On a hectic city when everyone is in a mad rush to reach their destinations, a handful of people long for the green light to turn red, which stops the flow of traffic and they get a chance to approach the busy commuters to plead for help.
Jhunu has been begging at the city's Farmgate intersection for the last 15 days as her husband, the only bread earner in the family, had recently met an accident and has been hospitalised, forcing her to resort to the street to ask people for some help. “It is enough for myself and my two children if I get a hundred taka a day,” she says.
On busy streets, in front of mosques and shopping centres, and, sometimes in lanes of the residential quarters, beggars keep asking people for help as they have no means to of survival in this cruel city. Often the disabled and the old are seen begging as fate has rendered them helpless.
Photos: Zahedul I Khan
However, it is difficult to tell how many beggars are there in the country. Social Welfare Ministry sources, quoting a 10-year-old data, put the number of beggars in the country at 7 lakhs. There is no doubt that it has almost doubled in the last decade and in Dhaka the situation is particularly alarming.
Unlike Jhunu, for many of the seven lakh beggars in the city who have taken up begging as a profession due to different reasons, there is a piece of good news that can bring a change to their lives. The government is taking a new initiative to provide the beggars and vagrants with a shelter home.
Interestingly it does not make Mirana, a 30-year-old beggar from Barishal, happy, as she thinks governments take such measures temporarily. She thinks such moves do little to change the reality of the lives of the beggars and vagabonds.
“They (the government) will make us helpless by taking us away from the city, where we won't be able to beg. They come and promise us shelter and rehabilitation but they force us to go to remote places,” Mirana says.
In the project for beggar and vagabond rehabilitation, Magistrates will gather the 'floating people' after holding mobile courts to hand them over to government-run shelters. And they will be kept in the shelter homes for two years to give them the training for rehabilitation.
The Ministry of Social Welfare (MSW) has already taken a project on the rehabilitation of beggars and vagabonds. According to the secretary Quamaran Nessa Khanam of the ministry the existing law (Vagrancy Act 1943) is not sufficient to launch proper rehabilitation programmes for the beggars and vagabonds. The ministry is formulating a law on the rehabilitation of vagabonds and homeless people. According to the draft act, which is being approved in principal by the cabinet, there will be a 13-member committee to advise the government on the rehabilitation of the urban homeless. Having Social welfare Secretary in the chair, the committee will visit the existing shelter homes to chalk out a set of recommendations for the government.
Despite a consistent economic growth, government's safety net programmes for the poor and other allowances, the number of beggars is increasing by day. People living on the margin of the society are taking begging as a profession due to a gamut of reasons such as being old or disabled, hit by a natural disaster or accidents.
Photos: Zahedul I Khan
Armed with an allocation of Tk 13 crore that it has received from the Finance Ministry, the MSW plans to build a shelter home in every district where necessary measures to rehabilitate the poor will be taken. The project will also conduct a countrywide survey on the beggars.
The project hopes to eliminate begging from the country some day in the future. The government will rehabilitate the beggars and vagabonds after engaging them–especially the rural beggars– in earnings in their own areas. The survey phase of the project plans to categorise beggars according to their ages to facilitate them with the right scheme of rehabilitation. Child beggars under 12, beggars aging from 12 to 50 years, old beggars aging above 50 and beggars with disability will be given training upon their individual need and ability.
The government is going to respect the beggars' basic human rights during their stay at the shelter homes and they will be provided with vocational training, and cash incentives will also be given to them, if needed. The beggars who are in ill health, or with other disabilities will get the cash incentives, and physically sound beggars will have to take training and child beggars will be sent to a school at the rehabilitation centres. Again, the government will also provide loans to the beggars for running their own business under the rehabilitation project.
Involving seven ministries and a few non-government organisations, the government hopes to make the country beggar free in a few years time. The ministry will also look for the reasons that push people towards beggary so that some preventive measures can be taken in the future. The government can also sort out the segment of people who are the most vulnerable of becoming beggars. It hopes to make begging history.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010