To Give or Not to Give

Alms

A stony heart is essential if you are living and travelling in India. The hoopla of economic growth and prosperity feels like sheer blasphemy as you take in the sights of streets.

Daily I see destitution drowning to abysmal levels and am beseeched by crippled old men, wailing mothers and children with running noses asking for alms. Sitting along the footpath, at traffic signals, busy bus stops and railway stations – they are everywhere!

From start, we have been instructed to never give money to them. It seems heartless if you have not been exposed to this side of life in India. No harm in giving 10-20 rupees against the thousands that we spend on a single night out, right? Sadly, begging is now a business growing by leaps and bounds. The beggars belong to a ‘chief’ where they handover the day’s ‘earnings’ where a major chunk is retained by those ring-leaders. The sleeping baby in the women’s arms has probably been taken on ‘rent’ from the mother and drugged to keep it docile. And quite often, they consider begging an easier way to earn money than to actually work for it.

I know all this. My brain constantly reminds me of this business when faced with crying women and children begging for help. And even though I don’t hand over money, there is this tightening somewhere inside that makes it difficult to swallow and stomach the plight of these people. They may be a gang weaving a ton of sob stories to soften my heart, but there is no denying that their condition is desperate. And however cold I try to be, I simply cannot rid myself of those images.

Taking a leaf out of my friend’s book, I get children vegetable sandwiches or opened biscuit packets. Now this is where it gets interesting. While most of the kids gobble it down with genuine smiles, twice I have seen them throwing down the food and demand money. A friend got a donut from Dunkin’ Donuts and the kid gave him a priceless look of disdain. Only when he was told the price of the donut did the glee take over. So even though they lament about starvation, some only want money and have no qualms about disrespecting the food.

Which doesn’t help my feelings. It makes me question my beliefs about what is right and wrong. On one hand I find it impossible to turn my back completely, but on the other when I face them it is disheartening to see the callousness. Maybe they have accepted their state of life and will readily turn to shady businesses to earn some dough. The system isn’t really helping them so there is no reason why they should abide and play nice! I try by helping out at municipal schools and with local housekeepers; it eases the conscience to some extent at least. But…


There are thousands like me who want to try and are trying already across India and other countries as well. We force ourselves to not give in to the harsh reality but every day the cries of the streets beckon, beginning a new cycle of second-guessing. Any answers? 

Linking up with JusJoJan and the SoCS prompt ‘most/least’.

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24 thoughts on “To Give or Not to Give

  1. It is similar in my country. I have read a novel that talks about the ring leaders of the beggars by the way,” A Fine Balance, ” by Rohinton Mistry. I always feel bad when I see someone standing with a sign that says, “Please Help.” One time a pregnant woman and her children came up to me and I did give her money. She was well dressed and I live in a nice area. I wrote a post called Hard Times about an experience I had too. Most times I don’t give money because, as you say, it does not always go to the right place. Here people may use the money to buy drugs. So it is better to give to social agencies that work with the poor.

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    • I will look up the book – never heard of it; also I will check out your post. I know there is no right or wrong in this case; we just need to do what we feel is the best – or atleast it is not the worst.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Prajakta, this was extremely well written. My wife has shared over the years a bit of what she remembers from her childhood in India. She was there until she was 9, and left in 1975. (which goes back a while).
    This must be such a tough plight you must have to daily witness, how it must tear your heart. And the fact that some of the beggars have to hand over their “earnings” to ringleaders. This is so sad.
    I just finished on post that touched on human trafficking and slavery. The “Harmony and Peace Award” is part of this post, which you kindly awarded me WAY back around Christmas. Thank You!

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    • Thank you Carl! It is tough and in the end it still leaves you grasping in thin air – irrespective of what we do.
      And I look forward to read your post! Food for thought, always.

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  3. Carrying biscuit packets all the times does helps.. handing it over rather than giving money… yea.. but it’s sad to see how it has turned over into a business and worst..knowing there’s not going to be and end to this.. not anytime soon!

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  4. I think I would hold to the times the food was gratefully gobbled, and release the ones that were unhappy with the offering. Helping in more organized ways is a good idea, but, those times when you feel a need to do something personal, at least by not giving money, you’re not feeding the crime rings (which seem to be taking further advantage of the already destitute).

    For the hungry, food in the belly is an immediate help. It sounds like your efforts so far have mostly been appreciated.

    Nothing easy at all about this – all I can offer for suggestion is to go with what feels right in each instance, and to know that your intention was compassionate.

    Liked by 2 people

      • It’s ironic. I’m currently revising a short story with a homeless character. He’s not who he seems to be, at first, and my MC realizes that she’s had a disconnect, as well, when she meets and interacts with him. I think your post is definitely affecting the process…I keep thinking of it as I rewrite.

        May I reblog your post? It really is wonderful, and encapsulates so much of the dilemma.

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          • I’ll be reblogging it soon, and I’m honored to be able to share it.

            I’ve had the seed of the story in my head for about 15 years now (longer than I’ve been a mother). I’m revising it to submit to an anthology review that will come out at the end of the year. I will certainly let you know if it gets accepted. And, if it doesn’t, I’ll try something else.

            There’s definitely more to this character than meets the eye. I think there may be enough for a much longer piece, actually, but I’m going to finish this one and then let him simmer a while.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I like offering food. If they say no, at least you offered the opportunity to be nourished. I rarely give money to strangers, but it’s hard to say no sometimes. Blessings to you of good heart.

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