We have heard about Land Mafia, Drug Mafia, and now the Beggar Mafia. It has been taking its roots in Kashmir with each passing day. The recently circulated videos on social media in which a group of people left thehordes of beggars at selected spots to fulfill their ill intention shocked every conscious person. These mafia gangs are working in a well-organized manner. They mostly target crowded places like railway stations, traffic intersections religious and spiritual sites, shopping malls, etc. In a place like Kashmir, this phenomenon shows an upward trend during the summer season when the tourist flow remains at its peak. These beggars not only harass locals here but they are harassing the touristsdaily which is not a good sign for the tourism sector. Their behavior becomes synonymous with extortion. I recently visited a shopping mall in Srinagar for shopping and the owner of the Mall expressed his concern about this menace- He said, “Nowadays we are attending to more beggars than customers, I have assigned duty to one of mysalesmen to attend them at the main gate. It affects our business but where to go to address this problem?” The situation became so worse that these beggars are now seen in dozens throng every morning on all important tourist spots- Nishat garden, Shalimar garden, Botanical garden, Chesma-Shahee, and even in far off tourist spots like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Suna Marg defaming our decorum and cultural heritage. They develop new tricks, they use shabby or torn clothes, false bandages on limbs, using crutches and ladies often put an infant on their lap to influence the passers. Since this tourist season coincides with the Holy month of Ramadan, this particular period became more favorable for them. A huge rush of these panhandlers is seen at the main gates of Mosques and Khanqhas creating inconvenience to devotees. Now the question is who will halt this phenomenon? All the stakeholders’ including the government, the general public and executive agencies like the police and tourism department can play their responsible role if they work in coordination.
Role of General Public: General, we Kashmiris are known for our mild nature, we are soft-hearted, and we instantly get emotional and melted down on seeing the condition of these beggars who are mostly ostentatious. We should change this attitude. We should realize that when we pay anything to any beggar, we are strengthening the hands of the beggar mafia because the chief portion of thereceiving amount goes in favor of them. They are the villains behind the curtain. Instead of giving Alms to them, it is suggested to spend that amount on those who deserve such kind of financial help in your locality, or in your relationships or to support local committees/ Baitul Malls.
Role of Government: Realizing the complexity of the matter, the government can work on two fronts. The concerned governments should frame strict laws to counter this cruel business so that these gangs who are running this business behind the curtain will be dealt with according to the law. The other dark aspect of this social evil is that it encourages human trafficking. Many of the children we see begging in public places are victims of their odd circumstances. Poverty, deprivation, and homelessness are likely to have driven them to this sort of exploitation. Therefore, the government should initiate welfare schemes for them to improve their economic status so that they will not become easy targets.In addition to this, the police, department of tourism can work in coordination to ease the hassle-free movement of the visitors/ tourists and locals.Let us join hands to curb this social menace.
(The author is a teacher by profession. Views are his own)