This article is written by Sabaat Fatima, from HILSR, School of Law, Jamia Hamdard. This is an exhaustive article that will give a brief knowledge about beggars and begging laws.
Begging is an act whereby a person appeals to others for material help by words or gestures. Beggars adopt several modes for appealing to get alms. While some sing to attract attention, others display wounds real or faked-yet some emphasis on their disabilities. It is an immemorial social evil. It is a fact that beggars have their foundations in religious mendicancy yet in the 21st century it has socio-economic consequences that have made beggars a major communal problem. In any condition or situation, it is a curse on society and for a country like India, it is a great financial burden too. They represent a section of society that is rotted and impoverished. There is a prompt need to tackle this radical situation.
Factors responsible for beggary
Begging is a complex socio-economic problem. It is difficult to give a particular cause to the foundation of beggary. Therefore, the factors responsible for begging are discussed below:
Poverty, landlessness, unemployment or underemployment, calamities or famines, and other conditions of destitutions are all forms of economic causes of beggary in the first sense. Destitution is one of the main factors that compel people to beg as they have no sufficient means to support themselves or their families. In villages, lack of employment due to the non-availability of workforces, many people take to begging when they cannot find employment in the cities. Poverty alone is not the problem because people on the poverty line still don’t beg.
Unemployment or underemployment are secondary economic causes of beggary. A man not only begs when he is poor but also when he is unemployed or underemployed. Many people make it a profession instead of doing fair labour due to attributable easy gains and sufficient income. It was also seen that many labourers beg to enhance their income. Not just that, many make it a business and coup others by investing some amount in this business. In a study, Sir S. Bahadur observed that there existed a most disturbing state of affairs. He disclosed that a gang of professional kidnappers kidnap or entice children away from their parent possession and then give them inhumane treatment to make them an object of pity so that they can be manoeuvred for begging purposes. He mentioned many cases and a typical case was of a kidnapper named Karamat Ali who with his fellows kidnapped a 3- year- old girl from Katihar Railway Station in Bihar, broke her limbs, butted fingers into her eyes, and blinded her hence converted her into an object of sympathy so that they could exploit the sentiments of people and collect charities from them.
In the Indian scenario, beggary is related to religion and culture. Religious destitution is not only tolerated by a large section of Hindus, Muslims, and the Christian population but even supported on religious grounds. A sort of religious faith is attached to alms. However, the religious form of mendicancy is often misunderstood in modern times and attempts are made to support professional mendicancy on religious grounds. Beggary is treated as a tool by fake sanyasis, who find it easy to beget a good amount of money from god-fearing and superstitious masses. Religious festivals and disciples prove God-sent opportunities for such operations. Among the Hindus, during shradh adherence, birth and marriage ceremonies and at certain other religious days and among Muslims in the month of Ramzan it is mandatory to offer alms. Charities are also given by various temples, mosques, dharamshalas, gurudwaras, shrines and by many public philanthropists. This might end up encouraging beggary at times.
Social disorganization i.e, social change and industrialization have been responsible for beggary. The disorganization of social institutions relating to lepers, lunatics, orphans, widows, divorces, infirm and aged, and other socially handicapped categories are because of lack of resources and uncertainty of the policy. This leads to an increased number of beggars. For instance, we know that Indian society is highly orthodox and traditionalist. The widows are not allowed to remarry and get ill-treated at the hands of the in-laws; thus, to escape from the physical and mental torture, they move out of the family. If they possess no education or skills then they take to beggary or prostitution as a profession to earn their livelihood.
The vital social institution for controlling beggary in India is the establishment of a joint family system. The individual gets support from the other family members in case of social or economic problems. The breakdown of the joint family system due to migrations and the weakening of traditional family forms has changed the situation.
Loss of agricultural occupation
Loss of agricultural employment in villages is yet another reason for beggary in India. For quite a few years the number of landless workers denied resources from the land has been consistently rising. All landless people cannot be invested in industrial employment. Driven from the villages into urban areas, some work as earth diggers, street menders or as domestic servants and coolies in the markets. Others prefer beggary as a profession.
