This begs' an answer: Why let them harass us?

Transgenders and beggars pestering commuters for alms has become a menace in Bengaluru.

Transgenders and beggars pestering commuters for alms has become a menace in Bengaluru. Women clutching sedated infants or sporting artificial limbs are near-permanent fixtures on our busy streets. The government adopts a step-motherly attitude to these communities, although a slightly more proactive approach could have done wonders toward giving them a better life.

Transgenders are a common sight at busy traffic signals in Bengaluru, as they badger commuters for money. Minerva Circle, St John's Signal, Domlur, Sony Signal, Sirsi Circle, K.R. Puram Bridge, Nagarbhavi, Hebbal junction and Mekhri Circle are some of the junctions where begging is at its peak.

Transgenders aren’t the only ones – children, and women clutching sedated infants are often spotted too. Perhaps if the rights of transgenders and children were better protected, the amount of begging and harassment on the streets will reduce too. The SC’s direction on transgenders needs better implementation to empower the community and give them a chance at a dignified life.

Ask Manohar Elavarthi, founder of the NGO Sangama, which works for the welfare of the transgenders to find out why the community has been pushed into begging and he says, "The blame rests squarely with the state and central governments, which have failed miserably in implementing the landmark SC ruling on transgenders, passed in the National Legal Service Authority Case (NALSA) in 2014."

Elavarthi went on to explain the key points of the judgement, calling it ground-breaking as he says: "The apex court had ruled in favour of the inclusion of a third gender category identity documents like driving licences and passports. The ruling also directed prohibition of discrimination against transgenders on the grounds of gender identity."

He lamented that the discrimination continues as the government doesn’t take concrete action to prevent these atrocities from happening. "The SC judgement also instructed the state and union governments to classify transgenders as a socially and educationally backward class and to make reservations for them in public education and employment", Mr Manohar added that nothing has taken place in this regard yet.

Commenting on the lack of political will in implementing the SC ruling Elavarthi said "Take Karnataka for example. According to me, the total population of transgenders in the state does not exceed 30,000. So if we divide them among 224 constituencies, there may be around 100-150 transgenders. These meagre votes will not decide the victory or fall of a candidate."

This is why political parties have so little interest in the welfare of transgenders, Elavarthi concluded. "Transgenders who have crossed 40 years of age are eligible to get Rs 500 as pension. But what will they do with this amount? A sum of Rs 20,000 has been allocated to every transgender who wishes to set up a business. “It isn’t possible even to put up a shop with this amount,” he pointed out, demanding that governments introduce more feasible policies. With so little support available to them, the transgender community has no choice but to take to the streets.

When DC contacted Narmada Anand, Project Director, Integrated Child Protection Society, on steps taken to prevent begging, she said, "We are working with the police department who have initiatives like 'Operation Smile to curb begging. Our focus is to catch hold of children involved in begging."

If they are below the age of 18 years and have no guardians, they will be rehabilitated. If they have parents, we tell them that the child should not be used for begging, Narmada said. Infants are often sedated and used in the profession, which the authorities hope to curb through regular raids. “We haven’t come across any instance where infants are sedated and used by men or women," she remarked.

We are regularly carrying out awareness campaigns and educate people on why they shouldn’t encourage begging, especially in children. “There will be beggars only if people are willing to offer them alms.”

‘If we refuse to give them money, they hurl abuses’
One is easily moved to sympathy by the plight of children, sedated infants and women who clearly come from stark poverty. The same stands for transgenders too, although fear often outweighs mercy with the latter. Mr Shambu, an entrepreneur and resident of Siddapura, crosses the traffic signal at Minerva Circle, J C Road every day for work.

"Some months ago, a transgender approached me begging for money. I gave her Rs 10 and she blessed me by placing her hands on my head. Every time I cross that signal, there is atleast one of them demanding money. If we refuse, they hurl abuse. They even summon their friends to dance around in an attempt to shame us. Their behaviour borders on the obscene as well, embarrassing everybody in the vicinity.”

Most people are quick to reach into their pockets just for the sake of avoiding a commotion, Shambu hypothesised. He added, however, that children being used in begging isn’t much better.

Sathya Lazaras, a fruit merchant at K.R. Market said, "At around 7 am, we see a group of women, mostly from the outskirts of the city, assembling near the market. First, their infants are fed and then, I suspect, sedated. Once they fall asleep, they are taken on to streets and near traffic signals by women who beg for alms."

It’s time police personnel and the concerned government officials plunge into action and prevent begging. Most of the women who beg are not really beggars. They have simply found an easy way to run their life by faking deprivation, Lazarus added. “We have heard of a rehabilitation centre for beggars operating at Summanahalli in West Bengaluru. Only the officials know what happens there,” he said.

Social ostracism, no employment driving people to streets: Ashwin Mahesh, urban expert

The policies on begging and the actual implementation of those policies are vastly different from one another. Beggars are usually the destitute and the infirm. Their primary needs – shelter and food – are not met, which pushes them into begging.

A good intervention program must focus on this - establishing shelters and blankets, food support centres, and medicines - in adequate numbers. This has to be coupled with a program that seeks to rehabilitate as many of them as possible.

The second category of those who seek money on the streets consists of people who are not beggars at all, for they treat begging as a profession. It is not unusual to see people demanding spare change from commuters at traffic lights, and doing so aggressively in some cases. Many commuters are angered by this, to the point where many no longer support begging even if they are otherwise sympathetic to the poor.

Civil libertarians and others have pointed out that social ostracism is driving some of these people to beg because they are unable to find gainful employment. There is considerable truth to this, and we must take up initiatives to address the stigma they face and see to their integration with the mainstream of society.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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