In street corners, at traffic signals and in front of temples -- these are the trademark places where you will almost definitely find a panhandler at work in Chennai city. These people have been around for decades, wearing a pitiable look on their faces and crying out in pitiful voices.
However, this might soon be history if the plan of the civic governing body, the Corporation of Chennai, is to work out.
They plan to rehabilitate these beggars by educating the children, providing jobs to the adults and providing proper medication to the mentally ill
. This might sound ambitious, especially with the economy just recovering, but the Government is confident of putting this plan into action, and they are planning to start the drive against panhandling in general from June 6 onwards.
This might prove to be a daunting task because surprisingly, organized begging is a thriving form of business on the streets. Many of these beggars are in fact employed by local thugs, who collect the day's begging proceeds. This is appalling reality, present throughout India's metros and depicted in the award winning movie 'Slumdog Millionaire'. To get rid of the various factions involved here would definitely take time, effort, and most importantly, anti-corruption measures because thugs are ready to bribe officials.
When I spoke to some panhandlers (a few of them in front of a temple, and few of them at a busy traffic signal) none of them admitted to 'working for someone' but they readily said that the rehabilitation drive of the corporation would definitely benefit them. Panhandlers in front of the temple surprised me by saying that they had nearly no trouble getting food - they get it from devotees - each week devotees keep cooking food exclusively for them, or they got leftovers, biscuits, fruits and so on; what they lacked was shelter and money. Most of them do not have ration cards (These act like social security numbers)
The panhandlers in front of the traffic signals are in fact of a different kind - they 'clean' (rather dirty) car windshields, sell low quality cotton stubs and cleaner brushes. These people have no regard for the traffic - they go and stand right near the vehicle and thrust their services on to people, who are literally forced to give them money. The problem is that they are mostly kids (who would be better off going to school) and when I asked them a couple of questions, they did not answer them but instead thrust their wares on me. I bought something from one kid and tried to ask him questions again, but by the time he could answer, I had three more kids begging me to buy their wares.
It is when I see sights like this that I decided that the Government's initiative was indeed a great one, provided it materializes as intended.