Sickness or diseases, physical disability or deformity, mental infirmity, and old age can be characterized as biological causes of beggary. On 7th October 1983, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Delhi Administration and the Superintendent of the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital under a petition claiming inhumane conditions in and out the hospital, where the poor patients called the “lawaris market” received shocking maltreatment. The petition is a strong statement about the state of medical services that are available to the vulnerable sections of our society. When any person suffers from a chronic and lethal disease, people feel disgusted for him. The family members also abandon such people. It becomes difficult for him to stay in the locality and in utter helplessness he leaves for an unknown destination.
Natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods, tsunami, hurricanes, and droughts imply that people leave their homes and everything behind them as their places, homes and agricultural lands get damaged by the calamities and the persons with immediate needs and who are unable to find work feel obliged to beg to save themselves from starvation and death. Calcutta and Bombay are full of migrant beggars. The people, who suffer due to the act of God, mostly have no choice but to beg. We often see people begging and showing written papers where it is written that they are the victims of natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods, tsunami, and hurricanes.
Some provisions in the Constitution have been changed for this as it gives all citizens the right to earn a decent livelihood and the right to protect their socio-economic rights. Rights are significant for a person’s dignity and poverty is a crucial ailment in our society that touches the issues of human rights.
The UNO was developed for promoting and protecting human rights at the international level. The Constitution of India guarantees all its citizens a right to life and personal liberty which includes all the factors of life making a person’s life worth living.
The interpretation of Article 21 was extensively defined by the Supreme Court and was held that the right to life also includes the right to live with human dignity. In another case, the Supreme Court explicitly stated that the right to life under Article 21 also includes the right to livelihood. Article 23 guarantees that this right to life is free from exploitation. Article 23 was integrated to stop beggary and other forms of human trafficking. Article 23 read with Article 39 (e) and (f) of the Indian Constitution furnishes for the Directive Principles of State Policy and grants the state to protect persons from exploitation.
The Anti-Beggary Laws can be called an obvious attack on the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and thus violates the right to life and personal liberty of the beggars as provided under Article 21 of the Constitution. It also violates Articles 14, 20, and 22. The freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) is the mother of all liberties and regarded as the lifeline for any democratic institution. John Stuart Mill rightly said that to silence the speech or expression of a person’s opinion is like robbing the human race.
The word expression in Article 19(1)(a) has a broad meaning and it is not just restricted to the expression of opinions or beliefs by word, writing, printing, pictures, or any other mode. The word ‘expression’ can be expressed as an attempt to bring a meaning which can be the combination of content as well as form. Justice Ayyangar said that it is not necessary that the speech has to be vocal i.e., signs made by dumb persons are also regarded to be a form of speech. Hence, the right to obtain and circulate information comes under the freedom of expression.
The Act does not differentiate between those individuals who are approved to request money and those who are not. This violates the right to equality i.e. Article 14. Section 10 of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act expresses that a handicapped detainee can be held in certified institutions for an indefinite amount of time after the detention period if ordered by the State Government. This is an infringement of Article 20 which protects the right to not be given a punishment greater than what is prescribed by the law. Under the Act, individuals can be detained without a warrant and not be explained about the reason for their arrest. This breaches the right of a detained person to know the reason for which they were arrested as provided by Article 22 of the Constitution.
It is sometimes contended that begging is a business exchange, not being an expressive movement, and ought to in this way not get assurance under expression rights. Notwithstanding, this is hard to acknowledge because it is vital in business exchanges that goods or services or something of value is traded for some sort of remuneration. However, there is no trade thus and it is uneven where the beggar asks for alma to people and gets it. It is likewise contended that expressions made by the beggars come up short on any political belief system and there is thin support by them in democratic working.
