As New Delhi gears up to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, one of the major problems facing the organizers is what to do with the 60,000+ destitute on its streets for whom begging is the only way of survival. The solution: arrest them and throw them in jail.
With the spotlights set to turn on the Indian capital in October this year, the city’s authorities and Games organizers are in a panic about the” begging menace”. According to Delhi’s social welfare minister Mangat Ram Singhal, “We Indians are used to beggars but Westerners are not and so we need to clean up. We’ll catch them all.” With three mobile courts patrolling the streets “prosecuting” beggars, one little aspect has been conveniently overlooked — that we are talking of human beings, and about the violation of their civil rights.
Any resident — or visitor, for that matter — to Delhi in the past couple of years will testify to preparations for the Games in full flow. Dug-up main roads, incomplete flyovers, relaying of pavements, traffic diversions and more have made regular commute a nightmare, but one puts up with it in the hope that the relaid and widened roads and new flyovers will benefit the city eventually. That said, it is no secret that the primary reason behind this massive operation is not to make life any easier for Delhiites in the long run, but to show off to the rest of the world that Delhi is right up there, clean, efficient, progressive, with a standard of living comparable to any first world country. And for this to happen, anything remotely unpleasant has to be hidden from view: in this case, how the city has failed to provide, and even actively denied, basic human dignity to a massive population.
The privilege of middle class makes most of us see beggars and beggary as a “menace”. It’s an uncomfortable truth we’d rather not deal with from the comfort of our AC cars and buses, and is therefore convenient to dehumanize them by using this epithet rather than seeing them as people like us. This makes it easy to deal with how society and the system puts the value of their lives far below ours. Indeed, see how easy it is to divide people into “them” and “us”! Delhi’s authorities frequently quote statistics citing how 95 per cent of the city’s begging population are migrants, in other words “outsiders”, “thems”, which is apparently supposed to justify the city’s disowning of responsibility towards them. Somehow that is also supposed to make acceptable the manhandling like animals of poor/homeless/hungry/disabled people who have to beg for survival. Instead of providing for them, we treat them like criminals, pursued, hounded and abused for the crime of having migrated to the city in search of a better life.
Whether Delhi has the resources to host the Games in the first place is questionable. The city, like most other Indian cities, faces a power and water crunch. Already having overshot its Games budget, the Delhi government is now intending to dip into the common wealth. According to the latest budget, residents of the capital can expect to pay more for diesel, CNG, LPG cylinders, tea, coffee, cutlery, school bags, dry fruits, ghee, vegetables, public transport and many other common-use items. It is also a pertinent question that if Delhi has been able to set aside funds to host the Commonwealth Games, why that same money has not been considered for use to give its own residents, especially those most marginalized, a better life that will truly make it a city worth taking pride in.
The following video encapsulates Delhi’s Commonshame Games — how the city prefers to punish people for being poor rather than help them: