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Mainstream, VOL XLIX No 33, August 6, 2011

Beggars as Non-citizens

Wednesday 10 August 2011, by Ambrose Pinto


In the death of more than 120 people in the beggars’ colony in Bangalore managed by the State in August 2010 due to total apathy and indifference by the officials of the Karnataka State, the question that is raised is whether the beggars living in the colony have rights. It was difficult to ascertain the exact reasons for the deaths. The authorities of the colony have claimed the deaths to be natural. Others suspect food poisoning or gastroenteritis. The colony residents say stale and sub-standard food served there caused the deaths. Going by the conditions in the colony, it appears that the deaths were due to negligence on the part of the authorities. There was nothing going right in the place. The whole condition in the colony could be easily compared to Auschwitz. Beggars were and are made to lie on the filth. Stench emanates from every part of the colony including the kitchen. It is gross human shame. The deaths must have been caused due to any one of the above reasons.

Response of the State

WHAT surprised the citizens of Karnataka most was the reaction of the responsible members of the State and their officials at these deaths. They were least concerned. The Social Welfare Minister, D. Sudahkar, played down the deaths as natural. The Home Minister, V.S. Acharya, claimed that all the dead had died natural deaths and that there was no outbreak of any communicable disease. “There are two or three persons dying every day at the colony. I do not suspect this is something that sounds fishy,” said Police Commissioner Shankar Bidri. Their argument was that the majority of the inmates were old and ill with very low level of immunity. Deaths in such conditions are common. The insensitivity was so great that on August 19 one unconscious person was dumped into a hearse and left for as dead until he screamed to be let out. In the hospital, there was acute shortage of staff. Many patients were left unattended. The dead bodies were sent to the Victoria Hospital. Doctors there refused to conduct post-mortem since the reports had stated that they were natural deaths. At the Isolation Ward of the hospital where the investi-gation team went, there were dead bodies kept for more than 24 hours. It is difficult to imagine such insensitivity in any human being as witnessed among the caretakers of the beggars’ colony. If the media is to be believed, even the Chief Minister’s visit was a result of a letter from the Office of the Governor. Even that visit had taken place after five days of the tragic event when there was already a public outcry.

Questions about Absence of Post-mortem

SO many deaths and to dump them as natural is beyond reason. Of course, if they are natural, they need to be cremated or buried. According to the officials of the colony, all the dead were cremated initially without informing the police or civil authorities in the first three days. How could people be cremated without informing the legitimate authorities? There was no post-mortem done. The preliminary findings of the inquiry committee instituted by the Minister for Social Welfare, D. Sudhakar, indicated an epidemic outbreak within the colony due to unhygienic conditions and the lack of immunity among the inmates. Another report spoke of water or food contamination. The public are yet to know the exact reasons for the deaths. But the absence of post-mortem when such large number of persons have died and cremating them without proper procedures should have called for penalties on all those responsible in accordance with the rule of law. Why were they cremated? Is there truth in the allegation that behind the cremation racket, there was sale of organs or sale of bodies to private hospitals? One may not be in a position to answer these queries since there is no data. But a news item in The Hindu on August 20, states: “While officials at the Centre said the eight bodies had been sent to Victoria Hospital for autopsy, Victoria Hospital Medical Superintendent B.G. Tilak denied receiving any.”

Who are the Beggars in the Beggars’ Colony?

DECCAN HERALD of August 19, 2010 had some stories of people who are languishing in the colony as beggars without being beggars. Twentyfive-year-old Rahman, a native of Davanagere, a painter, was picked up by some people on his way to work, bundled into a van and dumped at the colony. He was thrashed and not given an opportunity to contact his family members to inform them about his whereabouts. Mehbub, a native of Doddaballpur, an imitation ornaments vendor, was also reportedly picked up from near the Bowring Hospital. Muninanjappa, a resident of Avalahalli, said he was waiting for a bus near the Karnataka High Court when he was picked up by unknown men and brought to the beggars’ colony. Other newspapers had similar stories. The conversation with the inmates convinces anyone that many of them are not really beggars but picked up without following any norms and admitted into the beggars’ colony without any registration.

