About Me

Thursday, December 23, 2010

PHOTO EXHIBITION: Chattisgarh - Life I Expressions I Symbolism


Life  Expressions  Symbolism

Photo Exhibition by Shashwat Saraf

Venue: Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise, Lodhi Road, New Delhi
Dates: 12th - 16th January 2011

This exhibition is a journey of discovery of a hidden jewel that is Chattisgarh. It is an exploration of the cultural magnificence of its various tribes as seen in everyday lives of the people. It provides a peep into the unsung life of the people going about their lives tucked away in the middle of glorious forests.

The beauty of incredibly tattooed bodies, the innocence in use of simple objects as fashion accessories, the mystery of untold stories hidden behind the wrinkles of an old woman, the fun of tales hidden behind the laughs of an old man, the sense of pride in use of musical instruments, the pleasure of dancing, the quiet confidence of a child in a school- the photographs succeed in building a warm, personal bond with the lives of strangers caught on camera while at the same time, leaving a thirst to know more!

For me, this exhibition is a small attempt to bridge the ever increasing disconnect between urban India and the ones living beyond the footprint of 24 hr Television channels. This gap, whenever bridged, is often done on a plank of sympathy emanating from portrayal of deprivation and poverty. This exhibition hopes to kindle a spark of interest which is based on respect, equality and admiration.

My twin identities - as amateur photographer and a development worker cannot be separated. The influence of one on the other is reflected in the subjects of my photographs and in the composition.

For me, the journey of taking these photographs was just as interesting as the photographs themselves. I moved from village to village on a motorcycle, slept in dhabas …..but all along the way, it was a happy adventure during which I made many new friends and even more memories.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Humanitarian agencies call for aid based on Afghans' needs, not the military's

ACBAR ﺍﮐﺑﺮ Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief

Embargoed until: 00.01 Kabul Time (+4.30 GMT), 02 December 2009

Humanitarian agencies call for aid based on Afghans' needs, not the military's

Aid agencies in Afghanistan call donors to meet the humanitarian needs of Afghans, outlined in a recently launched $870 million funding appeal. As the U.S. prepares to deploy additional troops, ACBAR coalition representing over 100 Afghan and international aid agencies, urged donors to address the need for principled humanitarian assistance independent of political and military goals, ranging from aid for refugees to mobile health services.

The 2010 Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) maps out a one-year strategy for aid agencies to address lifesaving needs and fill the gaps that the government is unable to meet. Weak institutions, corruption and violence have limited the government's ability to provide for and protect its citizens, including 5.5 million refugees who have returned home and hundreds of thousands displaced by ongoing violence. A recent report by Oxfam International showed that Afghans viewed poverty as one of the main drivers of the conflict.

In 2009 nearly 200 million dollar in health, nutrition, mine action and emergency shelter projects were not funded by donors. The funding shortfalls have led to thousands of flood-affected people without proper shelter for the harsh winter and unable to replant damaged fields.

Despite this year's bumper harvest, millions of Afghans do not meet their basic food requirements and child malnutrition are at alarming levels. In November, a joint assessment conducted in a camp for displaced people in Kabul showed that more than one in five children screened were classified as acutely malnourished and had no access to treatment. “Urgent action and effective nutrition surveillance in both urban and rural areas is essential to prevent a crisis and also to ensure that we are better able to respond to the needs of the people at risk” said Shashwat Saraf, head of mission of Action Contre la Faim.

"Donors are not doing enough to meet the needs of Afghans," says Dr. Habibullah Sahak, country director of Ibn Sina, an Afghan health organization. "Health services have somewhat improved but over 200,000 children and 17,000 pregnant women continue to die each year, mostly because they lack basic healthcare, clean water and nutrition."

Aid representatives say that most aid money available for Afghanistan requires working through the government or supporting counterinsurgency operations. "Working with the government is the best approach to sustainable development - if you have stability. With the government coming under attack, it is becoming riskier to be associated with its programs in some areas." said Laurent Saillard Director of ACBAR.

