A dilemma about whether or not money should be given to beggars on the roads and shrines is a cause of concern on every dinner table. Many argue that most beggars work for contractors who take a significant portion of their earnings at the end, which does not fulfil the purpose of helping them. However, some believe that this is only a myth to perpetuate an anti-poor narrative, and not let beggars receive money. In any case, most of these arguments about the beggar mafia are primarily based on opinions, because due to the hidden nature of these organizations, we know little about how they operate, as the plight of the poor and vulnerable is always ignored.
According to estimates, there are between 5 and 25 million beggars in Pakistan (Rind, 2020). There are several reasons why people beg voluntarily: poverty, mental illnesses, substance abuse, etc. However, involuntary begging is also becoming increasingly popular; not because it is profitable for the poor, but because of the strong mafia and contractors presiding over this ‘profession’. Many vulnerable people in the society are kidnapped by contractors, who force these people to beg. In many cases, their limbs are cut off, to appear more sympathetic in the eyes of the people, to earn more money. At the end of the day, these forced beggars are made to give back a majority of their earnings, according to the ‘contracts’.
As children are more vulnerable, especially those belonging to poor socio-economic background, they are more likely to become part of these organizations by getting bribed or kidnapped. According to the research of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in Pakistan, there are 1.2 million children on the streets of major cities and the urban centres of Pakistan (Hussain, 2018). It is safe to say that out of all these children, those who do not have a home to go back to; it is very easy to exploit them by giving them hope for a better future, or just torturing them until they give up and join the contractors hiring ‘professional beggars’. Therefore, many children can be seen on roads begging for money for themselves, or their large families that they have to look out for.
Apart from roads and streets, shrines are a very popular destination for these mafias to operate. One example of this is the shrine of Shah Daulah, located in district Gujarat. According to popular belief and tradition, if an infertile woman prays in Shah Daulah’s shrine, she can conceive a baby. However, it has also become a set rule that if the baby is disabled in any way, the parents have to give the baby back to Shah Daulah. This means that the baby is taken by the beggar mafia, who then forces this child to become a part of Shah Daulah ke Chuhay (Shah Daulah’s Rats). They are referred to as Rats due to the deformity of their head, which is caused by excessive shaping when they were babies. This is done to provoke the emotions of the visitors of the shrine and gain their sympathy. This is perhaps the most-widely known beggar mafia operation in the country, in the shadows of the government authorities, but no one can take action against them due to their immense power over the people.
Furthermore, this issue has been heightened during the COVID-19 lockdown as people; mostly daily wagers lost their jobs and were forced to beg. Therefore, it is not difficult for these people to get exploited and start working with mafia contractors to feed their families.
Regardless of the sensitivity and impact on the wider society, this issue is swept under the rug as it does not affect the ruling elite. It affects the countless number of parents whose children are kidnapped and sold to these contractors, as well as adults who are easily bribed or forced to beg for this “invisible” yet controlling mafia. It also induces an anti-handicapped people sentiment across the country, showing that differently-abled people cannot do much in society and are restricted to begging to earn money. This is evident from how ‘Rats of Shah Daulah’ are treated, as well as needy people born with disabilities.
Just like many other issues, we need to rise and demand the government to make pro-poor laws that provide a safety net to them that fulfills their needs, making them less prone to be vulnerable in front of these powerful contractors. Strict action against this huge mafia needs to be taken as well, to curb out their power in society. But apart from the government, it is also the job of the privileged people and NGOs to do something about this issue. To ensure that everyone can find a job and is not forced to beg, NGOs can arrange certain workshops for underprivileged people such as sewing, and arts and crafts, etc. alongside education which will help them land in a job. Providing rations or funds for daily necessities is also an excellent initiative, after which people will not have to worry about their livelihood and focus on the skills taught in workshops. Individuals can help towards this cause by supporting NGOs and raising their voices on social media and other platforms for the government to do something about the increasing power of these beggar mafias on the underprivileged segment of the society.
Hussain, A. (2018, June 28). Action against begging mafia must be taken now. Enough is enough. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from Daily Times: https://dailytimes.com.pk/259380/action-against-begging-mafia-must-be-taken-now-enough-is-enough/
Rind, F. (2020, May 18). Beggar Mafia. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1557949/beggar-mafia