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One of the many moral dilemmas we face everyday…

How do you handle beggars in India? What is the  ideal way to handle a problem like that? 

Its something that I have been grappling with for years without having a clear idea what is the best approach. 

You see them everywhere – footpaths, traffic signals, entrance to malls, and they almost always leave me with a lump in my throat. And most of them happen to be children, women, disabled, or elders. 

It’s a reminder for us day in and day out, that whatever economic progress we have made in last few decades has not reached everybody. Or rather, it has not reached most people. 

On one hand, your brain says its wrong for you to indulge somebody who could work and earn his money. It tells you that by giving him free money, you are pampering him  and making him lazy. On the other hand, your heart says that whatever money you make in life is to be shared with the needy.

 I will be candid to admit that all my life I haven’t figured out a consistent solution to this problem

There are days when I have walked past old, weak women because they shoved a plate at my face. In hindsight, I should have given them something. 

On some other days, I have taken any random note from my wallet, given it to the beggar, and walked past. 

On one occasion, I paid a decent amount to a person who appeared reasonably healthy but had 3 hungry children around him. I got food for all of them, listened to their stories, and satisfied my ego that I am a noble man. They were probably never his children and probably never got all the money. I might have helped pander to their laziness. (In the great tradition of Hinduism and all other religions, I should never mention this, but when you moral dilemmas of such magnitude its best to be candid about the good and bad that you have done) 

Another fine day, I came across a man on a wheel chair who begged me to help him with whatever money I can, so he could have his next meal. He promised me to note my address, and pay me back the earliest he could. I made up my mind to give him whichever note was the first I drew from my wallet. I drew a 500 rupee note, and it was his lucky day. He refused to accept such a large amount. I insisted, and felt that ego gloat again. But when the realization dawned that I cant give a 500 to every beggar I see, and I am not going to help his cause in the long run (damn that brain again) I felt terrible. I would have probably been wiser to give a 10 rupee to 50 beggars. And there are thousands of beggars I haven’t given a single rupee to and walked past rudely before they trap me and play on my emotions. 

And sometimes I feel terrible when I donate huge amounts in temples. Would I have been better off not bribing god for my happiness, and feeding another hungry man. Or, would I rather leave it to god? 

One beggar I saw at Times Square, New York, held up a banner that read” I need $s;  for beer, for drugs, for cigarettes, for sex”. I was shocked beyond comprehension. Even in the lives of the have nots, some are luckier, some are crazier, some more deserving, some less. 

The brain says that the world is unfair, and unjust. A very convenient word for that is Karma. The heart refuses to accept. And this conflict can sometimes leave me crazy. There are no easy answers, but I would like to hear from those reading this, as to how you deal with individually. 



6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anonymous #

    Very well written post on a common dilemma that many of us share

    December 17, 2012
  2. Hi Anjana,
    Thanks for the comment. My outlook is prety similar to yours now…if I feel like spotaneously giving to some body I do, else I do not.
    I have sort of made peace with myself for now 🙂


    May 1, 2010
  3. I have often dealt with the same dilemma. I have been told that you will only encourage people to be lazy, but after reading City of joy, my attitude has changed. How can you differentiate the real needy from the fake. I try not to be rude to children and old people, whether I choose to give or not. Sometimes if I am near a fruit vendor when I am approached by small children, I buy some fruits and give it to them, but again there have been instances when some of them have refused and asked for money instead. I don’t know if there is any right way or wrong way or good or bad involved. Just do what comes naturally.

    May 1, 2010
  4. Subasree #

    Don’t bother much about the deservingness..”Only that which you give is that which is really yours”

    December 30, 2009
  5. radha #

    believe it or not even here in hong kong, one of the most materialistic and apparently wealthy societies in the world it s very easy to run into beggars every day at the majorities of the places, elders or disabled, never children. It s really a matter of individual awareness: if a person knows that he/she is contributing the best he/she can to morally help these people, then will not be puzzled inside. To support the morality of a society in good ways is probably the best thing we can do for others because automatcally their physical and basic comfort will come along.

    November 30, 2009
  6. Poornima #

    This is touched my heart ..Good one..

    November 24, 2009

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