ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Begging for Rights

Anti-begging laws criminalise poverty and attempt to banish the poor from the public gaze.

The legal position of beggars in India has always been precarious. The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (BPBA), 1959, which has held sway for decades, rests on the premise that poverty equals criminality. This allows the state to arrest people without a warrant on nothing more than a “suspicion,” and put them out of the public gaze. Invariably, police raids to round up “beggars” and force them out of city limits are part of projects to “clean up” cities. India’s image, especially for the foreigner’s gaze, takes precedence over the plight of the banished. The Delhi High Court, earlier this month, has rectified this by conceding that begging is a structural problem. It argued that it is unfair of the state to add insult to injury and punish people for its own failures. The court quashed those provisions of the BPBA that make begging a punishable offence. However, its ruling is applicable only to Delhi.

The people targeted by the anti-begging laws are not in anyone’s “constituency” given their social and economic deprivation. Under the act, beggars, peddlers, small-time hawkers, street performers, ragpickers, and “loiterers” (including migrants), can be arrested without a warrant or let off on a bond or detained in a certified institution for two to three years and, on a second conviction, for 10 years. This was true in regard to the BPBA, which also asked for the detention of the dependants of the beggars. Effectively, this posits the beggar as a legal outsider: inhabiting the same territorial space that is India, but disenfranchised from the benefits of Indian citizenship that guarantees constitutional rights. Implied in this is the state’s stance that the rights that come with citizenship have to be bought with forms of privilege that lend a perception of legitimacy and “respectability” to the individual.

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Updated On : 28th Aug, 2018
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