Kamala Bai has a big smile on her face as she sits down on her bed with the help of a stick, and narrates her tale.
"I have relatives, I swear. They will be here soon, and then I will be able to leave. I have no complaints as they take good care of me and give us everything we need, but I miss my freedom," she says.
Kamala, aged around 60, is one of 15 residents who are presently lodged at the Anand Ashram in Cherlapalli Central Prison in Hyderabad.
She was rounded up by the Telangana State Prisons Department as part of an initiative to rehabilitate beggars in Hyderabad, and plans to establish a 'beggar-free' city.
The department said that it had "oriented itself into a high-end social service organisation that takes care of the last rung of the society."
Since the last week of October, 316 male beggars and 164 female beggars had been sent to the Anand Ashram in Chanchalguda and Cherlapally. Out of this, 261 male and 149 female beggars were released later.
(The Anand Ashram at Cherlapally)
The price of 'freedom'
The women housed on the premises of the Cherlapally Anand Ashram have no complaints regarding the facilities provided to them.
"We have been given soft beds to sleep on and three meals a day. We have been given soaps, shampoos, new clothes, and everything we could ask for. Yet, we are not free," Kamala, who has been lodged here since the drive began, says.
While the beggars are free to roam around the large building, which has adequate open space on its own, they're forbidden from leaving its gates.
"I may get everything here for free, but I am not free here. I want to go out again, and find my own way. No one wants to live the rest of their lives inside one building," one woman says, as the accompanying police officer gets distracted for a minute.
This is the overwhelming sentiment. None of the inmates want to remain there forever.
Easwaramma, another inmate, alleges that she was beaten after she was picked up.
"While they treat me well over here, the police personnel who picked me up hit me very hard and roughed me up. I just want to go home. My relatives will be here soon," she says, adding that the in-house prison doctor checked on her, and gave her medicines.
Nagaratna, a native of Andhra's Anantapur district said that she was illegally detained, and she was not a beggar.
"My relatives don't stay here, so it was hard for me to convince the authorities, but I will be out of here soon, and leave with Easwaramma," she says.
A police officer posted outside the Ashram explains that once a beggar is detained, they are lodged in the building and given all basic necessities.
However, for them to be released, they will need a family member to vouch for them.
"Once their family is contacted, we take their fingerprints, photograph and Aadhar card details of both the parties. If Aadhar card is unavailable, then we make use of some other identity card. Then we take an undertaking from them and the relative," the officer says.
According to the undertaking, the homeless, if caught again begging in the city, would be arrested under Prevention of Begging Act 1977 with an imprisonment ranging from six months to five years.
Those who do not have any families, must remain at the ashram until further notice.
A beggar-free city
The department intends to make Hyderabad a beggar free city by December 20.
What has really captured the attention of people is that, starting on December 25, the eve of Christmas, the department plans to declare a reward of Rs 500 to citizens, for information on beggars.
People can call the numbers 040-24511791 and 040-24527846, to report beggars, officials said.
The man heading the entire operation is Director General of Prisons VK Singh. Speaking to TNM, the top officer said that the department was determined to meet the goal in the next ten days.
"Firstly, most of the prisoners that we get are from the poorer sections of society, deprived and uneducated. This is one of the main reasons that people turn towards crime, along with unemployment," he says.
"Secondly, beggars have equal rights as a citizen but yet they are not being taken care of and don't hold any stake in our society. While the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) provides night shelters, it doesn't have the expertise in terms of rehabilitation and counselling, which is why I proposed that the Prisons Department will take up the exercise," he adds.
Officials also said that most of the beggars who were detained, were unskilled, making them unemployable.
"We will ensure that they receive adequate training. We have already employed five of the beggars who had their educational certificates, at the Anand Ashram itself. The long-term goal is to make the entire prison self-sufficient, by employing these people as caretakers and for other such jobs," Singh says.
"The Prisons Department has always promoted the rehabilitation of prisoners through innovative methods, whether it is the petrol bunk run entirely by prisoners, or otherwise. We will now take care of the beggars too, and offer them a better life," he added.
As far as the reward for spotting beggars is concerned, Singh says, "We are serious about it, and we will keep our promise. We are looking to make Hyderabad beggar-free before the end of December for sure."