Humanitarian groups argue that too much aid goes to where troops are located or is being used as part of the counterinsurgency strategy. "If we are forced to be involved in counterinsurgency activities and work with provincial reconstruction teams and military entities, our acceptance in the communities will be compromised. This is a risk we cannot take and as a result, we have turned down funding opportunities which require working with the military and involvement in counterinsurgency," said Lex Kassenberg, country director for CARE International.

The Pentagon has already doubled aid available to the U.S. military in Afghanistan to $1.2 billion through the Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP). USAID is also expected to channel the majority of its funds to support counterinsurgency operations in the south and east. Canada, which has troops in Kandahar, puts half of its funding into the war torn province.

There is an urgent need to balance the aid funds with the military budgets. A conservative assessment shows that aid money coming to the country is less than 10% of the military spending by the troops contributing nations.

“The military are part of the conflict so they are unable to provide aid without jeopardizing the safety and security of civilians," said Hashim Mayar. "Aid should only be provided by troops as a last resort to save lives, in accordance with civil-military guidelines endorsed by both NATO and the Pentagon."

Life For a Humanitarian Worker in Afghanistan

November 2009
Each day in Afghanistan hangs on tenuous strings of the security situation. The general level of insecurity means that taking precautions is a way of life- adding a sinister edge to things that we take for granted elsewhere. Making ones way to the office each day is no longer a simple task of waking up and treading the often walked paths blindfolded! In Afghanistan, it means deciding on a new route to office each day and not repeating it in the next few days! The only thing that prevents one from having a walk in London is the weather. In Afghanistan, a walk alone on the streets is impossible due to bomb threats, kidnapping threats and host of other threats! It is therefore no surprise that each day, my inbox greets me with an unending list of security updates.

The small peaks and lows in the otherwise shooting-out-of-the-page graph of Afghan security situation determines what my day will actually turn out to be! Well laid out plans often become the sacrificial goats in face of the latest security situation. Inshaallah, the often used phrase in Afghanistan acquires a new relevance in the current security situation. Indeed, any plan that one makes hinges on the will of the factors beyond our control!

Afghan elections have been in the world news, sometimes for the wrong reasons. The legitimacy of the elections has already suffered a critical blow at both national and international level due to the widespread fraud and violence that accompanied the elections. Given the fluid election scenario, it is no surprise that all conversations in Kabul start with an analysis of the post election scenario. However, there is no reliable prediction on what the security/insecurity implications will be with either of the two main candidates winning the election. For us as an INGO in Afghanistan, this means that the immediate future will continue to be ruled by uncertainties.

Kabul is the centre of INGO base with all INGOs operating along the length and breadth of Afghanistan maintaining atleast a presence in Kabul. The thriving centre of UN agencies, Bi-lateral agencies, INGO and NGOs in Kabul makes it an ideal place for managing coordination issues. A host of coordination forums exist, the key ones among those are strategically chosen by us to participate in. A considerable amount of time and energy is spent on coordination. Almost on a daily basis, one is coordinating with one or the other coordination forums, ranging from security focused ones to ones focused on programmes, humanitarian responses and of course, the UN cluster forums.

The challenge of working in multiple locations, often remote, within the increasingly shrinking safe space for humanitarian action in Afghanistan is that we have to constantly re-invent ourselves so as to meet the programmatic expectations. Monitoring and reporting becomes a bigger challenge when access to the locations is limited. Managing these aspects of our work ensures that a normal work day in Afghanistan spans across the European and Afghan time zones and beyond!

Each day in Afghanistan brings with it new challenges, new response to a new situation and new learning! There is never a dull moment! Normalcy of a ‘routine’ life is all but a hazy memory! Yet working in Afghanistan gives one the satisfaction of overcoming challenges each day to work for a community whose needs are unquestionably, one of the greatest in the world. It is this thought that gives the team here the energy and the bottomless supply of adrenalin needed on a daily basis!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


March 2009

Well this is not Dash 8 Series 300 but yes this is and will be my companion for the coming year…………..

