- Begging is a cause and consequence of social and economic backwardness which is the chief reason and result of poverty.
- The practice of begging is criminalised under the Indian law in general, with some exceptions. This has led to harassments of such persons.
- The COVID-19 pandemic deteriorated their situation further.
- The Central and State Governments have come various rehabilitation schemes.
- The Judiciary, too, is being emphathetic towards them.
- However, there is no central scheme to protect their rights, and the courts too have not taken up against the criminalisation of beggary.
The World Bank defines poverty as “a pronounced deprivation in well-being that comprises many dimensions.” This definition clearly indicates that poverty is not just a mere deprivation of income but much more wider in sense. Amartya Sen defines poverty as “not just a lack of money, it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being”. Thus, when a person is unable or is certainly unaware to wholly utilize his capacities to obtain a decent standard of living, he is said to have been caught in what we call a ‘poverty trap’.
As per the New International, it was only after the Second World War when poverty started effectively strengthening its roots, and in no time it had spread its branches all over the world. Yes! Despite witnessing tremendous growth and development since the end of World War II, we also gave path to poverty and hunger.
War emerged as one of the major threat to human life in the twentieth century as it causes adverse effects on the environment as well as its people. Displacement, another major cause of poverty, is often accompanied by wars. A classic example of this can be the displacement of people from the present-day Bangladesh to the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, etc. Such scenarios force people to work below their capacity solely to retain their daily earnings. Some are even left unemployed. Now, when it comes to unemployment, it is both a cause and effect of poverty. Being unemployed deprives a person of earning and thereby he becomes poor. Similarly, poor people don’t have access to good education and thus they end up remaining jobless. There are many other causes such as social and religious differences, colonial past, population explosion, corruption, inadequacy of resources, and so on.
Begging is one such issue that has arisen out of poverty. According to our Indian law, it is the act of soliciting or receiving alms in a public place for earning livelihood, whether or not under any pretense such as singing, fortune-telling, dancing, or performing, or offering any article for sale. It is also the soliciting or receiving alms in public place by exposing wound, disease, injury, or deformity whether of himself, or of any other person or animal. The practice of beggary is more common in a country like India which is exercising an unequal development. Begging is not an option of employment. Poor families, when they are excluded from the society by reason of their social and economic status, are forced to beg to survive their daily life. Besides, some even take up it to save their families from falling prey in the hands of poverty and inequality.
BEGGING AND THE INDIAN LAWS
Beggary is a hindrance to our national development, but there are no laws at the Union level to stop the practice. This is because of the plight to such people. They are caught in a trap and to escape the same, these people are looking for works to merely survive. Begging is not practiced for fun or out of choice; it is the result of social and economic problems. It reveals the hardships faced by the people who practice it. Though the Centre has no specific law for its prohibition, around 22 State Governments have created their own rules to prevent begging. The principle law that criminalises begging is the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act of 1959. Under these State laws, the Police is authorised to arrest and detain these persons. Although the chief reason is to prevent nuisance and crimes, yet, there have been also cases of harassment.
The Indian Constitution has guaranteed to its every citizen, irrespective of their status, the right to be treated with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. Similarly, even these anti-begging laws were not enacted with an object to just punish those involved. These laws intended to rehabilitate the beggars and homeless people to lead a more dignified life after their release. The Acts also provide for suitable training to such people during their detention period. However, the provisions in these laws are often taken for granted.
When we analyse these anti-begging laws in detail, they are, at some point, also against the provisions of our Constitution. As already mentioned, it is violative of Article 21 that guarantees right to life and personal liberty. Similarly, Article 22 protects the rights of accused persons that includes right to be informed of the grounds of arrest. However, beggars and homeless are arrested without any reasonable grounds. Begging cannot be perceived to be a valid cause of arrest as it alone cannot give rise to any criminal act. It is just a way of earning. Criminalising beggary can be a violation of Article 19 that guarantees the freedom to profess any profession. The constitutional validity of these laws has not yet received any acknowledgement from the Supreme Court. However, the Indian judiciary, despite its little involvement, has created a mark in empathizing with such people.Though the Indian Constitution prohibits act of forceful begging under Article 23, yet it also provides for protection and care of
such people against exploitation under Article 39. The Courts have always interpreted the act of begging through Article 23 read with Article 39.
JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION OF BEGGING IN INDIA
- Harsh Mander & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors (2018): The Delhi High Court decriminalized the practice of beggary and struck down several provisions under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, as unconstitutional and invalid. This is a landmark judgement because it is the first instance where a High Court has decriminalized begging, thereby upholding the constitutional rights of the poor.
- Olga Tellis & Ors vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors (1985): Though this is not a case relating to beggary, it reveals to us the views of the courts on the rights of poor which serves as a strong precedent for cases in future. In this case, the BMC along with the State of Maharashtra decided to evict slum dwellers and pavement dwellers out of Bombay, and to deport them to their place of origin. The Supreme Court held that the slum dwellers must get alternative shelters if they are to be evicted from the pavement, and if done otherwise, that would be infringing their right to livelihood and right to work which are also a part of Article 21.
- Recently, the Supreme Court held that begging cannot be stopped just because it gives way to the spread of the pandemic. The Court observed that beggary is not a choice, but people have been caught into it as they are left with no other option.
