It is time the government enforced the law to check beggary in and around religious places in Kerala, but the state should also serve to ensure the dignity of the unfortunate ones.
Kerala has many religions, and innumerable religious places of worship and shrines across faiths and creeds. Seeking to gain from the many worshippers who come here, beggars operate the business of alms. In doing this, they violate the provisions of the Kerala Prevention of Begging Act, 2006. There are issues of public health, human dignity and morality involved in this.
It is necessary to enforce the provisions of the Act effectively so that the gods may be “spared” and religious shrines are relieved of beggars — who include men, women and children. Due prosecution and punishment, and detention in relief centres and other places notified by the Act, will be warranted. In the absence of such relief centres or custodial places, the courts may remand them to prisons until alternative accommodation is provided by the state.
The law prohibiting beggary has extensive provisions to take care of the welfare of beggars. Under Article 21 of the Constitution, every beggar or juvenile or dependant woman has a fundamental right to live. And, it is the fundamental duty of every person to show compassion to all living creatures — obviously including humans who are beggars.
Diseased, mutilated and disabled beggars are a common sight around temples, churches and mosques. Their anxiety to gain the sympathy of the throngs of devotees invariably seems to override their sense of personal dignity. They plead for charity while exposing diseased limbs and pathetic deformities.
This is in clear violation of the provisions of the Act and the socialist culture and democratic dignity of the Constitution. Such actions constitute poignant and piteous manipulation. Unfortunately, these heinous practices are only on the increase because those responsible for policing them shirk their duty to check begging. It is obnoxious that the state fails delinquently in enforcing wholesome laws meant to ensure the well-being of the community. In such instances, public opinion must rise against the state and its minions, including the officers of the executive, to force them to take stern and prompt steps to make begging unlawful. The plying of the trade should attract prompt punishment. This can be done by empowering the police and the local bodies to take suitable action. The City Corporations and other local bodies ought to be enabled to levy a fee towards enforcing the beggary ban.
When the festival seasons arrive in the different regions, hordes of beggars seem to move in: it is as if for some of them this is a lucrative profession. Such activities must be stopped and banned. The executive, with the support of the legislators and the courts, must seize the initiative in these matters. Failing to do this will constitute denial of dignity to the beggars themselves, and disgrace to the religious places as crowds of beggars mar their ambience. There are a number of charitable organisations run by different religions and creeds: with appropriate incentives offered by the state, many of them will be ready and willing to help make Kerala beggar-free.
The Preamble to the Constitution emphasises the right of every person to justice — social, economic and political. If social and economic justice is to be truly guaranteed, the menace of beggary should end. This should be especially so now that free and compulsory education for all has been constitutionally mandated. The social structure of India with an egalitarian basis will turn into a travesty if everyone who seeks spiritual salvation has to pass through streams of beggars entreating them for alms while they simultaneously donate to the religious institution itself.
On the other hand, what the devotees give the temple does not always go to improve facilities there. At the Guruvayur temple, marriages are conducted by the minute, for which devotees pay. But many of them hardly get a glimpse of the deity. There is a dearth of space and other facilities, and every available inch is packed with people. If only more of the resources were used for development in the shape of facilities for the devotees! This applies to an extent to the Sri Venkateswara Temple at Tirupati, too.
A new vision of temples, churches and mosques and the money that pours in will make these holy places truly celestial. Sabarimala, where a Sabari project was under way, was starved of funds. If the State Minister for Irrigation asks the endless procession of pilgrims to lay one stone each for the project, within a year the devotees will have the pride of completing the project, proving what the Sai Baba exhorted: “Service to God is service to Man.”
India will not have to go for the dollars if this message were made the mission statement of the Devaswom administrations. Many churches are built by the tireless labour offered for free by the faithful. Hinduism can follow that example. Then the God will ameliorate the beggar, and everyone will find enough to worship and to live happily.
“The Kingdom of God is within you,” as Jesus put it. “Religion is the manifestation of the divinity already in man,” said Vivekananda. There is no conflict between the spiritual and the material. God sleeps in the minerals, wakes in the vegetables, walks in the animals and thinks in man. The highest thought is where the noblest concept of God is universality and world brotherhood is the true reality.