Yes, this is the day 0….the day when I have to leave Khartoum and set my foot on my ‘karm bhumi’[1] El Fasher.
‘Welcome on board flight 741 whisky the united nations humanitarian air service. The Flight from Khartoum to Nyala would take 2 hrs 10 minutes’
The ones who have discerned that Nyala does not spell like El Fasher and are wondering whether it’s the new de-arabised name of El Fasher, well I wish u were right but, no, you score a zero. Nyala is indeed a different town where this flight was supposed to make a stop over. My ultimate destination remains El Fasher, the capital (or so I believe) of North Darfur.
The small 48 seater plane takes off from Khartoum, offering a wonderful aerial view of the city. My attention is captured by the two winding hands of Nile, the white and the blue merging together to form a huge river. It is just wonderful to think that meandering river that I was seeing from above is the cradle of all civilization. These are the civilizations which have made it worthwhile to pay in pounds and euros and dollars for all the museums where we see wrapped up mummies and men with wolf faces.
As promised by the pilot, the plane lands in Nyala after 2 hrs and 10 mins. The steward, reminds us that our journey is not over as yet (apart from the 2 people who got off at Nyala) and asks us to disembark the plane and wait in the waiting room for the time that it took to refuel the plane. We shuffled out of the plane like obedient sheep. It was ok about refuelling but I want to put in ink and paper my protest against the term ‘waiting room’ being used for the enclosure. It had a fighting chance (with a bit of bribery thrown in) to classify as a room, but a ‘waiting room’, that’s just abuse of the term and all that it stands for.
After about 15 mins in the ‘waiting room’, the gates opened and we were again herded back into the plane. The announcement boomed ‘the flight to El Geniena will take 50 mins’. Well, I forgot to tell you that this flight with 48 people was taking 2 stop overs!!!!!!!!!!!!! The journey to El Fasher was going to take a minimum of 4.30 mins when the same could have taken 1.5 hrs in a commercial aircraft (not allowed to us because of low maintenance standards)! Do you think it is reflective of the extra long paths that UN takes to do anything?????????
45 mins in the air and the booming voice tells us that we were descending into Al Geniena. I, still a tourist at heart, plastered my face onto the window to see the city and the strip. But try as I might, I could not see the air strip! I brushed aside doubts about my eyesight because of the all clear I got from the medical checkup army in London last week who had checked me with efficiency of 23rd century robots. It was then I realized that the plane was about to land on something similar to a neighbourhood cricket pitch, just a few yards longer. To make matters a bit more heart thumping, the ‘strip’ was located in the middle of some huts with cattle and children running away just as the plane was making a touch down! With a thud, the plane made a touchdown on the red gravel of the pitch. The sight of mortal remains of two planes were scattered 20 mts from the strip ….I thanked my stars for not meeting the same fate and wondered whether the accidents were caused by planes skidding while trying to miss running over a fleeing child or cow! Then the truth dawned on me like a lightening- this is the reason why the UN plane had made no security/safety announcements and had brushed the matter aside by asking us to read the booklet. I guess with sights like this greeting the passengers at airports and with not a sliver of water seen post Khartoum, UN fellows would not like to remind people of the dangers confronting the passengers with each flight and would definitely not to like remind us that the plane’s floatation devises would not be of much use while flying over a desert! And they were surely in no mood to mention that the desert is peppered with rebels and govt armies, both hostile!
10 mins and exchange of another two passengers later, the flight doors were closed and the booming voice told us that the flight would be proceeding to El Fasher and the time taken would be 50 mins. Phew!, atleast now I had a good chance of actually reaching my ‘karm bhumi’. There was a negligible chance now of the flight turning around towards Khartoum due to insecurity in El Fasher. At Khartoum, my friends had told me that mid way cancellation is not an uncommon thing to happen!!!
The plane took off…‘Here I come El Fasher’. Another 50 mins, another 50 mins without sighting water and another announcement later I landed at El Fasher. I had finally landed on my ‘karm bhumi’ – and it felt good even though I was totally exhausted after the day which started with journey to the airport at dawn and had lazily wound its way endless series of taking off and landings.
Outside the airport, I had my first real sight of El Fasher from the ground. What greeted me was the sight of a dusty field full of NGO and UN cars with big logos which were waiting outside to pick up people from the airport. One of those cars is the one which has come to pick me up ….i could not spot it but I knew eventually I would and that I would be rewarded, much like a puppy under training, with an introduction to a new co-worker.
I am nervous but I remember my name, that should get me till the end of the day 0!!! One step at a time, someone wise had uttered ….and I intended to stick to it like Velcro!
For the next few hrs I will be the newest ‘namuna’[2] on the block, the one whom everyone would be measuring up with the first look, ‘he looks like a baby’, ‘he is not white’, ‘will he be able to manage the programme’…..those will be the thoughts streaking across all whom I meet ….BUT for me , all I had to do efficiently today was to remember my name!!!!!!!!!!!!.
Finally, the day 0 is coming to an end…So what am I thinking….my head is full of mish mash of incoherent thoughts. Dublin, London, Paris……were those places where I was 7 days ago? Was I uploading endless albums on Paris a day before??????? ???????????? The snow of Dublin, my couch in Dublin, the magic of Paris, India……or this dusty expanse….what was my true reality? Is there any one true reality or is it that the real reality is a just series of interim realities!
The journey today had been bumpy, but atlast I was here. I am hoping that the ride ahead will be less bumpy and would not unravel to be a series of endless take offs and landings with thud of failure. No doubt this will be a difficult but an exiting journey.
PS: Little did I know that Day 1 onwards, my work days will stretch 12 hrs and that my radio call sign will become my new name!