Do Beggars have Rights?

IF beggars are citizens, they should have rights. But why do they become less of citizens? Not a single right of the beggars in the colony has been protected by the very state meant to protect them. In the serial blasts of Bangalore only one woman died. Yet there was commotion and loud rhetoric. When a matinee idol dies here in the city, holidays are declared and there is mourning. In the beggars’ colony the number of those who died were crossed more than 120. Nobody knows the names of the dead and nobody grieved at their cremation. No tears were shed and no promises of monuments made. Is it because they are poor, they don’t deserve any state recognition? Two thousand five hundred and thirtythree wretched men and women lived there, a place meant for 800 persons, in wretched conditions as in a concentration camp in the twilight zone where life and death had lost all meaning for them. With several running away, the number is reduced to 750 now. They are not considered citizens at all. They were flogged, kicked and beaten and not provided with health care, proper food and right human treatment and considered as a burden even by those who were expected to look after them. This amounts to breaching their rights to dignity, a barbaric and primitive action.

Karnataka Beggary Act 1975

WITH the Karnataka Beggary Act of 1975, beggary has been banned in the State and the arrest of beggars is legitimised. Why should beggary be banned? Because they present a picture of filth and dirt, they should not be there where decent people live—would be the argument of the state. Among beggars there are old people in ill health, the handicapped, the blind, retarded people and even the able-bodied. A large proportion of beggars are people who belong to discriminated communities and are unable to get on with life in a normal fashion because of poverty, disability or other reasons. Shouldn’t the state and people have concern for them? Why do they beg? With the decline in the produce of agriculture, the poor can find no way out but to live on the alms of others at the expense of their dignity. It is not that many of them desire to beg. They are helpless. Instead of the state taking responsibility for their plight due to destruction of agriculture, they are jailed and tortured.

Why Should there be No Beggars in Bangalore?

BANGALORE is both a global and an international city. For a State determined to beautify the city of Bangalore for foreign investment, beggars are a nuisance on the roads. They attack the image of Bangalore as the IT city and of India as the emerging economic power. If Bangalore has to be a world-class city, it will have to be compared with other world capitals. One does not come across beggars in other world cities and capitals. Why then should there be beggars in Bangalore? If the poor are seen roaming the streets seeking alms from the visiting foreigners, the city would get a bad name as a city of the destitute and the hungry. There is a need to pretend what we are not to make Bangalore a global city.

The goal of making Bangalore shine as a well-developed city has led to unprecedented activities since the time of S.M. Krishna in the past ten years involving the construction of flyovers, widening of roads and now the development of a metro rail system with prominent markets and malls. Slums have to be cleared, the land of the poor has to be bought, the poor have to be sent out and the dhabas removed. The result is a stark rise in the number of homeless people. They have no place to go and no place to rest except to resort to begging. It is unfortunate that the burden of making Bangalore a global city has to fall on the city’s poor. It is a process of exclusion. Such an understanding completely ignores the root causes of beggary.

Yes to Migrants, No to Beggars

THE urbanisation of Bangalore has already changed the process of migration. There is large scale migration of a different kind to the city. While the city here welcome skilled and semi-skilled workers into its territory from across the globe with the growing number of BPOs, IT companies and other workers for the multi-national and transnational corporations, the poor have to be jailed, sent out and made to stay in the beggars’ colony for the beauty of the city. The locals have to disappear making place for traders and businessmen from across the globe. A global city has no space for the most marginalised and the poorest. The tragedy is instead of securing the right to livelihood for citizens the government has maintained that begging is illegal while welcoming people from across the globe.

