What does Independence Day mean to thousands of India's homeless?
Features Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 05:30
The News Minute | August 13, 2014 | 4.36 pm IST Beggars are part of the urban landscape that many of us ignore as we go about our daily lives. An extensive report published by The Indian Express, shows that many people work during the day and sleep on the streets because they are forced out of their homes due to circumstances.Â The law often penalises and even criminalises their poverty in a bid to clear the streets of an unpleasant sight.Â The report traces the history of the law which penalises begging, and says that the national law was adopted from the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959, which itself was based on the British law against begging. The Indian Express reports: â€śUnder the present Act, anyone having no visible means of subsistence and found wandering about in a public space is deemed a beggar. All those who solicit alms in public place under any pretence, including singing, dancing, fortune-telling or street-performing, are also deemed as beggars. â€śThe present Act gives discretionary powers to the police who can pick up anyone on a hunch that the individual is a beggar or a destitute with no means of fending for himself. Mumbai acts like a beacon for migrants who come from far and wide to find work on its streets. Many of them do odd jobs and sleep on the street during the night. However, many of them face the threat of being rounded up as beggars by the Beggar Squad of the Mumbai police if it thinks they look like a destitute.â€ť Whatâ€™s worse is, once a person has been identified as a beggar under the law, the person is produced before Metropolitan Magistrate court, which has the power to send someone to a remand of 14 days while the police conduct an inquiry. If the person is found to be a beggar, and convicted by the court of being a beggar, the individual can be sent to a remand home for up to three years. The court can also order the detention of anyone it thinks are dependent on the beggar. If a beggar convict who completes his or her term as a detainee is convicted for the same offence again, the person can be jailed for 10 years. The newspaper quotes Mohammed Wahid of Bihar, who works as a â€śhamaalâ€ť: â€śI used to work in a bakery at Nagpada and sleep on the road. One day, the police picked me up and said I was a beggar. I was sent to a beggarsâ€™ home but released a week later at the intervention of my friends. However, when I came back, my employer refused to take me back.â€ť Read the full report for a more detailed understanding of how people are forced on to the streets. The report also details the efforts of NGOs and Tata Institute of Social Sciences who have worked with the destitute, and also attempts to change the law.Â In the past the government had set up committees to look into how the law could be changed to help destitute people to develop livelihood skills and rehabilitate the old, infirm, disabled and others incapacitated by their circumstances. Apathy towards the homeless is not limited to India. In June, a supermarket in London had installed spikes on the ground outside one of itâ€™s stores in a bid to prevent homeless people from sleeping there. The supermarket Tesco, had said it had installed the spikes to prevent â€śanti-socialâ€ť elements from gathering there. However, protesters poured cement over the spikes one night, and public criticism of Tescoâ€™s actions, forced the supermarket to remove the spikes. The Guardian had published a report around that time about public facilities in urban spaces which had increasingly become unfriendly for homeless people.