Content advisory 14+ We encounter them every day, we see right through them as if they are invisible, walk past them silently without acknowledging their incessant calls. Yes, I am talking about the beggars on the streets of India.
We all have mixed emotions when it comes to beggars. When I was young, I was taught to be kind and giving. When I was around eight, one day I was travelling with my dad in the local train. As usual, a beggar got on it singing for alms and dad ignored him. After we had reached our destination and were walking towards home, he told me, “You might think I am heartless, but we work to earn our livelihood and so should everyone else. If you give him money now, he will never try to earn his living and thus will not ever contribute to the community.” Seemed logical.
For a many years afterwards I used to walk past these poor people without helping any one of them, even though at the odd occasions I felt a kind of gnawing shame. Weird. One day before school, I was walking with my best friend through the by-lanes when an elderly moderately well-off woman approached us and asked for money. We were confused considering her attire and while my best friend wanted to hand over her pocket money promptly, I stopped her and instead offered her our tiffin (a kind of cake consisting of crushed nuts, syrup, and a coat of chocolate). She didn’t want them and we walked away.
Fast forward to college. One day a man approached us for money for treatment of his son. Being the blissfully ignorant first year students (treatment in all government hospitals in India including medicine is for free or at nominal costs) , my friends handed over some cash to him and we found out we had been scammed when we encountered the same man dealing the same story to another group. Needless to say, he didn’t come around again.
One day I was stuck waiting at a traffic light with my boyfriend when a teenage boy approached our Uber asking for money, and, being the heartless person, I am, I ignored him while my boyfriend gave him some money. Then he said, “Bhaiya bhook lagi hain, thoda aur do na” (Brother, I am hungry please give me some more) and I looked in disbelief when he handed over some more. I was like, “Why did you give him so much money, he is only going to spend it all on drugs” and as if to prove my point, I followed the teenage boy with my eyes. He was at the roadside food stall and he was handing over the money for some food. The light turned green and the car moved forward and I wished we could have given him some more.
The question is, are all beggars no more than scammers? No. No one likes to beg, except a select few who are simply cheaters. We all fall upon hard times, some are worse off than others and it is our duty to extend a helping hand towards the helpless. It took a lot of time for me to come to terms with this less than altruistic side of me, or maybe the part of me whose natural generosity has been somewhat stifled by some unsavory incidents, and I pledged to change myself.
Does that mean I have become a philanthropist on a student budget? No. In my mind I have categorized beggars into five categories --- the children, the worshippers, the nursing mothers, the handicapped and the elderly -- and I deal with them differently. I try to give food to the street children and plead with them to go to the local school. To them, I don’t give money. The worshippers and the nursing mothers I tend to ignore since most of them are young women who could easily get work if they wished to. And I donate alms to the handicapped and the elderly.
However things might be, we should always stop to help a person in need.
I would like to invite Eric and Artem to share their much more mature views on the topic than my ignorant one!