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!

4 comments to To Give or Not to Give

  • I can totally relate to your dilemma. It is a Catch - 22 situation every time someone approaches you for alms. However, giving alms is one thing, and giving a basic resource like drinking water is a totally different thing.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Kiran,
    Your dilemma as to whether to give alms or not is completely justified. Many times we face such situations, wherein we are torn between whether to give alms to a child beggar, and how many beggars to give alms to, and ofcourse whether we are helping them by giving alms or doing just the opposite!!
    My uncle always relates an incident when we talk about this topic. When a poor child came to him and asked for alms, he told the child that he would arrange for a job for him in a garage. The child at once ran away!

    But then again, when you try to think a little tangentially, poor kids are justified in begging too. Compare them to us as kids. We didn't work hard to get food, water or any other thing. We got what we wanted from our parents. Imagine having to work for every single doll you played with, or every single pastry you so much cherished. We cannot blame the kids for begging, they are not old enough to understand that this way of making a living is going to harm them in the long run.
    So basically, they are not wrong; and if neither are we, then the question arises: who is??

  • I'll try to answer some of the questios you've posed to yourself, and probably to
    the readers as well.

    >>> (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?

    In this case yes! Through our history it has been said that one should never refuse to serve water even to his sworn enemy, so i guess your deed was comendable.

    >>> It beats me as to why do children have to be forced to beg!! Probably because begging earns more money than doing petty jobs?

    The answer to this would be.. well it's there isn't a straight answer to this one. If the kid is being force to beg, he is pretty much going to be deprived of it by his master. So how would it matter if he begged/worked?

    Man, i should write about this issue, and i'm doing this right now. Hopefully I'd be able to answer some of your questions, and raise some more for the both of us to ponder on.

  • @Rahul:
    Yes, I agree with you .But again it depends on whether the kid was really needy. What if he asked for water just because he had seen it in my hand? Dont we feel like entering Corner House or Sweet Chariot just because we have seen one; and not because we are really hungry? Alas! these kids have no "Death By Chocolate" ice cream to drool over - mineral water is as far as they'd get!

    The example you gave about the kid running away when your uncle offered him a job is kind of disturbing.

    However, I totally see your tangential point of view as well. There may be 10 yr olds who are bread-winners of their families; but it is unfair to expect all children to realize the significance of working instead of begging; and the significance of education. There is no easy answer to this riddle - perhaps education of the parents would help!

    True, you should not deny water to even your sworn enemy; and had this boy been truly thirsty then the matter ends there.

    But what if he had not been thirsty?Then the situation is different. You have touched upon this aspect in your blog as well - If I give water as alms today; then the kid will expect free water everyday - then free food... and it goes on.. so I have played a role in transforming a young able-bodied man of tomorrow's India into a beggar who will not contribute whatsoever in the country's (nor his or his families') future. And this thought is definite to take me on a guilt trip.

    I have posted more comments on your blog too.

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