BEGGING AND COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The pandemic has left no issue untouched since its spread in March 2020. The beggars and the homeless can be said to be one of the most affected people during this COVID-19 era. With no availability to proper food, shelter, and remedies, they are not even in a position to move out. Moreover, there are instances where people engaged in petty jobs in other states or outside the country are forced to go back to their own places of residence. This has resulted in a rise in beggary. With little money in hand, these people are also not in a position to follow the guidelines of the government.
Moreover, during complete lockdown, these people have faced the worst hardships to survive. A large number of daily wages workers, street vendors, and other remote workers protested against complete lockdown due to its ill effects on their life. However, the voices of these kinds of poor had little impact, and such people, consequently, ended up begging with family. This is the true plight of our country. India became the worst pandemic affected nation as well as the country too failed to take care of its every citizen.
The reason for this state of our country’s poor is the failure of the governments to handle the situation effectively, and we cannot altogether blame these people. When a person has no shelter of his home, how can he follow the lockdown that urges us to stay home. Similarly, when a beggar or other jobless worker is unable to feed himself or his family even for a day due to the lock down, what is the use for him to follow all the guidelines. These people would anyway die out of hunger, if not the virus. So, they take the risk. However, COVID-19 is such a disease which not only affects the person infected but also all those who can in contact with him. The virus is highly contagious. But this cannot be the sole reason to prevent begging, as they would have no other option left. The gravity of this issue is a serious one. Just like how a country is trying to contain the spread of the virus, in the same way it has to also protect the vulnerable groups. This is a problem that needs to be addressed by the relevant authorities, and restraining begging altogether cannot be an effective solution. The relief and remedy is in the hands of the government.
REHABILITATION OF BEGGARS
Begging is growing at a significant rate in our country, and the pandemic situation has added fuel to the same. Along with the government, different organizations, activists are also working for the rehabilitation of these people. The chief object is to give them a decent standard of living. Rehabilitation can be done by eradicating poverty. Poverty eradication is both the cause and effect of rehabilitation. However, it is not that easy to make our country poverty-free. For this, rigorous steps need to be taken and proper implementation is mandatory.
Rehabilitation is when beggars and homeless are provided with small shelters along with some training which could help them to earn their livelihood by working. Agriculture and allied activities, industrial works, factory works, etc. are some fields wherein such people can be skilled. It also encourages child beggars to go to school and get educated.
Steps in India by States in India
According to the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, “Relief of the disabled and unemployable” comes under the ambit of State List. Various State Governments have taken steps to rehabilitate beggars and homeless people. Some of them are listed below:
- Odisha: The Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD) Department, Government of Odisha, has come up with a schemes named “SAHAYA” to protect, care, and rehabilitate beggars.
- Bihar: The Mukhyamantri Bhikshavriti Nivaran Yojnawas introduced by the State Government to protect the rights of beggars, and to care, empower, and work for their development as valuable citizens.
- Rajasthan: Under the State Government’s Beggar free scheme, beggars and other homeless people, and those surviving on streets are being trained with new skills for rehabilitation purpose.
- Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation is engaged in the anti-begging drive in the city by shifting beggars to rehabilitation centres.
- Delhi: The Delhi Government has decided to conduct a survey of beggars to facilitate its rehabilitation scheme.
- Mumbai, Maharashtra: In Mumbai too, there are beggary free city campaigns. One such is the Mumbai Police’s “Zero Beggars” scheme which intends to identify such people and shift them to special homes set up for the purpose.
- Ludhiana, Punjab: An effective anti-begging drive has brought down the number of beggars in the city.
- The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment funded the National Backward Classes Finance & Development Corporation (NBCFDC) for skill development programmes for beggars on pilot basis. Ten cities have been chosen under this pilot project: Patna, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Indore, Hyderabad, and Nagpur. The object of the project is to rehabilitate beggars during the pandemic situation.
- Our country is strongly against child beggars. The Ministry of Women and Child Development under its “Integrated Child Protection Scheme” treats child beggars as children in need of care and protection.
- However, there is no comprehensive scheme for the protection and rehabilitation of persons engaged in begging.
- The Ministry of Social Justice has come up with a scheme named “SMILE- Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise” under which there is a scheme for rehabilitating persons engaged in begging with the support of the States/Union Territories.
- It has also formulated a pilot project as explained above, and the Centre is relying on that scheme, and therefore, has not dedicated suitable amounts from the PM Cares fund for the purpose.
- Since the matter is a State subject, the Central Government had left the task to be done by the State Governments with the assistance of local organisations.
The above analysis reveals the struggles of beggars and the street survivors in India. Though the Government has made efforts to care and protect such people, yet these are not sufficient to uplift them from their low status. The judiciary, too, has shown minimal interest in the matter when compared to its enthusiasm in other areas of empowerment and justice. It is important to take steps to eradicate poverty which is the chief cause of begging. The prime effect of poverty is the strengthening of social differences, and the reason for the same is the existing “vicious” and “virtuous” circles. Vicious circle means getting trapped in a series of events that mostly affects low income people. Virtuous circle is exactly the opposite. It is an unstated belief that if a person once enters the vicious circle, s/he becomes inescapable, and the one in the virtuous circle remains in it. This, further strengthens and extends the gap between the haves and have nots.
Poverty is considered as an unarmed terrorism that kills a huge number of people without any weapons. Besides taking lives of people, it also leads to adverse effects on their lives. Poverty gives way a number of other social and economic problems such as unemployment, deterioration in health, social distinctions, crimes, etc.However, this should not be the end. The poverty trap that makes a person homeless and leads him to beg, can be broken with appropriate government schemes. This can be done only when the relevant authorities make proper policies and implement them effectively.