Violation of Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act 1975

THE incidents in the beggars’ colony were all in violation of all the clauses of the Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act. One, of course, could term the Act of 1975 as repressive. In a democracy one of the important functions of the state is eradication of poverty. If poverty is eradicated, there would be no beggary. Instead the government of the State has enacted a law that is aimed at the criminalisation of beggary and curbing of the basic rights of humans. In spite of the limitation of the Act, the vagrancy law that guides the arrest and rehabilitation of beggars in the State—the Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act 1975—is being blatantly flouted. The beggars have rights in accordance with the Act. But every part of the Act is violated by the very agency that is expected to protect them.

1. Violation of the very definition of the term “Beggar”:

In the name of beggary people are simply picked up and admitted to the colony. The Act in Section 2 (2) defines a beggar; accordingly, “(2) beggar means any person other than a child who (a) solicits or receives alms in a public place whether or not under any pretence such as singing, dancing, fortune telling, performing tricks, or selling articles; (b) enters any private premises for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms; (c) exposes or exhibits with the object of obtaining or extorting alms, any sore, wound, injury, deformity or disease whether of a human being or of an animal; (d) having no visible means of subsistence, wanders about or remains in any public place in such condition or manner as makes it likely that he exists by soliciting or receiving alms; (e) allows himself to be used as an exhibit for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms.” Some inmates were not begging. Several in the colony do not fall under the category of beggars at all. There are many among the inmates who had come in search of jobs and some others had jobs of their own. Just packing people in vans or ambulances and forcing them into the colony is violation of the Act.

2. Duty to produce before a Magistrate:

Most of those who were picked up have not been informed of the reasons for their being placed in the colony. By law, those who have been admitted even forcibly have to be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours from the time of the arrest. Migrants, labourers and people who come to the city in search of employment are randomly arrested and detained for indefinite periods. Instead of producing the inmates before the Magistrates, they are charge-sheeted by the administrative staff of the colony. People are treated worse than convicts with no access to any legal assistance.

3. Right to be freed:

The Act clearly says that those who are picked up by mistake should be released. Even if there are people who beg and they assure the officer-in-charge that they will not resort to begging, they have to be released. A good section of people in the colony would like to be away from the place and yet they are forcibly kept there. Section 10 (1) (2) (3) (4) states about arrest and enquiry—Arrest and enquiry: (1) Any police officer or such other as may be authorised by the government in this behalf by general or special order who finds any person other than child contravening the provisions of Section 3 shall arrest such person and inform him of the grounds for such arrest and remove him immediately to the nearest receiving centre. (2) The officer-in-charge of the receiving centre shall thereupon, without delay, hold such enquiry as may be prescribed and if satisfied that the person, if released, will not resort to begging shall release him forthwith with or without surety. (3) If the person arrested under sub-section (1) is not released forthwith under sub-section (2) the officer in charge of the receiving centre shall produce him before the Executive Magistrate or the Judicial Magistrate or the Metropolitan Magistrate having jurisdiction, within a period of twentyfour hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of such Magistrate provided that no person arrested under sub-section (1) shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a Magistrate. (4) The Magistrate, before whom a person is produced under sub-section (3), shall hold an enquiry and if satisfied that such person has committed the offence of begging but undertakes not to commit such offence shall release him on his furnishing a bond for a sum of Rupees one thousand. Section 10(2) requires an enquiry into whether the person arrested was indeed begging, and Section 10(3) requires that if the person is not released immediately, they shall be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours of their arrest.

4. Right to classification:

In order to provide appropriate care, the law expects beggars to be classified and taken care. Section 30 states: “Beggars shall be classified as able-bodied, disabled, diseased, mentally deranged, infectiously affected, etc., and as males, females and children and each group shall, as far as possible, be accommodated separately from the rest. Care shall be taken that inmates suffering from infectious disease do not mingle with others.” There is a clear violation of this section since no classification and specialised care is offered according to the ailments of the persons.

