To Give or Not to Give

It was a cold morning in New Delhi. I was travelling in an auto. The rickshaw stopped at a traffic signal; and a very cheerful-looking child beggar approached me. Having recently read this article which talks about parents almost forcing street children to beg, my mind was in a dilemma - whether to give alms or not. As a matter of principle, I avoid giving alms to beggars who I think are capable of doing some "work". Only if I see very old people or a beggar with an infant in tow do I consider giving alms.

Anyways, I was still contemplating whether to give alms, and if so, how much to give. But what the boy said caught me completely unawares. He was not interested in money at all. "Bhayya, thoda paani de de re". The kid was begging me to give him water!!. It took me a moment to realize that he had seen the mineral water bottle in my hand. I was stunned. Throwing all logic right out the window, I wordlessly handed over the bottle to the child. Forceful begging or not, how could I refuse to give water? He was overjoyed at receiving the bottle. He did a little victory dance of sorts and proudly displayed his prize to other kids at the signal, before disappearing into the crowd.

The signal changed to green and I moved on. But the image remained in my mind for a few days afterward. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind. Had the kid been genuinely needy or thirsty? If so, the situation of the poor in our country is worse than I had imagined. I mean even beggars are entitled to atleast one proper meal a day and in any case sufficient water to drink! On the other hand, had the child asked for water simply because he had seen the bottle (had he become a real kid for just a brief moment)? In which case, had I done the right thing by giving the water after all?

It beats me as to why do children have to be forced to beg!! Probably because begging earns more money than doing petty jobs? For one, children in India are made to work for half the wages (compared to an adult); but a child beggar can probably "earn" much more than an adult (the sympathy factor). This also gets us to the topic of child labour; but I think this topic merits a separate post, so I'l reserve it for another day. Coming back to the current topic, what the parents dont see are that if the kid goes to school instead of wasting his childhood in begging, he'l probably get a proper "job" and in the long run. But alas! the illiterate parents live for the present; and are not future-thinking.

In any case, this whole though-process seems to have come to a nought since I still dont have an answer to my question - If I see a child begging, do I give alms or not? Am I helping a child (a future citizen of the country) by giving some small change? Or is it an irresponsible act which will only harm the future? Now-a-days I seem to be only coming up with questions rather than answers; I seem to be posing more problems and solving less of them!

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