Decriminalisation of Begging in Delhi Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

by August 10, 2018 0 comments

Decriminalisation of Begging in Delhi Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Begging in Delhi is no longer illegal, but questions remain about countless beggars who beg out of necessity.

Delhi High Court’s decision to decriminalise begging in the Capital is a welcome step from a humanitarian and rights-based approach towards the marginalised who beg not by choice but out of compulsion, but we would be failing in our duty if we did not point out that there are negative ramifications too. For essentially imperial supremacist reasons and colonial law-and-order reasons, the law, as it existed since British India, stipulated harsh punishment for those found begging and even the post-Independence law retained many of those stringent punitive provisions. In essence, the High Court has struck down some of the draconian provisions of the age-old Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, that was applicable across 18 States including Delhi which called for a jail term of three years for first-time offenders which could be extended to 10 years for repeat offences. Besides, the Act included in its ambit not only those who seek alms, but also those who tried to earn a living by way of showcasing their skills — dancing, singing, music, trapeze or any other performance act in public areas and roads. Yes, the fact of the matter is that as the Court pointed out, nobody would want to beg as a matter of choice. It is but a fallout of the failure of the state over 70 years to eradicate debilitating poverty and address massive unemployment. People are forced to beg as they have no source of livelihood. The problem arises when the act of begging itself is made into a business — it’s run by a mafia, women and children are exploited and the kingpins of the business rake in the moolah. Begging mafias are commonplace across most if not all Indian cities. While some beggars may only be asking for alms for survival, it is also a fact that cuts have to be given to the local mafioso, the cops and sundry civic officials. Many of the indigent are substance addicts who need money for a fix. It is here where the line must be drawn.

Of course it is deeply distressing to see people sleeping on the street and banging on car doors at traffic signals but in reality, begging has turned into a lucrative business. The verdict, therefore, could end up without in any way intending to, fuelling begging in the Capital. Indeed, begging mafias operating in other States would already be making plans to push the poor into Delhi because without bribes to be paid to law enforcers their takings will increase exponentially. The Court has been entirely logical in ensuring that those for whom begging is the only way to survive are not brutalised and/or criminalised by the system. But complete decriminalization would expand the ambit of not just the begging mafia but also provide cover for all manner of criminal gangs to operate, thereby creating a law and order problem. Of course, that cannot be an excuse to justify jailing the indigent but a balance needs to be reached.

Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer

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