ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dehumanising Beggars

The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 is a regressive, anti-poor law that must go

Almost a year ahead of the Commonwealth Games (CWG), the Delhi administration had begun preparations to keep beggars off the streets. Nine teams of police personnel were formed to pick up the beggars from 12 “zero-tolerance zones” and two dedicated mobile courts were used for immediate prosecution. Recent testimonies of the “beggars”, given to civil society organisations, which have been reported in the press, describe how many of them were either put on trains or packed into outward-bound trucks from Delhi and they were warned not to return to the capital until after the CWG was through. Those thus bundled off were all homeless but not necessarily unemployed or beggars – the groups included hawkers, street performers, rag-pickers, and migrants in search of jobs. The law that comes in handy to “beautify” the venues of major international events is the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (BPBA), 1959 (extended to Delhi in 1960). Its constitutional validity has now been challenged in the Supreme Court by two social activists/lawyers.

Between them, the BPBA, the Karnataka Prevention of Begging Act, 1975 and the Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Begging Act, 1977 cover 18 states in the country. Begging in the BPBA is defined as soliciting or receiving alms in a public place “whether or not under any pretence such as singing, dancing, fortune-telling, performing or offering any article for sale”. Further, people “having no visible means of subsistence and wandering about or remaining in any public place in such condition or manner, as makes it likely that the person doing so is soliciting or receiving alms” are considered to be beggars. Entering private premises for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms or exhibiting, with the object of obtaining alms, any injury or deformity (human or animal) are all part of this definition. Agricultural distress has resulted in heavy migration to the urban areas. All those migrants seeking jobs or eking out a living by whatever small enterprise can then be classified as “beggars”.

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