Beggars’ Paradise!

You find them lined up outside mosques, flitting about in busy marketplaces, lying in ambush at traffic signals, and even wandering in hospital corridors: hordes of non-local beggars seem to have descended on the ‘paradise-on-earth’. Of course, they are a common sight in Kashmir, particularly in the summer months, but come Ramadan and it seems that massive reinforcements have been rushed in, so much so that they literally swamp the place.  One cannot but wonder whether it is a case of pervasive governance deficit or part of a deliberate strategy that makes this multitude invisible to authorities. Both could possibly be true.

            It is an open secret that control mechanisms in this strife-torn state are more or less defunct. Under normal circumstances, the primary job of the police is to act as a body that enforces the various measures taken to safeguard the life, dignity and property of citizens. The police is one of the primary help-lines which people can approach in times of distress. It shares a special telephonic contact number similar to the one for emergency services like fire-fighters and ambulance vans. But given the preoccupation of the police as a security mechanism and its role as a draconian extension of the state, it has been more or less robbed of its primary role as an agency that establishes the rule of law and thereby protects the interests of the common man. The protective role of the police is limited only to the constituents of state authority, politicians of various hues and the all-powerful bureaucracy. The feelings that the men in khaki evoke among the masses are quite the opposite of safety and security.

            The same agencies that make sure that they have data on all those who live in your house, domestic helpers included, do not seem to be bothered about these swarming beggars. But perhaps that shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that it may well be a case of state patronage which has generated the level of tolerance exhibited towards these elements. Time and again apprehensions have been voiced about an ongoing deliberate change in the demographics of the Kashmir valley. Maybe this whole issue of imported beggars is part of that strategy.  The appearance of slums in various places in recent years, mostly in the vicinity of the national highway, does seem to be part of a deliberate design. Imported beggars may very well be just one more component of an insidious population transplant. The hands-off policy adopted by the authorities definitely points towards this possibility.

            Then again, these beggars are not a random phenomenon but seem to be a part of a well-knit operation. There is no denying the fact that these beggars are professionals and well-schooled in local customs and mores. They even make use of props like persons with severe disabilities, and small kids, which go a long way in pulling heart-strings, and loosening purse-strings, in the Valley. Adopting local dress, as well as local catechisms which appeal to the hearts of the local population, speak of an efficient managing body in the background. Given such organisation, maybe it is about state patronage as well as a sort of ‘paid patronage,’ with the authorities supposed to control this menace having been turned into  loyal ‘business partners’. All those who practise this ‘family business’ (in the sense that the whole family, from the old matriarch to the newborn is usually engaged), may be paying an organized tribute to authorities, thereby converting them into a protective force. Begging is a huge industry, and the cuts must be huge too.

            As in the case of the dog menace where people unwittingly feed the dogs on rich ‘leftovers’ carelessly thrown on the roadside, and then complain about the increasing canine population, people encourage begging as well by shelling out handsome amount as alms. It is a misguided concept of religious merit that lies behind this habit. If law enforcing agencies and other controlling mechanisms have failed to do their duty, civil society and religious authorities are no less culpable. There has never been a concerted anti-begging drive either by authorities or the apathy ridden civil society. Be it the unchecked profusion of dogs or ever increasing numbers of these imported beggars, it is really pathetic how people here lend themselves to victimization, doing nothing except uttering an occasional feeble protest.