[1] Karm Bhumi: the land of one’s actions, where one has to make one’s destiny,
[2] Namuna: the odd spectacle/new freak thing/a new exhibit. In strict terms it means a sample

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Decriminalising Begging in India


Begging (Webster’s defines a beggar as a poor or impoverished person, completely dependent on outside help) within the countries is noticed more in urban and suburban areas as compared to villages (Centre for Media Studies, 2000). The 9th Five Year Plan (FYP) of the Government of India (GoI) states that ‘the social scenario in the country has been fast changing due to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. The unending flow of rural population to the already crowded cities and towns in search of employment has resulted in serious problems like…poverty etc. In this process, certain categories of population, who failed to cope with these rapid changes, have started lagging behind the rest of the society due to their vulnerability. They include Persons with Disabilities; the Social Deviants, who come in conflict with law viz. - …beggars etc. (Centre for Media Studies, 2000).

The scale of people begging is difficult to say as there are no reliable estimates. The 9th FYP of GoI admits, ‘there is no information about the size and magnitude of the problem’. Though it can be gauged from the fact that, Dr. Kumarappa in 1945 wrote ‘there were some 1.4 million persons in India whose sole means of subsistence is begging’.

Beggars have minimal economic security, are often homeless and are subject to marginalisation. They are treated with suspicion, disdain, hostility and even aggression, and they are socially excluded once they take that first step into beggary.

Over and above this, the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 (the model for a range of anti-beggary state acts enacted in 16 States and 2 Union Territories) declares begging in public places an offence punishable with imprisonment or a fine. The official response is simply criminalisation of beggary and very little interest is taken by the government to do more than house beggars in detention centres.

Though there are various facets to the issue of begging that needs to be deliberated upon, this paper would focus only on the need to de-criminalise begging in India. This is very critical as criminalisation of beggars is a double burden on the already destitute population of the cities and makes the marginalised section of the urban population even more vulnerable. It would further prepare grounds and argue for the need to expand the understanding of begging as an urban livelihood strategy in the absence of a wider social security network.


One of the biggest debates around beggary involves the basic perception of the activity. There are two streams of thought, one that it is a cry for help, the other, an offence. One claims that beggary is the result of need, the other, of inclination. The former presupposes a condition of helplessness in which beggars cannot earn their livelihood by any other means. The latter focuses on the deviant nature of beggars with which they have chosen to reject a life of work to live off the wealth created by others. A small section considers it a response to particular set of circumstances, and some a symptom of poverty and social disintegration, and many others, urban nuisance, black spot to becoming global cities, traffic hazard, and a boost to crime. However, both these arguments share the basis that begging is a social reality of immense concern. But, the concern is translated into policy choices differently depending on the perception of the activity. The former leans towards decriminalizing beggary, whereas, the latter not only supports the existing draconian laws but asks for more.

Both sides look at the religious, the social, the economic, & the political-legal dimensions of beggary to build their argument for criminalisation or de-criminalisation.

