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Begging: A Rs 1.8 billion industry

By Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad
October 10, 2008 18:13 IST
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Do you know how many beggars are there in India and what their collective annual income is?

How much a beggar spends on his food and where does the remaining money go?

A study by Hyderabad based sociologist Mohammed Rafiuddin reveals fascinating details about beggars and the problem of begging in India, especially in Hyderabad.

After a two year long survey, which has been published under the title Beggars in Hyderabad, Rafiuddin says there were 73,00,000 beggars across India who earn as much as Rs 180 crore (Rs 1.8 billion). The study put the number of beggars in Hyderabad at 11,000 with a total earning of Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million).

The study further revealed that a beggar normally spends 20 per cent of his earnings on food as much as 30 per cent on bad habits (smoking, drinking etc). "As much as 50 per cent goes towards savings," said Rafiuddin.

"Even this huge amount of earning is not able to improve their condition as this charity and assistance is scattered and disorganised," said Rafiuddin, whose book was released by Shanta Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Child Welfare.

Rafiuddin, who is the director of Hyderabad Council for Human Welfare, took up the survey of the beggars after Arvind Kumar, the then collector of Hyderabad, launched an initiative to rehabilitate beggars and make the city free of begging.

Speaking on the occasion Sinha said those who give alms to the beggars are not doing them any good. "Instead of giving alms, we should strive for a permanent solution to their problems and for their rehabilitation. The beggars are not a problem; they are victims and a product of the shortcomings in our social system."

Instead of individual charity and giving alms to the beggars, Sinha called for an organised and collective charity system to permanently solve the problem. "If any comprehensive proposal is put before the National Commission, I will extend full cooperation," she said, adding that the presence of a large number of children and the elderly people among beggars was a cause of grave concern.

She condemned the new trend of lack of respect for the elderly in society. "If we don't respect the elderly people, we will also not get any respect," she said. The number of beggars was increasing because the majority of the people were escaping their responsibility (of taking care of their parents), she added.

Kumar, who had initiated a programme for the rehabilitation of beggars when he was collector of Hyderabad, said no country in the world was free of beggars. "I have seen beggars in large numbers even in New York. But, contrary to Indian beggars, the beggars in American cities are more dangerous as they become violent and start fighting with people. Begging is also a problem in countries of Latin America and Africa," he said.

Pointing out that there were lot of children among the beggars in Hyderabad, Kumar underlined the need for opening four of five play schools with the cooperation of the corporate sector in different parts of the city to rehabilitate them.

Kumar, along with some NGOs, had made an attempt to rehabilitate beggars by providing them houses, ration cards, pension schemes and a means of livelihood through self-employment schemes. This attempt, however, failed to take off. Though begging in punishable offence under the law, he said it would continue as long as people gave money.
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