Hawkers or beggars? Kin say 167 sent to Chembur's beggars home are wrongly convicted

May 14, 2018, 19:54 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

The 167 men, women and kids were convicted by a court and sent from Nashik to Pune; the men say they survive by hawking and not begging

(L to R) Rajesh Kale, Nana Kale and Machinder Pawar have managed to come to Chembur to try and free their kin. Pic/Rane Ashish
(L to R) Rajesh Kale, Nana Kale and Machinder Pawar have managed to come to Chembur to try and free their kin. Pic/Rane Ashish

In a major drive, around 167 men, women and children, staying on the streets, were taken into custody by the Nashik police under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (BPBA), 1959. Most of them, including 30 women who were picked up in the drive conducted on May 7, were convicted by a Nashik court for a period of one year and sent to Pune, and later to the Chembur Beggars' Home. Some of the men who were spared, say none of them are beggars; they are running from pillar-to-post to free them.

The action has once again raised concerns amidst NGOs working closely to create awareness about the fate of people in a tribal community who do odd jobs to make a living, and who are picked up by the raiding parties.

mid-day had done a series of articles on the plight of inmates and the living conditions in the Beggars' Home at Chembur and the convicted Beggars' Centre at Ambernath. One of the articles was, Shocking: 80 % of people in Mumbai's Beggar's Home are not beggars, (March 26, 2014). It showed how a cancer patient, confused senior citizens and hawkers were forcibly bundled into the squalid beggars' home in Chembur.

Mohammed Tarique, director, Koshish, TISS Field Action Project, who works for the rehabilitation of beggars asked, "Were these people who have been sentenced for one year's detention, legally represented in court before the order of detention was passed? If not, then it is blatant use of power of the state over the weak and poor." He said that the government has failed to improve the pathetic living conditions prevailing in the beggars' home. Even basic facilities like clean drinking water and toilets are not available.

Families torn apart
Amongst those trying to free their kin, is Machinder Pawar, 42, whose two daughters-in-law, Sunita, 24, and Rekha, 22, and four grandchildren from the age of seven months to four years, are lodged at the Chembur Beggars' Home. He said he and his two sons were at work when the action took place. "We went to the Pune beggars' home and I met my daughters-in-law there, but the next morning they were moved to Chembur. I had mere Rs 50 with me. Somehow I reached Chembur, but was not allowed to meet them. I do not know how to free them," he said. Wives and children of Raju Kale, 35, and Nana Kale, 40, have also been lodged at the Chembur Beggars' Home. The three men were in tears. "We are not beggars, we earn R300- R400 by selling jasmine flowers, balloons and key chains every day. We are all victims of the earthquake that struck Latur and Osmanabad in 2000. We came to Nashik more than 15 years ago," said Nana Kale.

Kale claimed they had ration cards and papers to establish that they belonged to a particular tribe, but all their belongings are missing post the raid. The only hope they have is a letter written by G G Chauhan, who is the founder of Maharashtra Nomadic Tribes & Vimukta Jati Sangh, to the Nashik police commissioner. Chauhan, 85, said, "The arrested people are not beggars, they do odd jobs to make a living. The letter says I know them all for past 10 to 15 years. We will provide all relevant papers, so that they can be released at the earliest."

The other side
Dr Ravinder Kumar Singal, commissioner of police, Nashik, said, "It was a joint action by police and other concerned departments like Woman and Child Department and NGOs. We found these people staying on streets and their documents were inspected and they were given sufficient time to leave. Only when they failed, action was taken." When informed that some detainees' family members claimed that they did not beg, Singal said, "They were using their children to help with the sale, which amounts to child labour."

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