A historical understanding of giving, points to its theological, ethical and socio-economic roots. The Vedic notion of ‘daana’, the Christian notion of ‘charity’, the Islamic doctrine of ‘zakat’ point to the universal validity of `giving' as a primary socio-religious need (Samuel, 1999). Whereas, an old study of Delhi argued that charitable giving had in fact become part of the problem as it had become enmeshed in a self-interested religious fervour for spiritual cleansing. This inflated giving beyond its initial function for relieving the needs of the more unfortunate and thus produced more beggars than necessary (Rao, 1959).

At the social front many have argued the relationship between destitution and beggary and implicitly implied decriminalization. Even though not all beggars are destitute, most destitute people beg. Acute poverty and deprivation normally leads to beggary particularly for those who are handicapped or those who are aged, infirm and have none to support them. In India a fairly large proportion of beggars are destitutes (Joshi & Singh, 1999) and the very poorest of the poor are destitute (Harriss-White, 2002). Those faced with acute poverty are driven to urban areas for their survival. On the other hand, recent studies such as in Puri, Orissa, project that half of beggars are able bodied making on an average more income than the wages of millions of poor peasants and workers (Jha, 1979). Other reports have emerged that suggested that beggars used tricks such as fake pregnancies or fake medical prescriptions, to deceive people into giving them money . We see that there are beggars who have taken to it as a profession by pretending to be physically or visually handicapped so as to make easy living without doing hard work (Centre for social studies, 2000). For many, begging is regarded as no more than a life choice of the idle or unprincipled, ‘the problem (beggary) still continues to exist in its worst form as begging has become a profession for many, as they find it as an easy means of livelihood (9th Five Year Plan, GoI).This is well countered by Murdoch when talking of U.K., he goes on to say, ‘despite the sensational media reports of the early 1990s which claimed that ‘bogus beggars’ were able to earn more than those in many respectable professions, the nature of begging as a stigmatized activity means that people tend to engage in it as an economic activity of last resort’ (Murdoch, 1994).

Along with the perceived disintegration of the ethic of hard work, beggary has been variously condoned as a problem of public health, decency, morality, and order. Discussions in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly point to an overarching perception, “the majority of beggars carry loathsome diseases, which cause potential threats to common citizens” said one of the members in 1958.

In this vein, some writers, more prominent in the West, have even come to the defence of the most stigmatised beggars – those mentioned above as having bad habits or idle minds. Just as the infirm may be forced to rely on the whimsical generosity of others, the poor are also deprived of any institutional support, opportunities or guidance to afford them real options in life. Dominic Fox, Chief Executive of National Homeless Alliance in England said; "we have to ensure that these people who are some of the most damaged in our society, are not demonised and seen as undeserving through their dependency on drugs or alcohol, but are offered adequate support, quickly when they need it, to help them."

At the economic level, writers such as Kumarappa, argued that with modernisation, traditional social structures started to unravel, with industrialisation and foreign competition disrupting traditional and co-operative means of income generation. Rural commodities were increasingly devalued and controlled by big business and the social foundations of village life were uprooted with resulting migration in search of alternative incomes. It became clear that beggary was only an enlarging phenomenon (Kumarappa, 1945).

George Orwell famously challenged the distinction between begging and other remunerated activities, arguing that: there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of a numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said: but then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, bronchitis etc. It is a trade like any other: quite useless of course – but then many reputable trades are quite useless. (Orwell, 1932 as cited in Dean, 1999). Those who think that begging is different in kind from other forms of economic activity usually point to the fact that begging involves “getting something for nothing”, while other forms of economic activity all involve getting something in return. (Adler, 1999:165).

At the political & legal level, many attribute the increase in numbers to the criminality of beggary, ‘the most disturbing feature is begging under various kinds of compulsions and the worst are those who are inducted into begging by force by anti-social elements’ (9th Five year Plan, GoI). They claim that beggary has become a lucrative business, with certain city spots highly fought after, and beggar-masters demanding heavy rates for their use . In other, cases such as Ludhiana, it was reported that poor children were said to have been encouraged into addiction and subsequently forced into begging rings (Chopra, 2002). Many even lament that there has not been enough action on the part of the police or the government to curb this evil. A senior officer of the Delhi Police, Maxwell Pereira commented “Begging is a social malaise, which despite efforts or claimed efforts on the part of concerned authorities, flourishes in Delhi with impunity – much to the disgust, distaste and horror of the community at large”.

