a tale of forgotten biscuits

The sight of beggar children is something that has always upset and pained me. It is the perhaps the most deafening and loudest why that came my way, and one that sadly I could never find an answer to. And yet, though many many not know it, it is the very first why project why set out to address way back in 1998. Sadly it is the one we could not find a suitable answer to though in some ways project why came to be, because of an encounter with a beggar who became the spirit and strength of project why our very own Manu!

I still get disturbed by children begging and have often tried and shared my views for anyone to hear. How can I ever forget that one of the first person who told me how important it was to look with you heart was a beggar woman! And it is not surprising that our first valiant and very naive venture into the charity bizmess was to try and do something about children who become beggars. We tried and failed and life moved on. Then why am I writing about beggars today. The answer is simple: in its frenzy to spruce up Delhi for the CW games, our Government has evolved plans to address the situation in its own bizarre ways. (This was brought to my notice in a passionate note of FB.) The first one was a diktat to the states: Take back your beggars! Squads have been formed, and zero tolerance zones identified. You see there are places where beggars just cannot be seen. I guess those are the ones the CWG guests will visit! After the British who criminalised nomadic tribes, it is now our own government who is criminalising beggars. But what we forget is that beggars are either forced into beggary to survive and are often educated and unemployed - entrepreneurs of a special kind - or part of organised mafias - lucrative business-! And yes though we need to rehabilitate them, programmes and projects that aim at feeding them or teaching them some inane trade like basket weaving is not the answer.

It takes two to tango, we all know that. Beggars survive and earn because we give them the coin they seek. And we here is you and me and the whole civil society. The day beggary becomes a non-lucrative business it has to die a natural death and people will find other ways of earning a living. There are very few real beggars like the old lady of my yore years. The majority are part of mafias that kidnap children, maim them and so on.

You must be wondering why this post is entitled a tale of nutritive biscuits. This was our valiant and naive answer to the beggar problem. Way back in 1998 when I was still looking for a cause to defend, I had zeroed in on the beggar child as that was somehow the most visible aberration for all to see. The idea that we came up with was to find a way to stop the giving of money and give nutrition instead. Each time a beggar knocked at your car window just hand two nutritive biscuits. And I must confess, albeit sheepishly, that to me it seemed a Eureka idea so we went at it full swing: stickers on cars and vehicles, biscuits that would be sold in a reusable box that could fit on your car dashboard, and we dreamed on: biscuits that could be bought at petrol stations. We were on cloud nine! But the cloud burst before we knew it. People were not taken in by the idea, or perhaps we were unable to market it well enough. We set sail on another road and the deafening why remained unanswered.

The biscuits will remain forgotten I presume. But what I am trying to say is that unless we as civil society stop giving even if it is so much easier to roll down the window and cast a coin without even looking at the child or woman, beggary will endure, as any lucrative business does. Till then beggars will be hidden by the powers that be each time it is necessary. And my question to you is are WE ready to try and put an end to this evil.

Note: The mafias that control beggars are very powerful and dangerous. I am not thinking of Slumdog Millionaire but of our own brush with them. Some years back we tried to begin a one hour outreach programme for the beggar children under the Nehru Place flyover. In spite of our best efforts we were not allowed to though we were flexible on time. The reason of course was that any such effort would result in the handlers losing control. I know some people have managed to break the mould. More power to them till we all wake up.