It has been 73 years since India got Independence and our flag signifies freedom. Every year on August 15 Indians proudly cherishes their hard earned freedom by waving their tricolor national flag, however, the freedom which the freedom fighters aimed for has not been completely achieved. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution upholds the right to equality, ‘The State shall not deny to any person equality before law or equal protection of law within the territory of India’. Are people in India equal before the law? Whether the laws enacted for accomplishing specific objects are implemented?
The World Bank in India [IBRD-IDA] reported, ‘with a population of more than 1.2 billion, India is the world’s largest democracy over the past decade; the country’s integration into a global economy has been accompanied by economic growth’. The social menace that aroused despite having a rapid economical growth, is ‘Panhandling’, commonly termed as ‘Begging.’
Union Minister for Social Justice Thawar Chand Gehlot said, ‘The country India in total has over four lakh beggars, with the highest 81,000 beggars in West Bengal, while Lakshadweep merely has two vagrants. At least 4,13,670 beggars reside in India, which consists of 2,21,673 males and 1,91,997 females.’
Begging is one amongst the serious social issues throughout India. Just like a coin having two sides, the concept of begging has two sides as well. First one, begging is the right of people who have no other means of sustenance. This was observed in a landmark judgment passed by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in a Writ Petition filed before it for deciding the constitutional validity of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. The case is as follows:
Harsh Mander v. Union of India[W.P. (C) 10498/2009 & CM APPL. 1837/2010] and Karnika Sawney v. Union of India [W.P.(C) 1630/2015] the Hon’ble Bombay High Court held that the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 is unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates Article 14 (equality before the law and equal protection of the law) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) and upholding the rights of persons who have no other means of living but to seek alms for sustenance. Criminalizing begging not only violates the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable people in our society but also ignores the reality that the poorest of the poor are forced to beg not as a choice but as the last resort to survive in the prevailing socio-economic conditions. ‘A welfare state has the mandate to provide social security for everyone, to ensure that all citizens have basic facilities to live a decent life, and the presence of beggars is evidence that the state has not managed to provide for a decent life to all its citizens’. It is clear from the above decision of the Hon’ble High Court that there are people who are engaged in begging to win their daily bread.
On the other side there are flocks of beggars who are puppets in the hands of faceless behemoths, mercilessly living out of the torments of the beggars by using them as a tool to amass wealth. More often the profits of begging are denied to beggars and it is harvested by the unholy criminals who trap people for begging and forcefully make them ask for alms. All the people who are engaged in begging were not cursed to have such an awful life, their blessed lives were re-shaped into one filled with hardships by these faceless behemoths called the ‘begging mafia’. Organised begging involves abduction of children by the mafia, which is countenanced in India. The National, a private english daily newspaper reported about an 8 year old girl child kidnapped by the begging mafia, who was subsequently found begging outside a temple along with other beggars in Amritsar in India’s northern state of Punjab by her mother.
According to political statistics, around 44,000 children disappear in India each year. Invariably, the major underlining reason for the surge in child abduction is the likelihood of getting twice the alms out of sympathy in comparison with aged or young beggars. They snatch children, male or female, from their guardians and later handicap them through maiming and torturing with an eye to swiftly achieve their ruthless motives. This inhuman treatment will result in permanent disablement of body parts and permanent privation of body parts, thereby shuts their doors of freedom.
Soon after abduction the begging techniques such as places where they should go asking alms, the kind of people they should approach and mannerisms to make everyone sympathize are plummeted on these children. The beggars who refuse to accede to the commands of mafia groups will are rewarded with harsh and barbaric punishments. Swami Agnivesh, a child rights activist from New Delhi said that ‘it is unfortunate that instead of schools they have to beg on the roads and nobody talks about them’.
One major reason behind the evolution of the social issue of begging is poverty. In the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Oxfam a confederation focusing on the alleviation of global poverty reported that India’s richest 1 percent hold more than four-times the wealth held by 953 million people that is around 70 per cent of the country’s population. The total wealth of all Indian billionaires is more than the full-year budget. “The gap between rich and poor can’t be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies, and too few governments are committed to these,” said Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar.
When wealth is equally distributed we can lessen the gap between rich and poor and gradually one dark side of begging will vanish. The flip side is the permeating illegal forcing by the mafia placing the destitute and deprived people for begging irrespective of their age.
Article 23 in the Indian Constitution prohibits traffic of human beings and beggars and other forms of forced labour, whereas, section 363A of the Indian Penal Code provides punishment for a person who kidnaps or maims a minor for the purposes of begging and Section 76 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 provides punishment to those who employ children for begging.
However, there is no Central legislation exterminating or preventing the menace of begging. But there are State legislations encompassing the evil of begging and one example is that of the Maharashtra Prevention of Begging Act, 1960. Section 11 of the Act imposes penalty for employing or causing persons to beg or using them for purposes of begging. INDIA TODAY News reported that even beggar homes in Delhi lack facilities whereof one of inmates died due to malnutrition and gross negligence on the part of the Government.
Time has come for creation and effective implementation of state and central laws to thwart the business operations of the mafia and to emancipate and rehabilitate the victims of such mafias. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution starts with the words WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, these words symbolize ‘unity, so people who are not in the clutches of this social issue must be a voice of the victims, by doing so one day this social issue will be a memory like Sati, a historical practice which was once prevalent in India. And only then each citizen will comprehensively conceive the true meaning of freedom while holding their national flag.
- Tribune India
- The National News