“Do din se khana nahi khaya hai.” Toh?
Shruti Parmar questions the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 solution.
It is an issue best understood by Mumbaikars.
Every day as our city steps out of its house and commutes through locals, busses & cars at its iconic pace; we also meet the distinct tug of a crippled man, a hungry child, a dispassionate mother or an aggressive transgender – that extends its bowl to us. It is abject poverty that stares at us in the face- the beggars on our streets. A little unsettled, we, look away.
In India, the giving of alms to the poor especially outside religious places is a crucial tradition. But, we do know about professional beggars and how such business is a social evil. Why don’t we see so many beggars abroad? And what should we do to not see them here every day? The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (BPBA), 1959, that arrests and detains beggars in a certified institution providing vocational training, was made to ensure this. But, there are loopholes within the concept of this system. Let’s discuss some of them.
Firstly, the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech demands that appeal for help in the desperation of one’s condition as is in the case of begging is a form of protected speech. Making it illegal to do so, even when it is a peaceful way, may infringe upon a mostly voiceless population’s necessary right.
Secondly, criminalising poverty is a wrongful notion. It puts the onus on individuals to secure employment and reduces the obligation of the state. Besides, the reasons for begging are varied. The world’s major religions have forms of nihilistic lifestyles wherein individuals give up materialism to live off begging for their basic needs. The instances where children are kidnapped and forced into the trade by criminal gangs are many. However, they should be tried under laws for such crimes under the IPC.
Thirdly- corruption. The greatest issue lies within the enforcement of such acts. The police have been known to go on drives and round up the poor and unwashed as they so deem. These are then sent to vocational training homes where the skills imparted to them have little relation to employ-ability. The hygiene and healthcare is of the worst standards and the inmates are beaten and treated with utter disrespect. Not everyone is taken in though. Why not question the nexus between the police and the criminal gangs involved in this industry first?
In a society stiffen with inequality like ours; many are driven to begging on the streets. Although it is necessary to take measures to curb this activity, the 1959 Act is ineffective because it criminalizes people for a social problem. A more effective system is required through police non-bias, judicial activism and strong institutions of support to resolve this grave issue at the earliest.