Beggary thrives as Ramadan arrives


“My child has not eaten since morning, please give me some money to buy food for him,” screeches a perfectly healthy woman carrying a malnourished urchin, roaming the streets near the main super market of Islamabad. She chases every car that passes by, hoping to inveigle as much money as possible.
This is not a solitary case as one sees the same scene played out in markets, streets and at traffic signals all over Islamabad. With the start of the holy month of Ramadan, the beggars’ movement seems to have gained strength and momentum, as the number of beggars on the roads has increased manifold. The shopping malls in the twin cities are also amongst the choicest business locations of these beggars. It is said that no ordinary beggar could do business at such sought out locations, because they are covertly ‘auctioned’ by corrupt elements in police and other related departments for large sums of money called ‘Bhatta’ (extortion).
In Rawalpindi, especially on busy places like Benazir Bhutto Road, Committee Chowk, Mareer Chowk and Sixth Road Chowk, commuters and drivers face irritation on red lights as a large number of beggars seek financial support claiming they are not professional. At Raja Bazaar, Saddar Bazaar, Tench Bhatta and other main shopping centres of the city, beggars sometime turn nasty towards the customers. Shopping at the super market, Kalsoom Begum seemed annoyed and bothered by the cries of female beggars. Talking to Pakistan Today she said, “There are so many of them, you just don’t know who really deserves the money.”
Bearing horrific disabilities that are effective in creating an impact upon the target audience and help in the successful extortion of alms, these beggars can be seen walking, limping or roller-skating with amputated legs on roads all day. In some commuters it does arouse an element of pity, while for many it is no more than a sickening nuisance, who said that giving alms to people with physical impairments encouraged the beggars’ network, which then committed heinous acts like kidnapping children, disabling them, and forcing them out on the streets to beg.
Many beggars claim they are not professional beggars but forced to beg due to some tragedy. These tragedies include needing money due to serious illness of self, parents or children, workplace accidents, prolonged joblessness, etc. Haider Khan, 20, from Bajaur Agency, the tribal area marred by conflict between Pakistani security forces and the Taliban militants, told Pakitsan Today that he had lost his left leg during a suicide bombing. Since then he usually sought alms in Saddar Bazaar of Rawalpindi and earned Rs 200 to 300 daily, he said. For the month of Ramadan he said that he came to the capital city as more money could be earned in the city of rich people. Despite being engaged in begging in such a formalised manner, he denied the claim that he was a ‘professional beggar’. Khan said on normal days his mother and six siblings, who also pursued begging as a career, earned approximately Rs 1, 600 daily. “But in this holy month, the whole family earns approximately Rs 3,000-4,000 daily,” he said, happiness evident from his face. Many women see these beggars as more of a blessing in disguise than irritating entities. They find beggars to be the most readily available recipients of charity especially in Ramadan. One woman in Karachi Company Market said, “My husband and I usually do not give money to these faux beggars. But in the month of Ramadan we prefer to give alms instead of refusing them. We always give aged people something, because they have to feed their entire family.”
However, for others, giving alms is no more than a way to get rid of the beggars: “Because they start cleaning my windshield with a dirty cloth or incessantly knocking at the window, I have kept denominations of Rs 100 inside my dashboard to give them as soon as they come near my car,” said Iqbal Hussain, a resident of sector G-8. “Authorities need to take action against professional beggars: learned in their art, they’ll continue chasing you until you put some money in their hands to get rid of them. It becomes difficult to move in markets in this holy month,” said 40-year-old Naseer Zaman, in the Abpara Market. When asked about the steps taken to discourage professional begging, Islamabad Police spokesman Muhammad Naeem said police had taken many into custody. He said they arrested 2,700 professional beggars in the current year, and 20 were put behind bars in the first two days of Ramadan alone. “However, these beggars are employed by very influential people – I would call them a mafia – who get them released on bail only days after they are nabbed,” Naeem said.
While many people are coerced into professional begging by powerful networks, others are driven to it in the wake of disasters, when their livelihoods are stripped of them. “An increase in the number of female and child beggars is witnessed after natural disasters, like the earthquake in 2005 and the devastating floods in 2010,” said Rizwan Ahmed, an old trader of G-9 markaz. Citizens urged the government to provide rehabilitation facilities to these deprived groups. Federal as well as provincial authorities, in cooperation with philanthropic organisations, were asked to establish special cells to develop a system to re-establish the dislocated population. Most importantly, they were asked to educational and vocational training to all, in order to reduce the trend of begging, especially among innocent children.
Many influential people of Islamabad society said unless the authorities concerned did not devise productive action plans, the growing inclination towards begging, in females and children especially, would not be dispelled. Professional beggary has become a social menace as more and more beggars, including physically fit and healthy young men, women and children, are turning towards this profession. Regressing into un-productivity, these individuals become increasingly dependent upon begging for survival, and are ultimately a burden on society. They added it was likely that the criminals including extremists and other ruthless groups of society would exploit child beggars for their erroneous purposes.