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For someone born and brought up in a country that accounts for 1/3rd of the world’s poor and is equally famous for the Taj Mahal as it is for its slums – I still have to get used to the sight of a bony child dragging himself on the road under the sweltering sun. I cringe at the thought that the child might not have had a decent meal in days, while I am stuffed to the gills. That for him, sheer existence is a struggle while I crib about my maid. That guilt is a luxury for him and for me, the norm.
He is now knocking at my window, his eyes pleading. From inside the car I can make out what he’s saying but shut myself off. I turn my eyes away from his outstretched palms. It requires nerves of steel not to be overcome with pity and reach for my purse. I ask him to move on.
Yes, it makes me feel like a heartless bitch. After all, how much does it take to part with some petty change? Something that means so little to me but so much for him! And yet, I refrain.
Does it mean I am a tight-fisted, mean soul who loves her money too much? I don’t think so. I just happen to believe that while benevolence may help ease my conscience, it will make that boy a beggar for life. While my intentions may be honourable its outcome may exactly be the opposite.
Imagine someone living a life where one gets to earn without having to work for it! It’s addictive, isn’t it? And thanks to your compassion, you are making sure that the beggar-boy gets caught in a vicious circle of dependency. Plus how do you make out how genuine his need is? What if it is just a ruse to fund his drug addiction? What if he’s part of a begging mafia, expected to hand over a chunk of his takings to the gang’s ring leader!
The more you pay, the more lucrative this business becomes.
I am aware that quite a bit of welfare work is directed at reducing begging but with varying degrees of success. There have been instances where people were ready to offer jobs, enrolled the homeless and the poor for vocational courses but they chose to run off. The most common problem is that beggars are so used to begging that they actually prefer not to work.
I understand that the sight of individuals in such poverty, some severely disabled, can be very confronting. But I feel it is best to ignore them. While there might be beggars who might genuinely need your help, it’s not possible to help them all. Should you give to that young girl with the wailing baby or to that gnarled looking man on a crutch? I am often amazed by the ingenuity displayed by this breed. The blind man with a patch bloodied by red ink, that girl who has hired a baby for sympathy or the man with elaborately drawn wounds on his body! The shock therapy often reaps rich dividends.
It’s not as if I am averse to helping the unfortunate – I have distributed food packets, clothes to street urchins, gone up to the frail looking man lying on the pavement and given him cash. One is often tempted to help those who are too proud or weak to beg. Definitely not the stubborn, rude ones who keep following you around on streets, ready to drive you up the wall with their whining. And certainly not children. Give them alms and their parents will make sure that this is what they end up doing the rest of their lives. Why send them to school or teach them skills, when they can make more money on the road!
We expect the government to take care of its poor, ensure education and employment for them. But it is just an idealistic dream. In reality they are a vote bank that doesn’t ask questions and complies without a murmur of protest. And even though begging is an illegal profession, authorities spring into action only if the city is hosting an important international event.
For our country to progress we need a self reliant populace and not parasites who’d rather live on handouts than stand on their feet.
If you really want to help the under-privileged, direct them to NGOs that rehabilitate the poor. Make sure you donate generously to causes you hold dear to your heart. But don’t be in a hurry to write out that cheque. Take out time to visit establishments to make sure you are donating to the right organizations. Not all NGO’s have noble intentions, in fact for a few it’s just a money making venture.
And if you are still feeling guilty about your riches, don’t worry, the government with its persistent efforts through Union Budget will make sure you will be poor eventually.