Begging – a choice or a way of life???

Our car stopped at a traffic junction. And similar to all traffic lights in India, there are scores of kids, women with infants and physically handicapped men loitering around. The kids generally try and spot the longest car to clean to make a few extra bucks. The women go around parading the infants in hope that at least 1 window of all those AC cars waiting for the green light, will lower, to give them some money for the wailing baby.  The physically handicapped men too try similar tricks for a penny or two.

As I rummaged around in my purse for loose change, hubby dear gave me a good hearing. “They are all lethargic useless people. They don’t want to work, so they beg on the streets. Please don’t encourage begging by giving them money”, he remarked. I went down memory lane, remembering countless such occasions where people around me – friends and colleagues had objected to this behavior. They say its a million dollar business racket run around by these people. They say why can’t these kids and people who are absolutely healthy do some work for a living. I pondered over the thought.
I remembered the time I had a conversation with this little girl in Bangalore. She came from an utterly modest background and was the youngest of her four siblings. She lived with her family in a slum. She told me her mother worked as a construction labourer and her father worked as a rickshaw puller. She told me that she accompanied her mother every morning to the construction site whereas her brothers went to school. I suspected this to be another case of gender discrimination, but still not wanting to presume anything, I asked her, “Are you a very naughty kid that they won’t take you at school?”. She blushed and said that she was forced to drop out and after a little hesitation continued with the story. “After school, me and my brothers play outside our kholi till our parents are back from work. Sometimes some men in passing-by cars come and talk to us. They want to take me for a ride in the car and buy me cotton candy. But mother has strictly told me not to talk to strangers. One day she saw me talking to one of those car uncles. And she slapped me hard”, she flinched even as she said this, remembering of the time. She doesn’t understand why her mother won’t allow her to go for a ‘ride’. I sighed at the sorry state of affairs in our country. Anyways, so she was not allowed to continue school and had to accompany her mother everyday to the site. She had nothing worthwile to do the whole day except play in the harsh sun and sand.
She then continued, “there are some other kids also who come here with their mothers. While their mothers are busy at work, they go to the main road traffic light and beg for a penny or two from the passing by cars, for candy. I too followed their game. Sometimes we collect enough for a bar of ice-cream”, she added excitedly. I sighed once more.
A loud honk from behind and I came back to the real world. I looked at the little girl knocking on our car’s window. I couldn’t help but give her a five-rupee note.

The day I will be able to create jobs to offer these unfortunate people at the traffic lights, I will probably stop handing out these candy bars and ice-creams.

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