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Beggars and choosers

August 03, 2012

There is nothing unusual in seeing beggars swarm Karachi’s roads and streets in Ramazan. It is almost a given that every time the Ramazan crescent is sighted you expect beggars turning to the city in droves. This implies a big number of those drifters who don’t belong to Karachi. They come from different parts of the country and mark down the spots that they deem fit to serve their purpose best. However, this year, a new trend is emerging. Perhaps it was always there but it had never come to the fore the way it has now.

The one typical appearance that you associate with a beggar is that of someone in extremely shabby clothes looking like something that the cat dragged in. This is the type that you can run into any time of the day. Then there are those who are physically handicapped or visually impaired. Again, a normal occurrence. But these days if you happen to be near a sweet mart just before Iftar time (even if you’re not fasting), there is every chance that you will see a well-dressed teenager, hardly 15 or 16 years old, walking towards you, with an ingratiating smile on his face, looking for some kind of help. Abdul Waheed is one of them.

“Sir, can you please buy me two samosas? I’m fasting and I don’t have money.” This is how Abdul Waheed, with a bag slung over his shoulder, tries to attract attention of those who a little before dusk try and fetch Iftari essentials without giving much thought to anything else happening around them. It is his ‘normal’ appearance that dupes people into having sympathy for him. “You seem to come from a good family. Why would you beg?” someone with a heart of gold often inquires to which Abdul Waheed’s standard response is. “Sir, my father is very old and sick. My entire family is fasting and trust me there’s not enough food to put on the table.” This earns him a decent amount of rupees or a bagful of samosas and jalebis.

The likes of Abdul Waheed cannot be exposed if their tactless partners in crime don’t show as much skill. If you look closely, the teenager has a bunch of accomplices, all wearing jeans and t-shirts with the trademark bags slung over their shoulders (to give the impression that they’re students). When one of the boys succeeds in getting money (or samosas) out of a kind-hearted person his partner follows suit, and in another corner of the sweet mart fools someone else adopting the same stratagem; and there is no dearth in this country of those who act extra benevolent in Ramazan.

This skullduggery is worrisome on two levels. First, these young boys are a finger’s snap away from becoming professional thugs. Two, because of them those who deserve to be given alms or extended help are either overlooked or seen in the same light.

Take for example Kiran. This 14-year-old girl with an angelic smile has no other option but to be out on the street and beg for money. She lives in Korangi and her father, according to her, sells pieces of cloth at traffic signals. Since Kiran is neither handicapped nor comes across as poor to the core, people don’t notice her.

“My father has pushed me into this. He does not earn that much. He says in Ramazan people easily give money to the destitute,” says Kiran.

The most hurtful aspect of both these stories is that these teenagers are supposed to be in schools/colleges acquiring education. The deceitful boys have chosen not to while the destitute girl can’t afford to be educated. Ironically Pakistanis’ charity contribution compared to the other nations in the world is one of the largest, and not much of it seems to be helping in educating its young people.