Accordingly, they are not viewed as individuals who are making cognizant commitments to the unregulated economy of ideas. Begging reflects the deeply rooted social and policy-centred issues concerning destitution and vagrancy. This gives a message of disappointment on government lodging, absence of offices for work, trailed by sad impacts on certain segments of individuals in the general public. Hence, a beggar claims and demands some assistance, explicitly requesting constant cash. In begging an individual shows his hopeless situation with the assistance of words or activities, which includes some communicative activity. They request charity by communicating their condition and as it is a correspondence by words or activities is deserving of the protection of Article 19 (1) (a).
To begin with, let us first comprehend what constitutes the meaning of the word “Begging”. The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act of 1959 (hereinafter alluded to as “the Act”) has defined the term “Begging” in Section 2(i) of the Act as”
- Requesting or receiving alms, in a public place whether or not under any affectation such as singing, dancing, fortune-telling, performing or offering any article for sale;
- Entering on any private premises to request or receive alms;
- Uncovering or displaying with the object of acquiring or extorting alms, any sore, injury, distortion of diseases whether of a person or animal;
- having no visible means of resource and meandering, about or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner, as makes it likely that the person doing so exist requesting or receiving alms;
- Permitting oneself to be used as a display to request or receive alms;
but does not include requesting or receiving money or food or given for a purpose approved by any law, or sanctioned in the way prescribed by [the Deputy Commissioner or such other officer as being determined for this sake by the Chief Commissioner.
There are a total of 20 states and 2 union territories that have adopted the Prevention of Begging Act 1959 as a subordinate without any central act for the same reason. All offences under this act are to be attempted immediately except those under Section 11 of the act which punishes the act of employing or causing persons to beg or use them to beg. The Act expounds in the previously mentioned section that if any individual utilizes or makes any other person request or receive alms, or whoever having the guardianship or charge of the child, schemes or empowers, their work or the making the child request or receive alms or uses someone else as a display, shall be punished for imprisonment for a term up to three years but which shall not be less than one year.
States/Union Territories States
Legislation in Force
|1.||Andhra Pradesh||The Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Beggary Act, 1977|
|2.||Assam||The Assam Prevention of Begging Act, 1964|
|3.||Bihar||The Bihar Prevention of Begging Act, 1951|
|4.||Chhattisgarh||Adopted the Madhya Pradesh Bikshavirty Nivaran Adhiniyam, 1973|
|5.||Goa||The Goa, Daman & Diu Prevention of Begging Act, 1972|
|6.||Gujarat||Adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959|
|7.||Haryana||The Haryana Prevention of Begging Act, 1971|
|8.||Himachal Pradesh||The Himachal Pradesh Prevention of Begging Act, 1979|
|9.||Jammu & Kashmir||The J&K Prevention of Begging Act, 1960|
|10.||Jharkhand||Adopted the Bihar Prevention of Begging Act, 1951|
|11.||Karnataka||The Karnataka Prevention of Begging Act, 1975|
|12.||Kerala||The Madras Prevention of Begging Act, 1945, the Travancore Prevention of Begging Act, 1120 and the Cochin Vagrancy Act, 1120 are in force in different areas of the State.|
|13.||Madhya Pradesh||The Madhya Pradesh Bolshevist Navarin Adhamiya, 1973|
|14.||Maharashtra||The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959|
|15.||Punjab||The Punjab Prevention of Begging Act, 1971|
|16.||Sikkim||The Sikkim Prohibition of Beggary Act, 2004|
|17.||Tamil Nadu||The Madras Prevention of Begging Act, 1945|
|18.||Uttar Pradesh||The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972|
|19.||West Bengal||The West Bengal Vagrancy Act, 1943|
|20.||Uttarakhand||Adopted the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972|
|21.||Delhi||Adopted the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959|
|22.||Daman & Diu||The Goa, Daman & Diu Prevention of Begging Act, 1972|
Power of the police to arrest beggars
- According to the anti-begging laws of different states in India, an approved police official has the power to arrest without a warrant any individual who is found begging. If a person is found begging inside a private premise, he can be arrested only on a formal complaint by the owner of the premises.
