Dave and I have a hard and fast rule when traveling. We rarely give money to beggars. But the sheer amount of beggars in India can feel overwhelming. How can you as a traveler ignore it? How can a person not give to a man that is crawling on the ground because his legs are paralyzed, or give to an old man with a deformed foot limping through the streets?
How can we ignore a blind man singing on a train? Or a child carrying a baby looking for food? We didn’t give to many of these people when they asked and I often regret my actions.
This article was originally written in 2010 and has not been updated. We do not know if this is still the case in India 13 years later.
Things to Know About Begging in India
Sadly, a lot of begging in India is run by organized crime. When you give to beggars in India, you can’t be sure if you are helping or just feeding the crime ring.
When we watched Slumdog Millionaire, it reiterated what we saw in India. Children are abused and used to make money and when you give to them because you feel sad, you are really feeding the pockets of the people controlling them.
Sadly, poverty is everywhere in India. It is heartbreaking and Overwhelming. It is believed that there are 500,000 beggars in India and 300,000 of them are children who have been forced into begging.
Beggars in India and the Guilt of Travel
Usually, we don’t give to beggars when traveling because we feel that giving to beggars only contributes to a begging society. That giving money to people perpetuates the problem.
If tourists keep giving people money just because they ask, how will they ever have the ambition to try to make a better life for themselves?
I stuck to this rule but felt that it was often the wrong decision. There were times when I found myself sobbing because I felt helpless. I didn’t know how to help the beggars and didn’t know if anyone truly needed the money or if they were just part of a crime ring.
Does it make a Difference to Give Money?
If I gave beggars in India money, would my 50 or 100 rupees really make a difference to them or would it merely help to ease my conscience allowing me to go on with my day guilt-free? At the same time, who couldn’t use a few extra Rupees?
On one hand, who couldn’t use a few extra rupees, on the other is getting money from begging a positive thing?
Yet do these men with disabilities have any other options? Even if they were forcibly maimed, they are now in a position where they need the money from begging to survive. But how many people can I give money to? I can’t go on forever and give Rupees to every suffering person that I see.
Social Programs in India?
In Canada, beggars can easily get help if they want it. We have social programs and welfare workers to help those who want to help themselves.
- Can they get help here in India? Probably not.
- Do companies hire disabled people in India? I highly doubt it.
- Begging is probably the only source of income available to these people.
Questions we ask ourselves
- What is the best way to help those in need in India?
- What really works?
- What gets stuck in bureaucratic paperwork?
- Where does the money go?
- Who does it help?
I honestly don’t have a problem not giving money to beggars that are fit to work and I don’t give anything to children.
Some people tell travelers to stock up on pens or candy to give to children instead of giving money. I saw the mess that pens and “bon bons” made of the children in Ethiopia and we are not going to contribute that way either. Children yelled at us throughout that country asking for pens, just for the sake of getting something.
It is still begging and I won’t have anything to do with contributing to children begging and handing their money, candy or pens over to their gang leaders or even their parents. Children should not be begging and people should not be giving to children.
Begging Scams in India
These are some of the begging scams we became aware of in India. Naturally, there are legitimate beggars that need help. Giving to beggars is a personal choice and sometimes it is too heartbreaking not to give to people. We often feel that giving to a charity is a good option to get the aid and money to the people who need it.
Child with Baby
This one is truly alarming. A young girl carries a baby and asks you for money to buy milk. They take you to a store and have you buy overpriced powdered milk from the shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper then splits the earnings with the crime ring or beggar. The baby is the one suffering here. They are often rented out and drugged.
Maimed and Disfigured
We saw many beggars with disfigured feet, hands, and even burnt eyes. We saw how this occurred when watching Slumdog Millionaire. And it was horrifying to see in India. How can people be so cruel?
Crime rings will scorch out a child’s eyes and have him/her sing for money. We didn’t see children while we were there but we did see several old men looked like they had been blinded singing for money on trains.
People will also disfigure their legs and arms to show that they can’t work and need to beg for money. Of course everyone is not disfigured intentionally.
Give to People with Disabilities?
However, my heart breaks when a person with leprosy approaches to ask for money or when an old man wants some change. I really feel that they don’t have any other choices.
I feel helpless and I shed a tear. Just because I cry, it still doesn’t make any difference. I can cry all I want out of guilt or empathy, but the truth is, I am not doing anything and that man with the paralyzed legs will continue to crawl along the hard ground pulling his lifeless stumps behind him. It just isn’t right.
Give to Charities
Money Going to a Crime Ring
We had children often ask us for money, but when we instead offered to buy them food, they declined. It was clear that they needed the money to give to the people controlling them.
There are so many beggars in India that you really don’t know where to begin. So it is best not to give at all.
If you do ever have a lapse and give money, you will find that you will be swarmed with other beggars asking too. It is overwhelming.
We would love to hear your thoughts. It is always an ongoing debate. We would love to hear what you have done instead or if you believe in giving. It is a tough question. One the I don’t have the answer to.