Picture this: Mallana dresses up in crisp white starched dress and takes an autorickshaw to his “office”. There he changes into his ragged clothes and sets about his work- begging. Having assets running into lakhs of rupees and having a daily wage earning of about Rs. 1500, it might come as a surprise to many. His is just one of the many stories that characterize street begging in India. This lucrative “profession” though has little to offer to children. Street urchins are a common sight in every nook and corner of Mumbai. Rarely do you pass a signal without having to suffer their continued efforts to wrench coins out of your purse.
These children grow up in the mean streets of Bombay learning the tricks of the trade, rising in ranks each year. However, the story is not as simple as it seems. Parents and Begging mafia dons (an illegal social nework) alike exploit their innocence , force them into the trade, even going to the extent of maiming them to achieve their ends. Most of the children are migrants. Some are orphaned. Some have run away from home dreaming of making it big . Mumbai, thus comes as a rather unpleasant surprise for them. They are scouted by the unscrupulous mafias and forced into various illegal activities- prostitution, child labour and begging to name a few. Ever so often, one of them is left amputated or burned to prevent them from moving away from these streets which have no future. Besides, a newly born baby within the community is exchanged through many hands, being relentlessly used to extract paltry sums of money from any kind soul “ wanting the blessings of God”.Rehabilitation for these children, thus, becomes an important social issue which has been pursued by NGOs and the Mumbai Police alike. However, the remand homes to which these children are sent, pose problems of their own. The children have regularly been wound up by the police and sent for rehabilitation, but, are let free with “stern warnings” and the cycle continues without the real problem being resolved. Also, these children do not have any developed skills. At 11 or 12 years of age, having no exposure to any formal education, schooling becomes another important area of concern for these children. Thus, it is apparent that rehabilitation is no simple job.Economically and socially, street begging provides an interesting case. Mumbai beggars earn an estimated of Rs. 180 crores every year. By stating these statistics I do not mean to propose that the trade be legalized; to convert black money to white money . It is only to draw attention to the fact that the sector is widespread and will require some serious efforts by the Government and police to root out this malady from the society and to ensure a secure future for the street children, who are the real victims of this trade.
[Image Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2136856530/]