Begging and Poverty

Associated with the problems of poverty and unemployment is the problem of beggary which is a social problem of great magnitude and gave concern in developing and under developed countries where it exists in a crude form but the developed countries are also not immune from it where it exists in less degree. Begging is a curse both for the individual beggar and the society.

The beggar suffers from a sense of humiliation, shame and leads to a life of squalor and filth. Beggary is a problem for children beggars. For them it is an undesirable environment in which to grow up. It implies undernourishment and inadequate oppurtunities for education . It means idleness , bad company and deliquency. Begging is a problem for society in as much as large number of society. Beggars are also a public health hazard. They are often carriers of infection and disease. They are a marginal social group and have been found to be associated with the activities of the underworld.

Probably , India is the only in the world where lakhs of its population wander about the streets , public places , markets, temples,tourist’s sites and bus stands , railway stations, cinema halls and even in moving trains and buses with perfect freedom , living on the spontaneous unorganised charity of the individual citizen.


The definition of beggary can be found in the Vagrancy Acts of some of the states of India : On the basis of the provisions of these acts a person to be labelled as a beggar shoul satisfy these conditions:

1) He lives by soliciting alms in any public place, temple or mosque, tourist’s sites mall, cinema halls , private premises , public street , road or thoroughfare , or place of public resort , hotels, bus -stops , pavements or markets etc., for the maintainance of himself or his family.

2) He wanders from door to door , exhibits or exposes, sores, wounds, bodily ailments or deformities or makes fraudulent pretences of them or allows himself or his family.

3) He is without any visible means of subsistence.


Beggars have been classified into various categories. According to Kumarappa, beggars can be classified under the following heads:

1) The chils beggar, who may be a paid or an unpaid assistant of the adult beggar.

2) The physically defectives, including the blind, the deaf , mute, the crippled , the maimed and deformed. Besides these, there are the chronically under-nourished and those afflicted with various organic troubles, or weakness of the vital organs.

3) The mentally defectives, including a large proportion of the destitutes, immoral, deliquent and criminal population

4) The diseased persons , suffering from infections, diseases such as leprosy , epilepsy, T.B., venereal deiseases and skin diseases, with sores and ulcers covered with plasters and dressings on which myriads of flies settle and feed.

5) The able-bodied , who consider begging as his birth right and bullies , harasses and troubles the public into giving them alms, and who are lazy and roam about in the cities. They beg by day and turn into thieves and robbers by night.

6) The bogus mendicants, who are able-bodied laymen and who have no affliation with any religious order whatever . but like to get on without work, don the garb of a fakir or a sadhu and profit by the generosity of the unsuspecting and religious minded orthodox people.

7) The religious mendicants, so familiar is the figure of the sanyasi, the yogi, the sadhu , the bairagi, the fakir and the darvesh with all the paraphernalia of saffron robe, woodbead-necklace and bowl in in hand.

8) The tribal beggars, who move about from place to place singing and reciting local songs and begging . Among their class may be included the seasonal vagrant and the permanent vagrant. The seasonal vagrant comprise those migratory casual labourers who work on the fields or on some trade craft in their native village during the season and in the off season migrate to larger cities where they live on footpaths or open maidans and maintain themselves by begging or stealing . The permanent vagrants are the migratory non-workers. They are purposeless wanderers who beat their way from place to place, begging for food, getting in any way they can and carefully avoiding rendering and useful service to the society.

9) The employed beggars are the persons who work in night shifts in mills and factories and go out begging during the day.


Beggary constitutes a very complex social problem at the root of which can be traced a multitude of causes that conspire to produce the individual beggar. It is also intimately related with other social problems such as unemployment, intemperance, poverty, crippling diseases ,leprosy , lack of provision of old age, security, disruption of joint family and mental derangement. Furthermore, in a country like India, where religion sanctions the formation of mendicant orders and also prescribes charity and public sympathy for mankind for one’s own elevation, the problem of beggary assumes greater complications.

In a survey of the Beggar Problem, in Greater Mumbai , Moorthy has mentioned the following causes, giving rise to beggary:

. Over-population with consequent pressure on land and inability of land to support the people ;

. Tyrannical landlordism

. Subdivision of holding coupled with large families and unprofitable methods of farming.

