The efforts of one person has turned a voluminous begging community in Uttar Pradesh capital city Lucknow, into self sustaining, proud individuals
Beggars can be choosers now. After failing to get a job, Satish Pal was begging for alms at the famous Hanuman Setu temple and main crossings in Lucknow for over a decade. But today, he is a rickshaw-puller and earns his own living with dignity. Like Satish, there are about 27 other beggars in Lucknow who have quit begging and are rehabilitated to stand on their own feet.
This was made possible by a 28-year-old social activist Sharad Patel. Hailing from Mirzapur village in Hardoi district, Sharad patiently worked on beggars in Lucknow collecting data, studying their behaviour, social standing, understanding their problems and family background, etc., to rehabilitate as many as 27 beggars without any government support. It took him three years to accomplish the job.
After completing High School, Sharad had to shift to Lucknow along with his parents for the treatment of his mother suffering from blood cancer. During the course of his mother’s treatment, the young lad was perturbed seeing the plight of cancer and other patients due to poor medical care in government hospitals. He had then decided to become a doctor to treat patients free of cost.
But fate had decided something different for him. In 2010, he came in contact with Sandeep Pandey, the Magsaysay Award winner and social activist, and Sharad started working with him. Sharad claims that his family supported him when he decided to opt for social services than to choose a career in medicine. He did his Masters in Social Work (MSW) to broaden his knowledge about the field he has chosen as social service to help the poor and needy.
While working on a project on destitutes, he was shocked to find that population of beggars was higher in Lucknow than any other city in Uttar Pradesh.
“There were hardly any beggars in my village in Mirzapur. But I was surprised to find that besides temples, railway and bus stations, crossings etc beggars dot the city everywhere, despite the fact that begging is a cognizable offence and crime under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Beggary Act 1975,” he said.
One day a beggar approached him and asked for Rs 10 to buy food. Instead of giving him money, he took the beggar to a shop and ordered for ‘puris’ to feed his empty belly. “I spent about two hours with the beggar trying to understand the circumstances which led him to beg on the streets. He shared all his personal details and when I checked, I found that many of them were blatant lies. He was a habitual beggar getting easy money or food without doing any work,” said Sharad.
Majority of the beggars he met were hooked to some form of cheap intoxicants. Many of them admitted that they can’t go for begging if they don’t take a dose of ‘ganja’ or ‘bhang’. While working on finding a solution for their permanent rehabilitation, three of his friends Jaideep Kumar, Mahendra Pratap and Prince volunteered to support in the cause.
Sharad approached the social welfare department of the state government to seek data on beggars in Lucknow. He was shocked when his request was turned down. saying that the department has no data on beggars in Lucknow. Ironically, the department runs eight beggars’ homes all over the state.
The beggars’ home in Lucknow is housed in a 100-year-old dilapidated building in Thakurganj and, unfortunately, for the past decade it had not had a single inmate as a beggar, despite the fact that government has a substantial budget of over Rs 10 lakhs for rehabilitation of beggars.
After studying the state government’s model for beggars’ rehabilitation, Sharad realised that it was of no use. “We spent about three months collecting data on our own and made a one-year plan to work on their rehabilitation. The plan was launched on Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 2014 through ‘Badlaav’(Change), a social organisation working for the rehabilitation of beggars,” said Sharad.
After establishing a close rapport with beggars, the group got them ration cards, widow, elder person and handicapped-persons’ pensions, and other documents and benefits from government’s welfare schemes. This boosted their confidence.
Beggars were divided into three groups. First were those who were above 60 years, second handicapped and disabled and third less than 40 years of age.
For the older, handicapped and disabled beggars, the group arranged funds for selling milk, bread, butter, eggs etc., to make them self-employed. For the remaining, they were given options to choose training in the fields they had interests in but little past experience. Some of them opted for pulling rickshaws, others preferred painting, a few were ready to work as daily-wagers and domestic helps.
“We approached builders, contractors, businessmen, caterers, hotels and others who were ready to help them get jobs. Five among them were picked up by a painting contractor, 10 were given jobs by caterers, builders and shop owners, seven started selling daily-use items at railway stations and bus stations, and we collected funds to arrange rickshaws for the remaining five,” shared Sharad. Within two years ‘Badlaav’ was successful in bringing qualitative changes in the lives of over 100 beggars and was successful in rehabilitating 27 others. “They are now leading a respectable life by quitting begging and standing on their own feet to earn their own living instead of stretching their hands out to others for survival,” claimed Sharad, who is now doing Ph.D on begging and its solution.
The group of 27 rehabilitated beggars help Sharad hold weekly camps, nukkad nataks to motive other beggars. “I was a junkie. The pain and efforts Sharad bhaiyya took to change my life I will repay him by participating in his noble work motivating and helping other beggars to stand on their own feet,” said Vijay Bahadur Bhola, who now pulls a rickshaw to earn his living.
Together, they motivated about 1,250 beggars in Lucknow. The group has a complete profile of 230 beggars in which a few are graduates but were forced by circumstances to go for beggary. The group has also started a ‘Pathshala’ (school) at Dubbaga where about 80 children, who were begging on streets, are now studying.
Pankaj is now thinking of asking his family to join him. “My wife left me after my elder brother threw me out of our ancestral home. Failing to get any work I ended up as a beggar. Now I earn enough by painting houses and buildings to ask my wife and two kids to join me,” shared a confident-looking former beggar.
The group’s next step is to build a home for such people in Lucknow. “Most of them still live on footpaths, even after self-employment. We have applied for homes for them under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana but a home is required for such a large number of beggar population in Lucknow to provide them safe accommodation,” said Sharad.
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