- After the arrest, the police officer should send the arrested beggar to court.
- The arrested beggar must be kept in a certified institution as endorsed by the state government.
- If the court is persuaded that the person accused was not associated with begging activities he is to be released.
- If the court is persuaded that the person accused was engaged in begging, a suitable punishment will be given by the court.
Punishment for begging
- Punishment can be between 1 to 3 years. However, if the court is satisfied with the conditions of the case that the individual found to be a beggar is not probably going to beg again, the court might release the beggar on his issuance of self-restraint from begging and being of good behaviour.
Grounds on which punishment is decided
- Age and character of the beggar,
- The conditions in which the beggar was living,
- Findings made by the Probation Officer
- The court will send a child to Juvenile Justice Tribunal if the child is under five years old and is found begging.
- Where an individual is convicted for the subsequent time, he is to be confined for premises in a certified institution, or his sentence might even increase for another two more years. Thus, a total of 12 years in prison might be the punishment when caught begging for the subsequent time.
- Where a handicapped person, blind or physically handicapped person is confined for begging, the court may additionally expand his duration of sentence for the individual good of the incapacitated beggar.
Begging exists in the form of business as well. Some people use others for begging purposes. The person who uses other people for begging takes a small token from the money begged by the beggar. The law furnishes the individuals who employ others for begging shall be punished with imprisonment for a term between 1 to 3 years.
Medical assessment of beggars who suffer from leprosy or is lunatic- provisions
- Where it creates the impression that any beggar confined is of unsound mind or a leper, provided by the Indian Lunacy Act,1912 or the Lepers Act, 1898 the beggar might be moved to a mental hospital or leper asylum or some other place of safe custody, to be kept and treated.
- If on the termination of the term of punishment it is guaranteed by a medical officer that it is vital for the safety of the beggar or of others that he should be further confined under medical care or treatment, the advice of such doctor will be followed.
Nature of the anti-begging laws and the provisions to curb it
- The anti-begging law accommodates the educating of rural and mechanical techniques to the beggars in confinement. There are circumstances wherein a person, albeit skilled, might be compelled to beg due to the absence of employment.
- In a study conducted by the Department of Social Welfare of Delhi University, it was found that around 9 to 10 per centre that premises compel people to beg of beggars were educated till the primary level, 5 per cent till the secondary level, and that six graduates and four post-graduates had depended on beggary due to the absence of employment opportunities.
Ram Lakhan v. State (Case dealing with anti-Begging law)
The Delhi High Court moved away from the legal practice of criticizing begging and maintained its authenticity through a comparative discourse on the precedent-based law doctrines of necessity and pressure, as well as on the standards of equality and liberty exemplified in the Constitution. One important aspect of Ram Lakhan is that it tends to the issue of begging from the criterion of Article 19(1)(a), read with Article 21 of the Constitution, and attests that unreasonable prohibitions on begging are unconstitutional in that they are perpetually depriving beggars of two fundamental rights.
The Delhi Court on 8th August 2018, decriminalized begging by striking down 25 provisions of the BPBA, 1959 as extended to the NCT of Delhi. The judgment addressed two PILs which challenged the constitutional legitimacy of all sections of the Prevention of Beggary Act except Section 11. The petitioner pushed for the provoking sections to be announced ultra vires on the grounds of infringement of fundamental rights as mentioned above. The bench of acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar struck down all provisions that criminalized begging. Sections 11 and Section 30 were maintained. Before this, the central government had attempted to revoke this act through the Persons in Destitution Model Bill, 2016. Discussions of which were ended in the same year.
Arguments to decriminalize beggary
The BPBA acts as a rescue if the state fails in giving social protection to the denied. The state has flopped in furnishing the right to life to the destitute and hence it cannot punish the poor for their conditions. Begging is such an action that does not hurt anybody or does no actual damage to society hence, confinement for up to ten years is rigid. This term can measure up to a portion of the provisions of the IPC, which runs for detainment to ten years for some, heinous crimes like rape, attempt to murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, etc.
