While most of those surveyed in the capital were forced to take up begging largely due to poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and factors like old age, disability and illness, focused group discussions across districts found that several who have lost their jobs or livelihood due to the Covid-19 pandemic were also forced into begging.
This study reaffirms that the lower middle class and the impoverished have been the worst hit by Covid-19. That 52% of the beggars are new entrants means the economic situation is indeed grim and distressing. That 60% of them are 18-59 years old also means that joblessness is sharply on the rise. Economic policies as well as relief measures need to be framed keeping such harsh realities in mind.
The study revealed that not all those surveyed were full-time into begging and that the other odd jobs they did clearly do not pay them enough to make both ends meet. One-fifth of those found begging in the streets were engaged in some part-time work such as working as a casual labourer — in construction projects and factories — ragpicker, domestic help, street vendor and rickshaw-puller. Some of them had petty businesses or were working in lowly-paid and temporary jobs. One-fourth of them reported that their family members were also involved in begging at some other locations in Delhi.
A majority (65%) of the 20,719-plus beggars surveyed earned less than Rs 200 per day, 23% earned Rs 200-500 a day, and 12% per cent received alms in kind. Half (55%) of them were homeless or shelter-less while the rest (45%) resided either in slums or in jhuggi jhopdi (JJ) colonies.
The study conducted by Institute for Human Development (IHD) between February and April this year was commissioned by the Delhi government as part of the social justice ministry’s pilot in 10 cities to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for beggars. Institute for Human Development recently submitted the final draft report to the social welfare department, which is now examining it.
Those forced to take up begging due to loss of work during the pandemic include certain categories such as women involved in domestic work, temporary workers in hotels, drivers and security guards. Professor Alakh Sharma, director of Institute for Human Development, said that going by the focused group discussions, it is estimated that 50-60% of 3,273 beggars who have taken up begging in the past one year must have done so because of loss of jobs during the pandemic.
One of the case studies, that’s part of the Institute for Human Development report, reflects the challenges faced by many. A man from south India, identified as Baba Khan, has an MBA degree and was employed before the lockdown. “He got laid off by his company and faced a dire financial crisis. Unable to pay his rent and other expenses, he entered into a state of extreme depression and even tried committing suicide. His neighbours saved him and got him admitted to a hospital in Delhi. He was not able to pay the hospital bills and was thrown out of the hospital as well. He now stays in the vicinity of R K Puram Metro station and survives on alms he receives from people,” it is stated. The survey shows that those found begging were highly concentrated at religious places, streets or footpaths, traffic signals and market areas.
The educational profiles of beggars show that while 70% of them were illiterate, around 22% had studied up to the primary level and 8% have secondary and above level of education. Around 67% of the beggars were migrants, mainly from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Going beyond the number of beggars surveyed, the report pitches the actual estimates of those involved in begging at 28,000, taking into account the fact that due to the pandemic, many of those involved in begging at certain locations had moved to a different place or had returned to their village.
“We are examining the report. The findings will form the basis of an action plan that will be prepared for enabling effective rehabilitation of those engaged in beggary and also to protect high-risk groups by linking them to the various schemes of the government,” special secretary-cum-director, social welfare, Delhi government, Rashmi Singh told TOI. Skill and vocational programmes for those staying at shelters for the homeless in collaboration with Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) is one measure in the works.
The IHD study noted that in focused group discussions, largely, everyone accepted that there has been a drop in their daily income during the Covid pandemic.