re met with deadly stares and rude remarks that shake the ground you’re standing on. Request them to leave you, and the knocking on your car’s window gets vengeful and even more persistent. Some even fire choice cuss words at you, while warning you that they will pray for you and your family’s demise.

At times when you offer beggars your change, they refuse to take it and state with up-turned noses that they want more, and that the amount offered is petty. They often say,

Laal note do, yh kia diya hai?

(Give me a red note, what is this you have given me?)

These beggars are known to work as Mafia that overtly and covertly have political backing, while the police merely stand as hapless bystanders. Even if an anti-begging operation is carried out and a locality is cleansed off this malignant disease, one can witness a repeat influx of the beggars in no time.

While they may be ‘forced’ to beg because of their economical conditions, under duress, or out of habit, the state and its citizens treat them like a constant source of irritation but nobody does anything about it.

Walk on the road and you will find six year olds trained under 80 year olds, women carrying drug induced babies, and men with various scars and injuries.

Why?

Because the government has yet to come up with a proper rehabilitation mechanism.

The adopted plan of action should not only provide ‘roti, kapra and makaan,’ (bread, clothes and housing) but must also help inculcate a useful set of skills that will assist them in earning a dignified income, without having to harass people in the hopes of fishing money out of them. This should be coupled with counselling done by trained psychologists to instill a sense of self-sufficiency.

Above all, and as a mentor,  Qurratulain Akhtar suggested, we should collectively decide to give our alms to people who actually deserve them. Do SOS Children’s village, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital and Edhi ring a bell?

 

Read more by Sabeer here.

Sabeer.Lodhi

Sabeer Lodhi

The author is studying at Monash University, Melbourne. He is a student and supporter of human rights with a focus on gender equality, minority rights and feminism. He tweets as @sabeerlodhi (twitter.com/sabeerlodhi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.