It is the right of the state to give and ensure the rights of the vagrants as given under the Directive Principles of the State Policy, which are the rules outlined by the Constitution makers, to be adopted while outlining laws and strategies. Poverty is likewise perceived as a human rights issue by Amnesty International. Each individual has the right to live with dignity. This implies that everybody ought to reserve their right to shelter, food, dress, water, sanitation, basic education, and medical services.
It may very well be contended that to the extent any action which includes giving or taking of money or food or any trade as such which is deliberate, it cannot be called a crime by the state. In this manner, there is a need to consider begging to be an issue of unemployment, shortage of resources and education, and vagrancy instead of considering it basically as a traffic danger.
Children as beggars
Child begging includes boys and girls below the age of eighteen to beg mostly through mental and physical compulsion. Forced begging is imposed by the family members on the children to ensure that begging is performed. Begging mafias also force a large number of children to beg. As discovered by UNICEF these children who are compelled to beg by the third parties are usually taken away from their parents, give up their income to their exploiter, bear risky work and ill-environment, and are at times crippled to increase profits, receive physical and verbal abuse which includes sexual victimization and police brutality. Children who are forced to beg receive little to no education, and they have to dedicate more than sixteen hours on the streets. Children who beg have high chances of HIV infection due to unawareness and guidance.
Research conducted by Human Rights Watch affirmed that these children have no proper food, shelter or accessible healthcare where they live. Additionally, gangs involved in forced begging have heavy drug involvement to control the children and become reliant on their exploiters. Dangerous beggar mafias and gangs, kidnap children and cut off their limbs, blind them and impose other injuries to use them for begging. Such gangs keenly observe the movements of the child beggars so that they could not steal the money or run away. Tranquilised infants are used by women to beg. The child beggars get addicted to drugs, alcohol, solvents and charras this helps the children to forget where they are. They lack affection, love and security. Some children die while some others grow up to be social criminals. Those who come in contact with caring people or NGOs respond positively to empathy.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, states that if any child is found begging will be dealt with as a victim and will be protected by child welfare committees. State laws on begging differ centrally in their decorum towards the treatment of children found begging. Some of the state laws treat them as criminals who can be sent to jail.
Section 24(1) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 provides that whoever uses a child to beg will be imprisoned for up to three years and shall also be liable to a fine. Those who abet begging are also chargeable for the same punishment. Section 363A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) furnishes punishment for a person who kidnaps or maims a minor for purposes of begging. Unauthorized peddling and begging in trains and Railway property is an offence under the provisions of Section 144 of the Railways Act, 1989.
Child beggars are treated as children in need of care and protection under the “Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)“ being enforced by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Further, there are many government schemes for destitute men and women so that they do not take to the roads. (For instance, under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) central aid is also provided to States for giving pensions to persons above 65 years, living below the poverty line, @ Rs. 200/- per month, which is meant to be enhanced by at least an equal contribution by the States.)
A case study of Delhi
Interviews of lawyers were taken in Delhi where it was disclosed that 74% of those arrested were employed in the informal sector and 45% were homeless. These arrests led to the loss of jobs because of the disgrace, leaving families to endure monetarily. The Act thus neglects to prevent begging and only serves as a tool to hide the presence of the least fortunate sections of the society. A great example of this was seen when Delhi swept its roads off beggars and destitute in its preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth games using the provisions of the Act. The beggars vanished overnight from the national capital without any explanation. The NGOs and human rights activists blamed the Delhi government for the disappearance of the beggars but the State officers denied such allegations.
Indu Prakash Singh of Indo-Global Social Service Society said that the poor were taken to railway stations and were sent to neighbouring cities and were told not to come back till the Games are over. He further added that the authorities have emancipated terror among the poor seeking alms.
