The Economics of Begging

This happened to me just yesterday.
Venue : The buzzing Jalukbari square, Guwahati,Assam, India
Time : About noon
I had gone to see my friend off. We were waiting for the tezpur-bound bus to arrive.

What almost immediately caught my attention was a kid, a very small one, perhaps a two year old.
It was lying on the cold pavement, on an inadequate piece of cloth. Beside her was this stainless steel begging bowl with a few one and two rupee coins in it.

It wasn’t the first time I had seen such a sight. Living in India, we are entitled to such privileges every day! But there was something about this child. She was very content lying on the cold sidewalk, playing with a rubber-band, smiling, babbling to herself.
I’m very tender hearted and generally tend to look away when such heart rending realities confront me.
But this child had caught my attention.

Pity, anger, guilt, sadness gripped me. Eyes got misty. I wanted to lift the child in my arms and take it home.
If none could provide for her, i would.

But then practicality got hold of me and i stabilised myself.
Oblivious of all these, the child was still babbling. My friend handed me some coins. And i bent down to place them on the bowl.
But it wouldn’t solve the problem, would it? Why can’t we do away with poverty altogether? If not poverty , then we could atleast banish begging? The chain of my thoughts was broken as the bus had arrived. I helped her load her heavy bag into the bus, and bade her goodbye.
The bus sped away.
I gave the child one last look , and left the place. I had hardly walked ten paces when i saw a family of beggars sitting on the same pavement enjoying simmering tea and bread, just in the manner people in an office do in the break time.
On the pavement was a handkerchief and all of their earnings of the morning was on it. I got it. It was time to share the spoils!

The child on the pavement , the one i had earlier seen was one of then. Without a doubt! And it was only a filler for the time they’d enjoy their breakfast and share the income. The show must go on!

Suddenly i didn’t really feel sorry for the child. Neither for beggars at large. Fully able bodied men can do with some hard work instead of making begging a family profession. No matter how much aid you give them, the next day they would be back, as it was such a convenient profession. Just sit and give out starved expressions. And the jingle of coins would follow.
Now i was neither piteous nor angry. I felt the beggars were right. Doesn’t the constitution allow every Indian to choose his trade?
This was their trade! Sure its different from ours.. No suited booted packaging. No briefcases. But still a trade.
I could now find myself justifying them in my mind. I could even nullify the arguement that they were eating on others’ money without working.
Who said they aren’t working? They are. Getting u to loosen your purse strings is no easy job. They always win their money. Their children are their advertisements. As they evoke pity, they bring in more revenue. Isn’t it similiar to just to any other business?
And this trade is free from recession and market pressures. No matter how bad the economy is, you also have a few coins to spare for the unfortunately fellow on the street . Don’t you?
Begging is not a compulsion. It is a profession, with its own dress code, code of conduct, advertisements, economic principles.

So the next time u hand down some aid to a beggar, remember you aren’t doing him any favour. Because he has won his aid! The very fact that he’s been able to tug at your heart’s strings proves that his is a job well done.


7 comments on “The Economics of Begging

  1. Ravi Koijam says:

    Moral of the story: Firstly, alms are not meant for able-bodied but the physically challenged beggars; Secondly, not to get carried away at the sight of a 2 year small child with a stainless steel begging bowl because a child putting a begging bowl by its side defies logic.(Know it very well bro, that we tend to sympathise with people at the sight of such things because it is the values ingrained in us that makes us feel so and at the same time makes us act impulsively but some people try to capitalise on our emotions which is really a sad thing and so we should always be on our guard)

  2. Anisha mitra says:

    Now this shows it doesnt always help to be kind n soft-hearted… might seem harsh but it’s more important to be practical….rather than giving two coins to a beggar child n then forgetting all about him/her,it would be worthwhile to make sure one unprivileged child gets educated for free because of u…..that is something which shall always remain with u n d child who gets it…

  3. sona agarwal says:

    amazing piece. and i must say its got a harsh truth behind it..
    however.. isnt it sad that a two year old is forced to be as it was.. that it shud be forcd to beg that way.. though its true that the beggers have made a businnss out of this.. but surely there is some “majburi” behind that, sumthin that compell them to tke such a step. frankly every person be it a beggar, a king or ordinary people like you and me.. has a story behind what he is and what he does.. and its impossible for anyone to understand another person’s story in its full magnitude.. the scene you describe
    “I had hardly walked ten paces when i saw a family of beggars sitting on the same pavement enjoying simmering tea and bread, just in the manner people in an office do in the break time.
    On the pavement was a handkerchief and all of their earnings of the morning was on it. I got it. It was time to share the spoils!”
    well firstly.. they were on the pavement.. its not the same as being in the office canteen..
    secondly.. who knows how many meals they can have in a day.. probably its just one of their two meals a day..dont they deserve to enjoy and relish it with laughter?
    thirdly …the only luxury they can probably afford is a cup of hot tea and bread..they dont get warm soft beds like us, nor cool cell phones like ours and the child.. 2 year old.. in the age of attending play school is begging.. tat i think is a sad fact in itself..
    however i agree with you that such a sight may kill the pity one was feeling for them, but i guess that moment was the only enjoyable thing in their lives…
    just something to think about…

  4. Thank you Sona. Your way of looking at it is indeed different and offers a fresh perspective of the same event. It isn’t wrong. But the problem with it is that nothing is completely right or completely wrong. It is in the grey region. We all have to jog our heads for a solution. Thank you.

  5. pallavideb says:

    Now-a-days begging has become an occupation. We should not encourage this at all.. We should help the person who is genuinely disabled but not the one who is fit and fine and is capable of working…

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