Research Scholar In Lucknow Brings More Than 400 Beggars Into The Mainstream
Maya did not choose this life for herself. The 44-year-old begs outside the Charbagh railway station outside the Khamman Peer Baba Mazaar in Lucknow or the famed Hanuman Setu temple. She was left paralysed from the waist downwards after an automobile hit her from the rear during her eighth month of pregnancy as she slept on a footpath. But Maya had to go through the worst before a serendipitous moment brought her to ‘Badlav’ and she could alter her life.
Maya is among 400 plus beggars who have been saved and secured by a 33-year-old research scholar, Sharad Patel, who is reversing the social system surrounding beggary and bringing men and women on the streets into the mainstream of earning a living for themselves. Maya now runs a mobile shop selling masks, water bottles and odd bits of confectionery, fetching about Rs 500 a day. She has rented a room, her daughter goes to school and her son works in a godown, all because of Badlav. Others like her, who have received help from Badlav, work as cycle rickshaw pullers, vegetable vendors or have street food stalls. Their lives are changed.
Sharad has gone beyond thoughts, words and intentions. He has rehabilitated more than 430 beggars in Lucknow, providing 335 of them with a dignified source of earning. Sharad is willing to facilitate the application of his module for better outreach as he plans to hold similar interventions for children who beg on the streets.
Sharad was in Class 11 when he moved with his family to Lucknow from Hardoi in 2003 for his mother’s blood cancer treatment in the Uttar Pradesh capital. Sharad would visit temples and mazaars where he saw lines of beggars seeking alms and waiting outside to be fed. When Sharad went to gurdwaras though, the scene was different. He saw that the langar served food to one and all and there were no beggars outside. The idea of a community kitchen moved him.
During his postgraduation days in Lucknow, Sharad remembers, a young man approached him begging for Rs 10 to buy food. Instead of giving him money, Sharad decided to take him to a nearby puri-sabzi stall so that he could eat well. This incident and the impact it had on both parties did not leave his mind for days.
The research scholar began thinking about how he could help beggars earn a dignified living so they would become part of the mainstream. That would change their lives and an entire social system. Sharad took the proposition to his mentor, 2002 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey.
From there, with his friends Jai Deep Rawat and Mahendra Pratap, Sharad first formed the Bhikshvratti Mukti Abhiyaan on October 2, 2014, which later transformed into Badlav as a registered body on September 15, 2015.
“Sandeep sir asked me to find out if there are any social schemes for this group of people. After filing an RTI query in 2013-2014, I came to know that there are shelter homes for beggars in seven districts in the state, including one in Lucknow, but all are shut and unusable. Since 2009, there had been no inmate at the beggar’s home in Lucknow either. Before 2009, the police would leave beggars in the home but due to the dilapidated condition of the building and other departmental disputes, there was no progress in its revival,” he said.
It was under the Beggary Act, 1975, that begging was dubbed a social malpractice to be done away with. Under it, beggars’ homes for men were to be set up in Varanasi, Mathura, Agra, Faizabad, Allahabad, Kanpur and Lucknow. A separate beggar’s home in Faizabad was to be set up for women. These residential facilities were to provide free of cost lodging, food, medical care, recreation, vocational training, counselling and similar activities to help beggars move away from the street.
A building in Lucknow’s Thakurganj was kept aside for the purpose but according to a response to an RTI inquiry filed in 2014, there are no inmates at the home but an expenditure of around Rs 3 lakh a month amounting to around Rs 40 lakh annually is spent on 11 state employees at several posts.
“Well before the Act came into being, the home was there in Lucknow since 1959, but no beggar could use it as a shelter. The social welfare department initially allowed only those beggars caught by the police to stay in the home, but over the past several years, particularly from 2009, there has not been a single inmate, and people must sleep on the road. What is the purpose of such an Act if it is not being used to improve lives,” Sharad asked.
In 2017, Sharad, along with a group of beggars, launched a one-month campaign for the revival of the Lucknow home. Nothing came of it and Sharad himself with the help of donors and contributors established a temporary shelter for the group called Happy Home. Sharad was later able to get a two-hall building from the Lucknow Municipal Corporation that now houses 24 people.
“We run a six-month rehabilitation programme for beggars who voluntarily come to us for reformation. We build a relationship with them and then work on behavioural change. We provide them with lodging, food and medical treatment which is provided through crowdfunding and donors. We conduct behaviour therapy sittings and identify their lost talents or business skills and hone those. We identify gaps in their work life and try to fill those with long-term strategies to be followed and give them financial aid to start a venture. We have connected over 1,300 people to government social security schemes and reunited more than 300 of them with their families now,” Sharad said.
The organisation currently has six full-time workers, three part-time hands and 40 volunteers.