Should beggars be encouraged?

Begging is a business.

I’ve lived in India for almost a year now and this place is a beautiful but rather uncomfortable mix of rich and poor. I say begging is a business. There’s a long traditional line of people who exclusively get past life begging.

Why am I writing about this today? I had 3 encounters in 20 minutes- I am not kidding.

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The first was at the ATM. I was standing outside in line awaiting my turn and listening to music. As soon as I come out, I am surrounded by 3 children of about 7-10 years of age. They wait for you to get out of the ATM knowing that you will have money in hand, and pounce. It was hard to ignore, but I just look away and walk.

I know you must be thinking, why didn’t I just give them money? Well, experience is the best teacher. I am required to give each one of the children their share and you’ll have another one joining the army every step you take. And there’s another thing. If you do give them money, they ask for more, claiming its too less and not enough.

The second encounter was with a girl, about 7 years of age. She wore loud paayals (anklets with bells) and ran behind anyone she could find.

Before I tell you the third encounter, I have to tell you about another beggar I saw. This was a man, of about 40 years. He was sitting in front of the hospital main road, and he didn’t have a hand and both his legs. Even as I passed by, he didn’t utter a word. He just watched as everyone walked past and stayed where he was. I took out the change I had and handed it over. He simply smiled.

The third encounter was when I was walking with my friend to the clinic. Deepicca, I hope you’re reading this. We were holding our fancy articulators and trying to cross the road, when suddenly out of nowhere, 2 kids spot us and lock targets. They jump towards us and are YELLING (no, I am not exaggerating) and jumping around us asking for money. They wouldn’t let us move forward, they would touch our hands and bags and my labcoat (as I gripped my phone tighter) and continued to walk. I kept telling my friend to keep walking and not to acknowledge their presence. They went on following us for half our route and figured they weren’t getting anything from us, muttered some profanities rather loudly and walked off.

I completely understand that consequences and bad experiences drove them to beg. But what the issue according to me is that if they can come up with such smart ideas about where and how to beg and if they have hands and legs that work well, I’m mighty sure they could get a job. Maybe not a respectable one (washing dishes in a hotel, cleaning), but surely more respectable than begging. I wish I could do something, but I just can’t think of anything to fix the situation, because at the end of the day, they’re human beings too..

The definition of “Aggressive panhandling” may vary. In the USA, aggressive panhandling generally involves the solicitation of donations in an intimidating or intrusive manner. Examples may include:

  • Soliciting near ATM banking machines.
  • Soliciting from customers inside a store or restaurant.
  • Soliciting after dark.
  • Approaching individuals from behind, as they are exiting their vehicles, to solicit.
  • Soliciting in a loud voice, often accompanied with wild gesticulations.
  • The use of insults, profanity, or veiled threats.
  • Refusing to take “No” for an answer or following an individual.
  • Demanding more money after a donation has been given
  • Invasion of personal space, cornering, blocking or inappropriate touching.
  • A “team” of several beggars approaching an individual at once, often surrounding the person.
  • “Camping out” in a spot where begging negatively influences some other business (such as in front of a store or restaurant) in the hope that the business owner will give money to make the beggar go away.

I have instances for each one of this, experienced personally over my last 19 years.

India is not the only country with this problem. I love India, I love everything about it. But doing something about this could make things so much better.. The only good thing about all this is that they’re just begging and not thieves.

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