When I first arrived in India, beggars made me sad, guilty, angry towards India, and they just bothered my conscience in general. Now that’s not the case. Beggars continue to bother my conscience but not nearly to the same degree. Now I just look at them as if they’re a part of the scene, nothing abnormal. The same way you would feel about passing a food cart on campus; it’s jus there, just a part of the scene. I’ve gotten so good at ignoring the beggars. I pass the same family every single day next to my school. It is a mother, father, a few small children, and a grandparent or two. They sit on the sidewalk and attempt to sell balloons or plastic toys. I have never seen a person buy their products. They have an infant and toddlers. The children are usually naked and just lay on the sidewalk with flies swarming around them. Sometimes the family covers themselves with blankets and falls asleep. I have seen the mother bathing her children on the sidewalk. She pours a bowl of water over them. The family is almost always there. I’m fairly sure that section of the sidewalk is their home, a few feet away from my Program Center. Old men in traditional Hindu dress will follow me and ask for money and food. They will repeatedly bring their hands to their mouth, asking for food. Old women will carry small pots around with them asking people for money. An old woman hit me because I did not give her money. I will ignore old women by texting on my cell phone, and they will crouch down underneath my cell phone and continue to ask for food and money. Small children will follow me for great lengths asking for money. Twice small boys have literally attached themselves to my legs. The boys were probably four-six years old. On both occasions, the boys followed me for a while asking for money and eventually they just grabbed onto my legs while I was walking. I tried to peel him off of my leg, but it was difficult. I even took a few steps with the boy attached to my leg. I sometimes carry cookies/snacks with me to hand to the beggars. On one of these occasions, I had cookies to give, but the boy didn’t want them. He yelled, “No!” With persistence, the boys eventually let go of my leg and ran off to find someone else to ask for money. The longest record held by a beggar was an 8-10 year old boy who followed me for ten minutes. The most interesting request I have gotten is when a young girl shouted, “MONEY MONEY MONEY!” Hadn’t heard it phrased that way before….
Giving money to beggars does not help the situation. Often the money never goes to the actual beggar. The money may go to his “pimp.” The beggar children are often abused. Giving money to an NGO that works with beggars would be much better utilized.
I don’t know what it means that I have become so apathetic to the beggars. I don’t think it makes me a bad person. It’s so overwhelming, yet I’ve become desensitized to it. I’ve seen more poverty here than ever before. People with no legs sitting on the sidewalk asking for food, mothers carrying their infants in the rain asking for money, etc.
As India yearns for growth and development, I’m worried people like the beggars’ situation will not be improved for a long time.