5. Right to health:

The rules provide that a beggar, who is of unsound mind or is suffering from leprosy, should immediately be removed to a mental asylum or other place of safe custody. It also recommends that the “able-bodied, disabled, diseased, mentally deranged and infectiously affected” should be “as far as possible accommodated separately”. The fact is all of them in the name of beggary are thrown into the same rooms.

Section 14 states: “Medical examination and detention of leprosy patients and lunatics: (1) Where it appears to the government that any beggar detained in an institution under any order of a Magistrate is of unsound mind or is suffering from leprosy, the government may, by an order setting forth the grounds for the belief that the beggar is of unsound mind or is suffering from leprosy, order his removal to a mental hospital or a leper asylum or other place of safe custody, there to be kept and treated as the government directs during the remainder or the term for which he has been ordered to be detained, or if on the expiration of that term, it is certified by a medical officer that it is necessary for the safety of the beggar or of other that he should be further detained under medical care or treatment, then until he is discharged according to law. (2) Where it appears to the government that the beggar has ceased to be of unsound mind, or is cured of leprosy, the government shall, by an order direct the person having charge of the beggar if still liable to be kept in custody, send him to the institution from which he was removed or if the beggar is no longer liable to be kept in custody, order him to be discharged. (3) Subject to the provision of sub-section (2) the provisions of Section 31 of the Lunacy Act, 1912 (Central Act 4 of 1912) or Section 14 of the Lepers Act, 1898 (Central Act 3 of 1898), or the corresponding provision of any other law in force in any area of the State, shall apply to every beggar confined in a mental hospital or a leper asylum under sub-section (1) after the expiration of the period for which he was ordered to be detained; and the time during which a beggar is confined in a mental hospital or leper asylum under that sub-section shall be reckoned as part of the period for which he may be ordered by the Magistrate to be detained; Provided that where the removal of a beggar due to unsoundness of mind or leprosy is immediately necessary, it shall be open to the authorities of the institution in which the beggar is detained to apply to a court having jurisdiction under the Lunacy Act, 1912 (Central Act 4 of 1912) or the Lepers Act, 1898 (Central Act 3 of 1898) or under any corresponding law in force in any area of the State for an immediate order of committal to a mental hospital or a leper asylum until such time as the orders of the government can be obtained in the matter.”

Section 31 (1) (2) states (i) Those requiring medical treatment shall be attended to by the Medical officer in the Centre or sent to any Government Hospital. (ii) The health of every inmate shall be examined by the Medical Officer once in every fortnight and the result thereof noted in the History Ticket of the inmate.

6. Right to nutrition:

The rules provide a chart of food to be given with quantity of ingredients specified. Section 32 states: “The Officer-in-charge shall see that every beggar is given ganjee or wheat cake at 7 am in the morning and two meals in the forenoon, at 12 noon and in the evening at 6 pm. (ii) In the case of sick persons the diet may be altered either in regard to the scale or ingredient on the advice of the Medical Officer and the fact recorded in the History Ticket. (iii) Each inmate will be supplied with an unbreakable plate and a tumbler. (iv) The warden shall personally supervise the distribution of food to each inmate. (v) The food shall be cooked under the supervision of one of the staff who shall be detained for the work by a person in-charge. (vi) The person in-charge shall also visit the kitchen at least once a day and see that the place and utensils are kept clean and tidy and that the cooking is done with care and in time.” The inmates are not given food on time, and the distribution of food is not supervised. It is the inmate who cooks the food without any supervision.

7. Right to clothing:

Section 33 states that “(i) Every beggar shall get the following articles of clothing and bedding for his use Male: (i) Shirts (ii) one Chaddi or panche of two meters (iii) one cap (iv) one towel. Female: (i) one blouse (ii) one petticoat (iii) one saree of 5.5 meters (iv) 1 towel. Bedding: Male or Female: (i) one Kambali or blanket, (ii) one mat (iii) One pillow, (iv) One Dupti. (ii) Each inmate shall get two sets of clothes, and one set of bedding for one whole year.” The inmates are not given any of these.

