Beggars are a disgrace for any society or nation. In Kolkata, they are not many; a few could be seen just in a corner of a sidewalk. They do not shout to draw attention of passers-by. But in Bangladesh, they are different. Once they used to move or sit on by the roads but now they approach people with outstretched hands invoking Islamic injunctions for money. Even a passenger, just after disembarking a rickshaw, immediately sees a beggar or two nearby when he opens his money bag to give the puller the fare.
The sight of beggars in front of five-star or good hotels is distressing. Beggars simply tarnish the image of Bangladesh. They think those who live in these hotels are the richest people on earth. They make a beeline behind him when a foreigner decides to walk for a glimpse of Dhaka city. Instead, his quest for knowing Bangladesh gets nipped in the bud when he sees howls of beggars seeking money. This gives a wrong impression of the country to the foreigners who are given to believe that Bangladesh has attained near food autarky or is poised to earn the stratus of middle-income country by the year 2021.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself is annoyed over the menace of beggars in the capital. Not long ago, while inaugurating the National Social Service Day and Social Service Week 2016, she described begging as a 'mean job'. She directed the Social Welfare Ministry and the Department of Social Services to take necessary measures for stopping begging.
The PM is aware of how some people resort to begging as a profession. They have some 'sardars' (leaders) and they share the money they earn from begging, she pointed out. She regretted that whatever efforts the government makes for their rehabilitation they step into the old profession again. She, however, offered to make necessary arrangements for beggars' livelihood and build houses for them free of cost. But they won't be allowed to do such an undesirable work, she asserted. The premier asked the Social Welfare Ministry and the Department of the Social Services to take necessary initiatives for rehabilitation of the people who live and sleep on footpaths and at rail stations.
The Social Welfare Ministry and the Department of Social Services were ordered to make inquiries about beggars to ascertain who is coming from which village. If they don't have any house, the government would construct houses and make arrangements for their employment. If needed, she assured her government's efforts to provide food for free for the first six months. The government will shoulder all responsibilities so these people could earn their livelihoods standing on their own feet, she said.
Happily, Sheikh Hasina's government during its different tenures implemented various programmes for welfare of the insolvent, poor, disabled and less privileged people. The programmes include increasing allowances for the disabled people to Taka 3,600 million, rehabilitation of 1,00,000 families through Ashrayan Project, distribution of 5.5 million acres of land among 1,20,000 landless people and implementation of two projects for transgender, 'dalit' and 'bede' communities.
But it seems, the Social Welfare Ministry and the Department of Social Services are just sitting idle over execution of the prime minister's directive. There has not yet been any move from these authorities to implement her orders and as a result, begging has turned out to be an intolerable menace. Today, beggars have even deserted roads and streets and prefer to ride buses and trains to pester the tired passengers. But then a crackdown on beggars refusing to be rehabilitated could have yielded positive results as once the police authorities had announced an anti-begging campaign in the capital on a certain day. This writer, who frequently travels in buses, found no trace of beggars in the city. Beggars appeared to be better informed!