Getting Rid of Our Guilt…
I am forced to write on this topic because of a couple of interactions on social media recently.
One of the strongest negative memories that most people visiting India carry with them is that of people begging on the streets in most cities, especially around the tourist attractions.
Young, old, male, female, Kids or mother with young kids in their arms, impossible to shrug off, they just wouldn’t leave you alone until you are forced to part with something.
They target fairer skin, foreign tourist more as it is easier to induce a feeling of guilt among the people coming from developed countries who may never have seen such poverty in their own countries. Similar feelings are shared by Indians as well, weather in New Delhi swings between extremely hot (upto 45 – 46 degree) in Summers to chilling cold (2 – 3 degree) in Winters. Every year, whenever winter sets in or the temperature hits the roof, people pouring their emotional feelings on social media, feeling sorry for the unfortunate one’s who are out in the open.
A friend tweeted pictures of barely clothed young kids asking for money on the traffic signal in New Delhi.
This was followed by a blog post from a friend in America linking a video interview of a young boy who begs on the roads of Dharmashala, Himachal Pradesh in India. Both the friends had only noble intentions behind highlighting the plight of the underprivileged. While the friend from Delhi was trying to inspire people to donate warm clothes to the homeless kids, the American friend wanted to highlight the contrast between the privileged, pampered kids in her own society who only think in materialist terms – forgetting the essence of festivals like Thanksgiving.
I have a different perspective on this issue. I do not believe in giving away money, food, clothing, etc. to the people begging on the road, have done it in the past but not anymore. Have learned my lessons over the years. It doesn’t make any positive impact – but there are huge negative consequences – those who are receiving, especially the young kids, learn the wrong lessons for their whole life – it becomes a lifelong habit for them to live off other people and also inspires them to other easy ways of making money – drug pedalling, stealing, robbery – all sorts of criminal activities.
I believe very strongly that poverty is not a virtue and it should never be presented like that. It is also not a disease which can be treated with a few pieces of gold or silver. Everyone in this world is poorer than one set of people and and richer than another set – a society without rich or poor people is the kind of utopia – offered by theoretical concept like Communism but not possible in the practical world. I myself spent my childhood struggling to fulfil the basic. Lost my father very early and it was a miracle how our mother raised us all – we all contributed to household income by doing petty jobs. All through my school days, I never got new books, new uniform or even shoes, we all shared stuff – there was no privacy as such, living in a single room apartment. We survived on hands-me-downs within the family/ from friends/ neighbours or bought cheap used/second hand stuff. But we never begged or stole or depended on governments hand-out. The tough childhood made us strong, and brought our family extremely close to each other.
Charity must begin at home. If all of pledge to help people around us, within our family/ extended family/ neighborhood, city, state, country, we will be able to do so much more. But its tough, because we would not be able to drop some coins and cut them out of our consciousness – we will meet these people every day and will have to do much more than offering just some change to make a demonstrable difference in their life.
One may find it highly virtuous to be a liberal, kind-hearted person, shedding a tear for dis-advantaged people, writing powerful words defending the poor, dropping some coins and sure enough that is sufficient to clean up their consciousness and they can carry on with their own life without any burden on their soul. A lot of people in India also indulge in the same, many of them are feted by the global media, they form their cosy little groups/ NGO’s, playing on the guilt of rich western citizens and government, collect a lot of funds – not only live a comfortably amazing life themselves, secure a great future for their own kids, but also known as saints around the world, win global awards,
I’d say there is no point in either glorifying poverty or indulging in guilt-inducement – teach your kids good virtues, love, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, friendship and comradeship, integrate them with the society, help in making them responsible citizens,
Begging, specially through children is more than a social evil here in India, it is a criminal activity managed by adult gang members who kidnap the children and/or get the kids from poor/ irresponsible parents in lieu of money and push them into this organized criminal activity – begging is just a front of this, they also slowly push these kids into other crimes (including robberies, drug peddling, murders, etc.) The Indian law (like laws in most parts of the world) are lenient towards the crime conducted by juveniles (minor kids, lesser than 18 years of age), they are not put into jail or given harsher punishments, they just spend some time in Juvenile homes which are again managed very poorly and kids easily manage to run away from these facilities and get back on their jobs. By the time these kids reach near adulthood, many of them become hard-core criminals.
There are enough examples around us which highlight the hypocrisy people world over – especially the so-called Liberals. Around two years back (in the December of 2012) a heinous crime was committed in the middle of India’s capital New Delhi. A girl was brutally raped, her body mutilated with iron rod and after the murder, thrown out of a running bus. The world media painted India/ New Delhi as the rape capital of the world. As the time went by and the news became less sensational, media lost the incentive to focus on it. The culprits were caught, the main culprit claimed & managed to prove in the courts that he is six month short of adulthood (if you’d have interviewed him 10 years back, he’d also be just like the kids in this video – neglect from the family and society, a life on the street turned him into a hard-core criminal). And I was shocked to read this nicely worded piece about that ghastly criminal in Washington Post few months back http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/juvenile-rapist-in-2012-new-delhi-assault-now-paints-and-cooks-at-correction-home/2014/08/31/1af8a383-1100-4305-b59b-8259784debf0_story.html . It just proved what I feared in a blog post http://wp.me/pnx59-110.
I know it is heart wrenching to see the poor/ homeless people out in the open in the cold winter nights in Delhi. When I became a parent it was especially unbearable to see the kids of same age as my own, roaming around on the street without any clothes while coming back late in the night from office. My wife packed a bagful of warm clothes and we distributed it to the group. The very next night I saw them again at the same spot without the clothes, got to know they work for a gang and their earnings gets impacted negatively if they appear to be well clothed/ well fed. They asked me to give them some money instead of clothes or food, which would be easier to hide from their gang leader.
As far as teaching the virtues of good behaviour to the kids by telling them what to do and what not to do, sharing with them videos/ pictures/ stories of underprivileged people (young kids of their own age) from far-away places or nearby localities is not going to work at all, they will know the facts but they will not get the knowledge. The best way kids gain knowledge is by observing how people around them live their life, specially their parents. How we live our life, how we interact with people around us, how we behave in different conditions in front of them, especially when we are in the spotlight – it gives a live demonstration to the kids – much better than the You-Tube videos. If we feel the kids of today are not understanding the virtues of Thanksgiving then we need to assess whether we are displaying thankfulness as a virtue ourselves, through our actions, not merely the words, in front of our kids. Not empty words but our deeds teach the kids lessons for their life.
We end up promoting begging by giving away money, there are better ways to do charity, trust me, it may not give an instant fix to our guilty conscience…