“Beggars can’t be choosers”, is literally an oversimplification when it comes to delineating the current picture of beggary. From soliciting precise sums to declining over-sized hand-me-downs everything unfolds the present remodelling of this age-old practice. Beggars today accept, reject, demand and manipulate, as per their needs and wishes.
Non-local beggars with unwashed, mucky clothing and dirt-smeared faces populate the streets. With some being physically challenged others simulate such disabilities by feigning cross-eyed or walking with a limp. They throng the students outside their institutions; chatter same, unaltered lines for a couple and a brother-sister duo alike.”I was out with my husband and a lady came begging for money and I soon offered her some change, she revisited with the same banal lines with flat expressions and finally got scolded on her third visit without she even realising that” says Nida from Hazratbal. They pretty much understand the psyche of situations, of people and of both together.
Non-local children waiting rather baiting for people at public places, entry/exit points of schools, colleges, universities, hospitals etc, till they get it or ‘get it ‘is a routine occurrence. They reserve their spots and stand waiting for pedestrians and commuters, with a begging hand-delivering the mugged-up supplications. People have opted for longer routes to reach their respective stations only to avoid being pestered by the swarm of beggars on the streets.
Some compulsive beggars can be seen imploring customers to whom they sell services as measuring body weights etc. They are camouflaged as servicemen/women who happen to morph into their compulsive ‘service’ of begging quite naturally “A young non-local boy began chasing me with his weighing machine begging for ten rupees ” says an irked Sadia who calls it just another form of harassment.
Dressed up normally, they go to places which are far away from their residential areas to beg.”She asked for using our washroom since it was raining I let her in, fed her and gave her some clothes too, which she rejected as being oversized, recounts Nazia from Rawalpora .” The woman was in her thirties and while narrating her story she revealed she was a divorcee and has to do this ( beg) for her son who goes to a private school, Nazia added while recalling this experience.
A middle-aged man dressed up in formals goes to the most populated spots like cafeterias in a university. Has a collection of copies of electricity bills, medical prescriptions etc. and shows it to students who are intrigued by his strange demeanour. “I thought he was unwell mentally and that’s why showed us the bills while I was having tea with my friends,” says Alia who studies at the same university.
In 2018 the government imposed a ban on begging by invoking the Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Beggary Act,1960. An order issued in this regard by Deputy Commissioner Srinagar had directed police to arrest any person found soliciting alms in public and at religious places or other private premises.
“Knowing the situation inside out, some Kashmiris are hypnotised by their ‘magical enchantments which take them into a ‘feel good’ world and hence are manipulated by these organised mafias “, said Bashir Ahmed (name changed),65, a retired police officer.
Their scripted, mugged-up, overused and repetitive prayers are retaliated either by some money or sometimes a slurred scolding. That does not take away the amount of stress one suffers once the beggars actually curse you. To do away with the apprehensions of any possible harm we sedate the logical side of human behaviour and sometimes have to, unwillingly, provide them knowing deep down that this further incentivises this malpractice, Bashir Ahmed explained.
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