Monday, November 29, 1999

Despite ban, begging rackets flourish in city

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From markets to traffic signals, beggars are omnipresent in the city. The increasing menace has left city residents as well as tourists complaining."No matter where one goes, beggars follow," says an irate resident. "They will come and try to sell things to you at the traffic lights, or just ask for money. If you refuse, they will thump windowpanes until they either decide to move on or light changes."Anuradha Thakur, a teacher, says though her husband always tries to protect her from beggars, it is impossible to escape them. "They are a huge distraction and often cause accidents at intersections by clinging to your car door or weaving through the cars," says Ashima Dhir, a college teacher. Ashima says that it becomes annoying when they try to cling to your saree or dupatta so you would stop and give in to their demands.Visitors to the markets, multiplexes and parks have to suffer a bit more as beggars insist on following their chosen 'benefactors' a long distance."It is embarrassing when they start hurling abuses if you do not give them money. I hate being rude to anyone but these people leave me with no choice," mutters a young girl as she tries to hurry away from an old woman trailing her with curses in the Sector-17 Plaza."Beggars really trouble us when I am standing with my friends outside the Panjab University campus. It is very embarrassing, especially with the girls around," laments Mayank Sharma, a BDS second year student. "I sympathise with the children, but I do not trust anyone. The authorities need to take strict action."As many people refuse to give them money, beggars have started roaming around with pictures of gods and asking people to buy them or 'offer money to the gods in exchange for blessings'. Anuradha describes one such incident when she was waiting in the car outside the Aroma Hotel, Sector 22, while her husband had gone inside to get a take away meal. "Suddenly this man came up who could not speak and showed me photographs of various gods. When I said that I do not want to buy them, he gestured and made angry faces. He was so violent that I got scared." Ashima too complains of such people coming up to her house in Sector 15 to ask for 'offerings'.While they are definitely irritated by beggars, people are even more dismayed at the children who are made to beg. "It is very sad to see the poor children beg. It is so unfair that the parents force their children to beg for money instead of educating them," rages Anuradha.Ashima expresses similar sentiments, but adds that 'even the two to three year olds are so well-trained'. "They ask for money or even food. It is a shocking situation, and one does sympathise with them, but with frequent news of gangs who beg as a 'business' and seeing that the parents are exploiting them so badly, you don't really feel like giving them any money. I saw one woman once who was holding a bunch of notes that she had taken from her children — their day's earnings."

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