Sanjay Kumar who works in Ashraya Adhikar Abhiyan, an NGO that works for the homeless in the capital, agreed with Singh and said they have similar reports of how these poor people have been troubled in the city. He said that the number of beggars had gone down in the city.
Rajan Bhagat, Delhi Police spokesperson was asked whether or not the police officials were doing this cleanliness drive. On this, he informed that they are not doing any such thing and the Delhi Police provided 25 personnel to the social welfare department to help them to prevent beggary.
An estimation was given by the Social Welfare Department on the number of beggars in Delhi. It was recorded that there were around 60,000 beggars out of the 30% were under 18-years of age, 69.94 per cent were males and 30.06 per cent were females.
The detainees were confined to institutions, where they were supposed to be rehabilitated. However, various reports had uncovered mistreatment, humiliation, and dehumanization of detainees. Bashirabi, a 55-year old woman said that they all were forced to sit naked in a row and splashed a mug of water on them in a row and were compelled to clean the toilets. She further said that she was not a beggar and without any background check she was detained. This neglect of their prosperity and unhygienic institutions led to the spread of transmissible diseases and the deficiency of healthcare had resulted in multiple deaths.
Suggestions to eradicate beggary
- There should be strict enforcement of the laws dealing with beggary.
- Effective planning ought to be done by the government to solve the problem of unemployment and poverty.
- Beggars should not be allowed to stay in public premises such as railway stations, bus-stop, market places etc.,
- The orphans should be furnished by education.
- Individuals should be educated about the real factors of beggary and its impact at large and make them quit giving alms to the beggars.
- Work homes ought to be set up for sluggish individuals.
- To eliminate beggars we should raise the minimum wages.
- On the contrary, all the vagrants and handicapped ought to be dealt with by opening increasingly more rehabilitation centres;
- Proper advancement ought to be brought in the agrarian and industrial area which give them work freedom to stand on their legs;
- Underground beggar associations ought to be checked by people in general and police and should be given the death penalty;
- The Government should open special clinics to deal with individuals who cannot pay for the treatment of diseases like leprosy etc.
The beggars are idlers. They cause an incredible loss of labour and industry to the country. Begging for charities has now become a business recommendation of huge magnitude in any event. The foreign press and TV have humiliated India by graphically showing pictures of beggars battling like canines for a couple of coins, amassing like honey bees for leftover food in hotels and restaurants, naked ladies sleeping on the floor and children sucking. These scenes show India in lurid colours. The beggars of today have adopted beggary as a profession, it has changed its structure in the advanced period and the issue has become an immense one.
Concerning the amendment of the current lacunae on the punitive aspect of the enactment, the Ministry of Social Welfare drafted a Model Legislation for the Person in Destitution dependent on proposals that rose out of the National Consultation meetings held with State Representatives, Experts in the field of beggary, and so forth, however, the bill was subsequently abandoned by the center and thus, we come up short on a central law as of now on this and whatever exists is the faulty enactments on anti-beggary which are not able to address the issue from its root cause and rather just criminalize them, confine them in organizations, consequently eliminating them from the essence of the city and just temporarily settling the issue, with no long term rehabilitation provided, accordingly such individuals end up doing the same after coming out of the rehabilitation centres.
This street begging conceivably compromises the economy, the climate, and the social endurance of humanity in a good way. Accordingly, it is the obligation of all of us as citizens of the countries not to provide alms to the beggars, rather helping the public authority in annihilating this menace.
Even though this ruins the smooth economic improvement of the country however they do not cause any damage to the general public as such so there is a need for time for the governing body to shift the methodology from a punitive to a rehabilitative one by revoking the current laws or by modifying them or through bringing new enactments. The government must work for their rehabilitation and their combination into the social and political texture of our country and make individuals aware with the goal that we can not just eliminate them from the face of the city just to tackle the purpose behind the anti- beggary enactments yet to address the issue and preventing individuals from taking up begging as their last resort for their survival.
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