8. Right to cleanliness:

Section 34 states (i) all inmates except the sick shall bath once every day. Every inmate shall be given for this purpose 28 gram of soap nut powder per week. (ii) Every female in addition shall be provided with four grams of coconut oil per week for dressing the hair. A comb and a looking glass also will be made available for them. (iii) The Officer-in-charge shall see that every inmate keeps his person as well as the clothing, bedding and other articles given to him neat and tidy. (iv) Every inmate shall wash his own clothing at least once a week, usually on Sundays and at such other times as the Officer-in-charge may direct. On special cases, however, when any inmate is physically unable to do it shall be arranged to have it done by the staff of the Centre. (v) Washing soap shall be supplied for washing the clothing in the following scale Male: 20 gram each per week. Female: 40 grams each per week. (vi) The Officer-in-charge shall also see that every male inmate is given a shave twice a month unless the condition of his health prevents it”. All the inmates will surely vouch that they are not provided any of these.

9. Right to rehabilitation:

The rehabilitation attempted by the Colony is very weak. There is no serious attempt to help the able bodied to teach skills, provide employment and integrate them into society. The colony has facilities for providing vocational training in carpentry, making of coir mats, ropes, bleaching powder, envelops cover and files. They are to be paid Rs 5 besides providing them free food and clothing. Once they acquire skills, they are to be freed to lead a dignified life.

10. Violation of the Rights of Women:

The total absence of health and hygiene has proved particularly costly for women. The colony has a single male doctor for 2547 persons. He is assisted by a nurse, a pharmacist and a lab technician. The male doctor has said that the women are examined regularly by the nurse and treated for infections. Those who need advanced treatment are referred to other government hospitals in the city. There are many women who suffer from gynecological problems, anemia, mental illness, physical disabilities, diabetics, HIV/AIDS or are victims of sexual and substance abuse. Some suffer from menorrhagia, amenorrhoea and weakness. Though a team from NIMHANS visits 350 inmates suffering from mental ailments every first and third Thursday, is that care sufficient? The 494 women have just four women wardens. There is total neglect of the care of women.


THREE out of every Rs 100 paid by Bangaloreans as property tax to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) goes towards rehabilitating beggars. A total of Rs 24 crores out of Rs 800 crores collected last year should have been spent on the 2500 beggars at the colony. If that was done, most of those living there would have been rehabilitated and many of those who have died would have been alive. It was not done precisely because the city hates the beggars and refuses them human treatment. As far as the State is concerned, they are no citizens. The Karnataka Beggary Act of 1975 promises the inmates of the beggars’ colony rights for clean and nutritious food. They have a right for medical care, right to movement, right to rehabilitation, right to live and right to dignity. All these rights are violated.

Unless and until civil society comes in a big way to the rescue of the inmates of the beggars’ colony, there is no hope for them to live as citizens with an administration that has no concern or compassion for their plight. One of the important characteristics of our Constitution is that it promised justice to all citizens, especially to the weakest. The issue of the beggars’ colony needs to be examined in the context of justice. If the government of the day is unable to provide justice to all its citizens, it has failed in its functions. Given the fact that justice is not meted out, the least the state should offer is care. Even that is not provided.

The relevance of the state has come into question given the fact that the state has miserably failed to protect its most vulnerable section of people. What the state has offered to the colony at this juncture is mere tokenism to assuage public anger and disgust.

Given the total apathy of the state, there was uproar. For once media was on the side of the beggars. Some solace has been provided to the inmates of the colony as a result. That may be a temporary gesture. Unless citizens along with the media protest and highlight the obligation of the state, the state is likely to withdraw. The citizens therefore at least now should ask the state to make amends and give to the inmates of the colony what is legitimately theirs by providing them the care that is in accordance with the norms of justice in the long term and in accordance with the Karnataka Beggary Act with immediate effect.

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal, St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

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