On September 24, the Delhi High Court directed the Delhi administration to clear Delhi of beggars and hawkers as they `obstruct the smooth flow of traffic'. The order came in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) that described beggars and homeless people as the `ugly face of the nation's capital' and as people who, among other things, caused `road rage' (Frontline, Nov 2002). The recent Delhi High Court order to clear the capital city of beggars is seen to ignore the rights of destitute people and the problems they face (Gopalakrishnan, 2002). Many poor and homeless people are being arrested as a result of a skewed law on begging (Outlook, 2004).There are other writers who have argued that not only is criminalisation unfair, but penalties can, and often have inflicted further damage on already underprivileged groups. "Before taking any action, you need to understand the impact that action is going to have," says Cathy Guthrie of UNICEF Canada talking about banning child labour, which has parallels with begging. "If you don't, you run the risk of driving children away into more hazardous situations where their vulnerability is heightened and they are more easily exploited."

The views of the intellectual community on beggary range from a strong derogatory outlook to a more conciliatory and caring approach, or even one that turns the culpability onto the state.


The state has the mandate of taking care of each and every citizen in just and dignified manner, and beggars are not beyond that. The least that the government can do, if not provide for social security, is not to penalize the poor for being poor. Whereas, the law does not address the socio-economic basis of beggary, but, criminalises it instead. The whole scheme of the Act is punitive. De-criminalisation of beggary is essential to ensure some degree of dignity and freedom for the people at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy in India.

The immediate dilemma for policy makers is whether beggars require control (to regulate their economic enterprise) or protection (from the risks they run on the street). Beyond the immediate dilemma, however, is the question of how the changing nature of social policy intervention will be able effectively to accommodate the needs of those drawn or forced into begging and street level economic activity (Dean, 1999).

The three grounds on which I would argue for decriminalization of beggary in India are: one, the failure and the misuse of the existing policy of criminalization, two, there exist laws to tackle the menace around beggary argued by the proponents of criminalization, and lastly, social security provisions and not punitive action is what is required.

The limitations of criminalisation are well articulated in the 9th FYP, ‘despite the enforcement of Anti-Beggary legislations by 16 States and 2 Union Territories, the problem still continues to exist in its worst form (9th FYP, GoI).

In most of the existing Acts, the definition of ‘begging’ is so vague that any person without visible means of subsistence could be apprehended for being suspected as a beggar. Any person can be termed as beggar who is soliciting or receiving alms, whether or not under any pretence such as singing, dancing, fortune telling, etc; having no visible means of subsistence, and wandering about in public place in such a condition or manner, as makes it likely that the person doing so exists by soliciting or receiving alms. Any police officer is authorised to arrest without a warrant any person found begging under the wide definition mentioned above. This is the draconian power that is used by the state to reduce any poor to beggar, which means they are required to live in a continuous state of fear as they can be beaten, abused, chased, rounded up and arrested.

Beggars are victims of injustice. The three tiers of the Indian set up – the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive; have contributed in downgrading the status of these downtrodden masses; from poor to criminals (ActionAid, 2004).

The fear of the law can be gauged from the statement of Fayeem, a coolie “the people who earn their daily bread through hard manual labour require rest for their body and mind, at least for a few hours, if we sleep peacefully, next morning we may wake up in the Lampur house (detained in a beggar home)”. Further, a study by Centre for Media studies found ‘the entire process of identification and arrest of beggars does not appear to be sound as many of the arrested persons were found to be engaged in productive activities such as carpentry, plumbing, etc.’. ‘By the most conservative estimates of the staff,…in these institutions (beggar homes), at least 10% of the inmates are likely to be not beggars at all’.

One of the most vehement arguments for criminalisation has been the ‘beggary racket’. But, in reality there exist several laws to deal with organised begging. The anti-beggary law itself does not draw any distinction between organised begging where one or more persons are compelled to beg by force and people who beg to sustain themselves. The current institutionalised approach to beggars merely serves to punish destitute people.