. Debts

.Famines , floods, and epidemics which weaken the community or impose hardships;

. Family breakdown

. Economic and emotional disabilities imposed on a man or woman after desertion;

. Chronic and pernicious diseases

. Physical and mental handicaps

. Truancy and Deliquency

. Inability to secure a job

. Unwillingness to work;

. Religious bias and vow binding one to the merdicant order

. Anti-social attitudes and child lifting;

. Lack of facilities for the welfare of the unattached , abandoned and disabled;

. Lack of facilities for training for employment;

. Lack of social security and absence of social responsiblity

. Attractions of city life, linked with the possibilty of easy and ticketless travel;

. The general outlook on life which inclines one to believe in destiny.


Most of the civilised countries of the world have long prohibited begging in public and declared it an offence under the law, whereas England began her Poor Law Relief  as early as the reign of Queen Elizabeth from the beginning of the seventeenth century, Japan has enacted social laws to care for her aged and infirm in State and Municipal. Homes, and begging is scarce as in countries like Great Britain and Germany . But beggars still stalk the streets of China, India, Muslim and Other Countries of the Near , Middle and ‘Far East and even some of the smaller Eastern European Countries though all have realised the fact that the beggar problem can never be solved by private charity, however, profuse and that State intervention and legislation are necessary if the allied problems of begging , destitution and vagrancy are to be effectively tackled.

Special Acts have been passed by most of the states in India to prohibit beggary in public places. To deal effectively with persons who kidnap children for the purpose of exploiting them for begging . The Indian Penal Code ( Section 263 A) makes kidnapping or obtaining custody of minor and maintaining of a minor for the purpose of begging specific offences and provides for deterrent punishment which may extend to life imprisonment where children are maimed.

These laws follow a more or less uniform pattern namely-

1. They prohibit and penalise begging in public places

2. Most of them distinguish juveniles from able-bodied and disabled beggars, and commit juvenile to the jurisdiction of the Children Act and the able-bodied to workhouses and the disabled to special homes, if available.

3. Most of them are operative in areas on notification by the government and some of them only if there are special homes and workhouses.

4. All of them penalise escape or violation of discipline with imprisonment.

There are institutions in the states for the custody and assistance of the beggars in their rehabilitation . The inmates of these homes are provided with food , clothing , education , facilities for physical , cultural and vocational training.

Mere Legislative enactments would not stop the evil. Other measures need to be taken to root out and lessen this memenace:

1) The old attitude that charity blesseth him who gives and him who gives and him who take should be abandoned, for it demoralises both.

2) As begging is an offence, the giver of the charity is a part of it and should equally liable to punishment , even as the bribe – giver is as guilty as the bribe taker.

3) When begging is declared prohibited, it is necessary to guarantee the beggars and their dependents an alternative and equally paying employment.

4) Social security services should be developed to look after the innocent dependents. At present the criminal law seems to reward the criminal with social security and penalise the innocent with social insecurity.

5) As there are different causes and situations of beggary the institutional treatment has to be adjusted to the different categories of beggars. Poor houses should have an infirmary for the disabled and diseased and other suffering from non – infectious diseases. Child beggars should have a department where they may be taught to read and write and become self-supporting. There should be a work-house or an agricultural colony for the able- bodied never -do-wells who live by lying and blackmailing.

6) Provision of after-care and follow -up should be a legal obligation. Development of placement agencies and after-care hostels, marriage guidance bureau in case of female beggars and setting up of estabilishments for the deformed and physically handicapped and leprosy patients should be the first duty of the social welfare departments and social welfare agencies.

7) Considering the fact that among the large population of beggars in India a good man suffers from hereditary defects as are likely to be transmitted to their children, it would be desirable to provide for the sterlisation of such persons.


In sum , it may be concluded that in spite of a plethora of enactments adopted by different states, the Police Acts and the Indian Railways Act , beggary goes on unchecked , assuming serious problem dimensions leading to immeasrable crimes. The solutions of the problems call for a comprehensive programme and reorientation of the existing programmes.Philantrophic approach to beggar problem should be replaced by therapeutic and rehabilitative work and a positive attitude towards work should be developed among the able bodied beggars.

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