Covid-19 restrictions spur illegitimate beggary business

Published June 21, 2021
A BEGGAR seeks alms from a motorist at a traffic signal.—White Star
A BEGGAR seeks alms from a motorist at a traffic signal.—White Star

KARACHI: A woman vlogger impersonating as a beggar shows how she has collected a few thousand rupees in a short time.

In the video, she also narrates how other beggars were irked by an alien’s joining their ranks and tried to drive her out of their jurisdiction. Although she says she is going to pay the collected money to some charity, who knows she may have a change of heart! She might even weigh the fun and money in begging against vlogging, which is certainly not as easy a task as harrying motorists at traffic lights. Many people pay them just to get rid of their persistent calls and tapping on the windowpanes.

The country’s worsening economic situation amid the coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdowns have deprived many people of their means of earning, forcing them to start seeking alms or queue up at the spots where free food is distributed. Once they become accustomed to making money the easier way, they fall in lifelong love with the profession. The growing poverty is already a motivation for the proportional rise in beggary.

Beggars can be choosers now!

Opposition representatives allege Prime Minister Imran Khan, through his charity initiatives, is turning Pakistanis into a ‘nation of beggars’. They may be exaggerating the situation in the flow of their rhetoric. But, thanks to the coronvirus, beggary is soaring in the country as well as across the global horizon.

In another viral video, an old woman driving a new AC-fitted car in Lahore is shown seeking “money for fuel” from other car owners, who help her generously. She also makes rounds of marketplaces and collects money from the shopkeepers. The video-maker, who says he has been following her in his vehicle, tries to talk to the woman, but she does not answer his queries. “You are a rich old woman, why are you begging at the cost of genuine deserving people?” he says. The woman shows him a few 50-rupee notes as she sits in her car, takes a few sips from her water bottle and drives off without engaging with him in an unproductive question-answer session.

There are women who pretend to be selling ballpoint pens and those selling dusters at city intersections more eagerly accept alms. Young boys and girls have also joined this lucrative traffic-light trade.

Women holding drowsy babies, believed to be not belonging to them, present the most pathetic picture. They show the infants to the prospective philanthropists and often attract their sympathies and generous amounts.

Beggars and choosers

Those visiting homes frequent their benefactors if they return satisfied with the money or commodity they once receive. They may not bother much people who the beggars think are not worth spending their precious time on as they give too little. At the intersections, too, they rush to the shinier, expensive cars ignoring the dull and decrepit ones. Who says ‘beggars can’t be choosers’?

Child beggary is also increasing. Even Afghan boys collecting recyclable trash, or pretending to be doing so, have begun asking for food and money from homes.

And there are those who seek alms and donations through loudspeaker-fitted ambulances rolling through the lanes. You cannot dare remind them that this is unlawful to ask for donations in the streets.

It is but natural that those who cannot feed their families two square meals may either resort to crime or to begging –– the latter option is easier and risk-free.

There are so many stories about beggars’ being filthy rich. They are alleged to own big buildings and businesses but cannot quit beggary either out of habit or because of the additional profits they reap. FBR staffers take no notice of their riches and it is none of NAB’s business to question their accumulation of ‘assets beyond means’.

The authorities’ announcements regarding measures to eliminate beggary are never followed up. When such a drive is announced, beggars at traffic intersections disappear from their workplaces for a few days before they make their comeback with renewed vigour. Nobody ever hears that court has punished anybody for begging though some vagrants are occasionally bundled into trucks and detained by the police in their lockups. The laws prescribing various penalties, including jail terms, for this illegal practice remain confined to the statute books –– never enforced.

Deserving cases

Although religion teaches us not to reject any request for alms, even those we know do not deserve charity, there are really deserving people who are reluctant to spread their palms before others.

Among such people are security guards getting even less than Rs20,000 a month for working 12 hours a day. Many of them come from the far-flung areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They bear their own expenses while subsisting in Karachi and the remaining amount they send to their families back to their native areas, where everything is much more expensive than it is in cities and well-off areas.

Conscientious housemaids toil for hours –– washing and scrubbing from floors to toilets –– just to get a few thousand rupees for their poor families. Some of these domestics, not being able to make ends meet, turn to beggary as a better option.

Such people deserve to be helped in a way that does not hurt their self-respect.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2021

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