The lockdown may have put a break on common man’s movement, but there seems to be no break on the movement of beggars in our localities. What I have concluded after acutely observing this class of population, who have turned begging into a livelihood profession, is that there is no check on these people at any level, be it by the administration or the Mohalla committee.
If a person is healthy and hale, what is prompting him/her to choose this ostracised profession needs to be questioned. We can’t go on ignoring this elephant in the room, for our silence has led to legitimisation of begging as a profession. Even today amid these tough times, these people seem to be breaching every barricade set up by the authorities to invade the privacy of our homes, only to put their own and others’ lives at risk just for a few bucks.
In the past decade, our valley has seen an exponential rise in the menace of begging, and I am not exaggerating in calling Kashmir as a “beggar’s paradise”. One might not be certain here about earning a livelihood by working in the unorganised sector, but one is sure to get a pocket full of money at the end of the day by going around begging in markets, mosques, hospitals, highways, and outside offices. Such is the sad state of our vale. Political uncertainty and conflict pervading the valley for the last three decades has not decreased the inflow of beggars from across the Jawahar Tunnel, irrespective of gender and age, from hinterlands of other parts of the country to our valley. There seems to be no check on the arrival of these mendicants even in pandemic times.
Two years back, Jthe &K government had banned begging at public and religious places in Srinagar, but that order has remained confined to just paper. And with time, the authorities have lowered their guard, so it’s back to normal again.
Now what this huge inflow of beggars has done is that our own population has succumbed to this alternate route of earning livelihood. They seem to have taken the cue from these outsiders, which ultimately has given birth to our own breed of home-grown beggars. These people are healthy and hale, yet they are opting for this much disliked way of earning. According to our religion, begging was prescribed for those who had lost their organs at birth or in accident, thus rendering themselves helpless and at the mercy of others. With time, though, begging has been turned into a money-minting profession with people who could have easily earned their living by using their own hands. As time passes, these people get addicted to it to a level of no return. What prompts them to take up this profession is the assured hefty amount at the end of the day without any toiling.
A few days back, I was preparing to take my routine sleep on our veranda after midday prayers when I was perturbed by a gentle voice of a young boy, wearing a blue skull cap and matching shalwar kameez. At first sight I could conclude from his face he would have been close to twelve years, give or take a few years. He was holding a bundle of a few old notes in the clenched fist of his right hand and a few laminated documents of some orphanage institution under his left armpit. An old shabby school bag was hanging upon his right shoulder, where it was tied up with knots to prevent it from falling. His pockets on either side of the shalwar kameez had visibly bulged out due to the weight of coins. Before I could check his credentials, he started his memorised sermon. When I intercepted him in the middle to check his credibility, asking who gave him the authority to collect money in the name of the orphanage, he became silent. I could see the lines of discomfort growing on his face and his colour fading to pale. When I asked him for the contact number of the head of the institution, he sensed trouble and pulled away the documents from my hand and ran away, not before passing a comment, Agar hass deon chi thaa dee, Eoutha chena police enquiry asee Karan (if you want to give me something, then give; the amount of enquiry you are doing even the police doesn’t do).
As he left, I began to ponder over his action. How can these orphanage institutions entrust such a kid with the responsibility to collect money for the running of the institution? Even if he had the authority to collect money, how can you be sure he will be returning the collected sum of money without adding a few bucks to his own pocket? Money is an evil temptation to which many people succumb. But in this way these orphanages are patronising begging. Here these orphanages and Islamic seminaries need to take a cue from revered and respected Islamic scholar Maulana Tariq Jameel, who recently started his clothing MTJ brand to run his Islamic institution. In an interview he was quoted as saying: “I don’t want to spread hands before people to run my institutions. I want them to be self-sustaining with money earned through this clothing MTJ brand.”