There is a separate law ‘The Indian Penal Code (Section 363A)’ that deals with the kidnapping and maiming of a minor for purposes of begging. A lawyer working at beggars court in Delhi said, “in our experience in the beggars' court, the BPBA is hardly ever used to arrest people who maim or coerce people for purposes of begging. In six months of our work there, we have come across one case and that too where the victim (a blind person) has been convicted and sentenced for two years. The persons who were forcing him to beg and were living off his earnings have not even been proceeded against.”

The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956 ("ITPA"), is another such law that is meant to prevent trafficking in human beings. Further, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, is also a potent law to deal with forced begging.

Thus, the existence of the BPBA does little more than victimizing the weak and the powerless.

On one hand our development interventions along with few ‘avoidable negative evils’ are virtually compelling poor people to migrate in urban areas, on the other hand there is minimal or no planning process to take care of them in urban areas. The rise of begging and destitution is connected to the disruption of traditional living arrangements and the need for many of the poor to seek their livelihood far from their homes (Kumarappa, 1945).

Shri Prithviraj D. Chavan said in a Lok Sabha debate on July 25, 1997; “if we want to really get rid of this abhorrent practice of begging, the causes which make people beg have to be eliminated… it is quite impractical to abolish beggary by enacting legislation. Beggary cannot be outlawed; poverty will have to be outlawed.” Education, training, a ban on child labour and the introduction of a comprehensive pensions system are now discussed, albeit quietly, along side detention centres and police round ups.

The realization from a developed country like U.K. has also been one of de-criminalisation of beggary, ‘a peep into the past reveals that early and Medieval England had a large number of beggars. They constituted of the deprived, the destitutes, the disabled as well as able-bodied lazy individuals. Initially the beggars were arrested and put in work houses. As time went by beggar homes were established. However, by merely arresting them and placing them in these homes was not sufficient to effectively sole the problem of beggary. In order to find a long lasting and effective solution to the problem the government drew up various schemes of social assistance, social security, employment and placement. It was with the help of these schemes that a great degree of success was achieved in curbing the evil of beggary. Similarly schemes are also found in operation in other progressive western countries’ (Joshi & Singh, 1999). Even in India the 9th Five Year Plan admits, referring specifically to beggary, that “presently, the approach for tackling this problem is based primarily on punitive devices with very little scope for any diversified programmes of treatment and rehabilitation, neither for the able-bodied nor for the disabled beggars” (9th FYP). In calling for a full repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824, Homeless Link (U.K.) said: "Given that there is little public support for a punitive approach to rough sleeping and begging, that criminalising already vulnerable people is more likely to compound their problems and frustrate the work of support agencies, and that more creative welfare-based and employment solutions need to be found, we urge the Government to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 entirely."

By declaring begging an offence punishable with detention, it can be argued that this Act takes away from the poor their right to liberty for trying to enjoy in the only way available to him, their other right, the right to life.

There is a need to challenge the idea of punishment in any sense in relation to begging. In one sense the logic follows that if society wants to forbid beggary and impose grave consequences, it also has to make substantial and organised efforts to alleviate poverty. In this type of argument, a ban against beggary is still desirable, but social reorganisation rather than punishment is the remedy.

Policy Implications

We have seen that the anti-beggary law has been ineffective in dealing with the social ills around beggary and is a weak tool to check organised and forced begging. All it has been able to achieve is to instil fear and insecurity, and victimise not only beggars but also the large number of urban poor.

Policy makers should consider the following to formulate policies around beggary:

a. Research has shown that most people in beggary are destitute and are in need of care rather than victimisation.

b. In the absence of social security mechanisms, beggary remains the last resort for many to realise ‘the right to life’.

c. Lessons from other countries have shown that strong social security net is the best way to reduce begging.

On the one hand, policy makers need to de-criminalise beggary, which only harms the already fragile existence of the destitute and on the other they need to create an enabling environment for the destitutes and the ever increasing urban population towards achieving lives of security and dignity, through expanded social security provisions.