Begging in India – and the Guilt of Travel

Written By: The Planet D

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

The best thing I can think of to help beggars in India is to donate to a charity. Organizations like Save The Children Foundation, Railway Children, Smile Foundation India are good places to start.

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.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

13 thoughts on “Begging in India – and the Guilt of Travel”

  1. I would really love to visit India the poverty and begging is something i dont know how i would handle emotionally but i doubt i could walk away from someone in desperate need without giving them something. Tough.

  2. Beggars in India are full time workers, They have no choice like other fellow Indians to chose a career.Psychologically they are forced by the hungry to earn their food and needs by so lowering themselves to minimum level.With out having proper shelter and bathing facilities,risking their bodies to cold and rain,hot sun, to keep alive ,with a hope they are struggling to survive. We may not recognize them,but they are emotionally attaching themselves with our society a part and parcel among us.They have an identity and so we call them beggars.They are not stealing they are depending up on us for our mercy. They are giving us a chance to to participate in charity and tap our our soft corner of our heart.Every one of us at times, argue, that why we should give them money?why can not they work? but all of us always donating them money,food,clothing etc. Each one in India among 1200 Millions population in India, once in a month seriously discuss that how we can solve this beggars problem.It does not mean, we will eliminate all of them at a time with a pen stroke.They can help law and order maintain fir police. They are the first information sources that anything happened in midnight because we all sleep fastening our doors, but they sleep on the pavements.Army police can use them as volunteers for information by giving them mobile phones. Please follow and shadow a beggar for one day.He walks for ten to 20 miles, this is the Gandhian secret of his health.Beggars are the on foot tourist guides for many strangers to show them the address.They are easily available human resources at a wage of one rupee coin for any information. For ten years in India, The Central Government and the each State Government constitute A Ministry and Minister for counseling of beggars problem, with in ten years, with networking the all the states and central Ministry of Beggars rehabilitation, will show us a new India that all the beggars ,which are a strong dedicated human resource in the Indian society , will form as a pillars and hands in the development of great India.
    Jai Hind

  3. I think the begging has to stop, we should all make a complain to India government!
    .-= wmofree´s last blog ..Ice World 2002 TV =-.

    • I think that writing the government to voice our concerns might be a good idea. India is difficult, there is a great divide between the rich and the poor and the government has to start taking an active roll in creating jobs and a work force for the poor. They also need to create tough penalties for child labour and abuse. It seems that the children and the handicapped suffer the most in India and it is heartbreaking. I can only hope that as it develops more things will change.

  4. Interesting Post.
    The way we dealt with this when traveling is to set aside a large donation to give to one (or more) charitable group that we found on our way or heard about. It really worked well for us in Vietnam and have the same plan for when we head to India this year. It helps us deal with the day to day and we give back to the people and country after our amazing travels. Our experience was so good in Vietnam we are going back this trip to volunteer at the place we gave money.

    • Hi Anne-Marie, that is great advice. I agree with you, I think giving to a charity is the right idea. We are doing some research on charities for street kids in India. I have read some very uplifting stories in the paper here about people that are making a difference.

  5. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Well worth the read for any tourist coming to India. I’ve tried observing and asking locals where I live in India to see how they respond to beggars. Seems like a lot of them try to only give to beggars who obviously are not able to work due to disability or another reason. The issue is certainly complex. One of my neighbors told me she tried to offer a job as a house helper to a beggar that came to her door, but he laughed at her and said he would make more money begging!

  6. I loved your last post about begging, and really wanted to leave a comment, but it won’t let me for some reason. It says “comments are closed” and the page won’t reload…..too bad, because I had SO much to say!

  7. Hi Alexxander and Tom,
    thank you for your passionate responses. If you read the post, you will see that we have been struggling with whether to give or not. The amount of beggars in India is endless and if we were to give 5 rupees to everyone that asked each day, we would go broke quickly. It is a sad situation with little solution.
    We have talked to many locals and most agree not to give; especially to children. Some have also said that if you are going to give to beggars, be sure to give to the disabled. That is what I feel also, we have learned that there are organizations that can help the disabled, but there is a long way to go. some people have told us that at least when someone disabled is begging, they feel a part of society. It breaks our hearts every day.
    You are right, India is harsh. Unfortunately we cannot help everyone and by raising awareness and giving to charity, I think that we can do much more for a long term solution.

  8. Really enjoyed the article about begging – to give or not to give??? I wish I had something profound to add but I have found myself having the same internal struggle with this issue. I think that we just have to make a choice about what way we have decided to contribute to our fellow man and find peace with the fact that we can make a difference but not for everyone…I do believe that even if we only throw a pebble in the pond we still make waves. You and Dave help people by bringing awareness to situations, perhaps opening people’s minds by giving them a different perspective. That can bring about a lot of positive change.
    Keep adventuring and sharing and you will keep making a difference.

  9. India is very unforgiving.if you are not able bodied, you cant work – you starve and Die. simple isnt it? So such people are forced to beg or die. 5 rupees is nothing to you or me. It is LIFE to a starving human being. are you happy to let someone starve to death for your irrational reluctance to be seen giving to a beggar ? SHAME on you !!