Saturday, August 1, 2009

A few thoughts on begging

I’ve often heard people speak of beggars. The word beggar has a strange magic to it. It immediately elicits in us a number of feelings. The foremost, being pity… and if we dig a little deeper, revulsion. It is almost impossible to talk of people who beg without these associations. Yes. They are people. Let’s not call them ‘beggars’. Somehow, over time, it’s become easy to call them that. Somehow, the word ‘beggar’ elicits our scorn and a high-handed condescending pity.

I have often heard people dismiss ‘beggars’ as unwilling to do an honest day’s work. I’ve heard it said that even if they are offered jobs with full good intention, they refuse them… and with this argument comes the verdict: They are ungrateful. They deserve it.

Let’s evaluate this honestly. Doesn’t this sound a lot like our pride speaking? They deserve it, because they have refused our well-meaning attempts to uplift them. Hmmm… sounds a tad pompous, doesn’t it?

If a passerby stopped next to you at random and offered you a job at his/her house would you accept it?

Would it lend more credibility if they drove up and stopped next to you, while you were begging on the pavement?

We all hear of the occasional cases of exploitation, where people (particularly young girls) are bought and sold… where all kinds of atrocities are perpetrated on them… we’ve heard of the organ trade… and the fact that we have actually heard of these stray incidents is in itself rather remarkable. After all, who is going to miss a beggar on the streets? So, if a few of these incidents have made it to the news, it means there is a lot more of this going on than we have heard of. And which group of people is more likely to be aware of these happenings than the ‘beggars’. After all, it is from among them that the majority of the victims are taken. Is it any wonder, then, that they are skeptical of our ‘help’?

That apart, how many of us are willing to live in a completely different way from the way we were brought up? Most probably, if you are reading this article, your life might be markedly different from the way your parents lived… but as we go ‘down’ the social scale we find people clinging harder and harder to their community identity. If you were born into a begging community, to you, that is normal. Change would be hard to come to terms with.

And, even if it is indeed true that they do not want to work, even when presented with the opportunity to, it is still illogical and morally high-handed of us to decide not to ‘encourage’ begging. Perhaps they do exaggerate their ailments to elicit our pity… but what of that? How often have we gone for a movie or a play? How often have we paid for actors to deceive us? How often have we thoroughly immersed ourselves in the tragedy of the character’s life?

Why then do we find it so disturbing and repulsive when a beggar does the same? Is it perhaps the suspicion that all this is not merely an act? Is it perhaps a deep seated guilt that makes us pity them rather than empathize with them as we would a character in a movie or a play?

The momentary twinge of guilt that seeing humanity so debased brings, is quickly forgotten, and we carry on with our busy lives… but what of the beggar. The twelve year old mother, whose infant is sick… the old man, whose legs were broken, and eyes damaged with specially prepared chemicals, at his birth, so that he would evoke pity in our hard hearts and earn revenue for the one who oversaw his deformation… the child, with a broken nose, and a bent back, in whose eyes condemnation lies… what of them? What has brought them to this state?

And what happens to them after that fleeting glance that we throw them as we walk past guiltily, telling ourselves that we really don’t have any change left?


Ashita said...

one of the most callous statements i hav heard ppl make is that some particular beggars dont deserve any help. prod deeper into this statement and u realise that for a beggar to deserve the pittance u throw their way, he or she must be terribly revulsive. ever tried dropping a few coins into the hands of a "clean and well dressed" beggar?
looks like v r the beggars. v r in dire need of compassion, and it is our souls tht r festering with the sores of callousness, highhandedness, greed, u name it.

Daughter of the Night said...

Hmmm... yeah. But it's normal human nature, I think. There are a few things we consider basic in life, and being jolted out of our world to realise that this is not the case for the vast majority of humanity makes us feel guilty in some way. Because we are part of the system which opresses them...