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Begging for Attention

The Twelfth Five-Year Plan has called for a holistic national policy on beggars.

When 286 inmates of the Beggars’ Rehabilitation Centre in Karnataka died over a period of eight months in 2010, for a brief moment the issue of beggars – who are visible and yet invisible in our cities – came into focus. Now the Twelfth Five-Year Plan has called for a national policy on beggars and a model central law on begging that could be adopted by the states. Social activists working with the very poor and beggars have long been advocating a holistic policy on the issue of beggary, rehabilitation of beggars and repeal of laws that are used to victimise not only beggars but all those who do not fit into the “respectable” category.

However, before the first steps are taken to formulate any rehabilitation programme or even a policy, it is essential to have reliable data about beggars and what they need. In 2010, the government admitted in the Lok Sabha that it had no authentic data on the number of beggars in the country. Making an estimate of the number of people involved in beggary will not be easy. Those who end up begging on the streets do so because of desperation. But they are not a fixed population; many drift in and out of begging.

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