Beggars at Traffic Signals: What to do?

We all keep noticing beggars in the cities we live in. We certainly see them often times at various traffic signals across city roads. Poverty is general is a problem in India since time innumerable. Many elections have been won by politicians promising eradication of poverty. But poverty seems to be staying. Of course, not every poor person is beggar. But beggars are certainly poor. By street side and even in trains, beggars are very common. Also common are beggars at the traffic signals on the city roads. They live on the footpath, under the shade of a tree or something. I see them all the time.

Like many, I go to work to Kharadi EON IT Park everyday and I see them at at least at 3-4 signals on the way. The moment traffic stops at these signals, beggars pop up from no where and they engulf you before you even realize. You see women, women with kids with them, kids themselves extending their arms helplessly, elderly men, many times disabled. And the sight is not pretty at all. At times, you feel pity about them, and some other times your hands automatically reach out to your pockets for them. You also see many times transgenders as well walking around at traffic signals and their typical actions, they ask for money. If you pay them, you get good wishes, else you don’t! I have seen many beggars displaying their displeasure if they are denied their rightful(!) donation by spitting, by saying something, or even at times thumping on the bonnet of the car. In earlier days, beggars would be happy with coin changes, but it seems they don’t accept anything below Rs 10/- note. Not sure if these beggars have forgotten that beggars cannot be choosers! These street-side families employing their young children in begging activities, is in fact, illegal and against human rights. But who cares about rights when you are not sure of what you are going to have for dinner for 10-12 members in the family? Even the traffic police at the these signals ignore them-understandably so they see them every day and all day. Sometimes, you wonder if this has become their business. We know that this concept made very famous by actor Annu Kapur in Hindi movie Gardish couple of decades ago. Depicting beggars in movies, cartoons, is also very common.

You wonder, at times, if you are not busy on a call while driving, or don’t want to divert your attention from jokes that radio jockey(RJ) on radio in your car is cracking, as to how they beggars land in to situation where they forced to get to streets for their daily bread, and most of the times their entire family? We keep hearing farmers committing suicides, many times, when their life is ruined by drought or other reasons. The ones who don’t, you wonder if they get into such terminal situation. I being associated with mental health awareness since last many years, I also know that many of these beggars are suffering from various mental health issues. I know one NGO who works for such street-side people who are severely suffering from such problems, who are abandoned, who are lying on the footpath, surviving somehow with petty sums they get from the passers-by. I have written about that organization here in the past. I also know one of my friends running a education session for children on the street side. We also have seen photos of many organization distribute warm clothing etc to these people during winter seasons. This and donating them petty sums are are temporary solutions. You will find them there again at the same place at the same time. The real question is how to solve this forever?

I don’t have answer. We, as society need to think about it. Our Prime Minister has started monthly radio program called Man Ki Baat(मन की बात). May be putting this problem across him and drawing some attention would help. Organization can help in rehabilitating these people who can be still employable, provided their mental health is fine. I being in information technology field, I can think of a brainstorming hackathon for solving this problem, may be of help. Can this be made part of smart city agenda, by the way? We need to think on how to make them part of the society by having them employable and earn their own bread.

Many of us who entertain foreign visitors, and who go by these streets, we  are ashamed of beggars’ sight when we walk or drive on those roads. I also have seen many times, in the foreign countries, homeless people, standing by traffic signals, with board/placard seeking help. The difference is only in the style, and intensity of the problem. But the problems are everywhere. There is a saying in English which says, a country can be understood by people at traffic signals.

Anyways, what do you think? How to change this?

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