“The people I worked for kidnapped me and forced me to use drugs. I was addicted and begging was the only solution, they burned my arms and my stomach so that I could beg more,” -Ansar , a street beggar. This is not a story of a single child, but the menace of beggary is gripping the society with the fast growing pace of poverty. Renowned philosophers, theorists and sociologists have tried to connect the dots of this unproductive activity with social, economic and political conditions of the state. Begging from being an individual act transformed into a mafia and is now connected with land, drugs and other criminal activities. Till now, Pakistan like other third world countries has experienced a rapid growth among this degenerated section.
In terms of our economic conditions, it can be said that Karachi being the economic hub and chief metropolitan city of Pakistan has great concentrations of slum areas, rogue elements and beggars. According to researches carried out by our team this mega city is home to around 500,000 beggars.
The city of lights in actual is a city of power in which turf wars for the control are common while conflicts are sharp over underground economic interests. Exploitation is considered a synonym to capitalism and being a capitalist center, every form of exploitation is witnessed here including exploitation of oppressed classes by the hand of well-organized mafias. Need and addiction, both are utilized by the underworld kings who force the have-nots to meet their (mafias) goals through begging and stealing.
Beggary utilizes emotions, therefore, the most vulnerable sections are brought forward to gain sympathy. As Engels stated in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific that women emancipation in any society is an indicator of general emancipation, being the most oppressed section, mafias in Karachi involves women and children in beggary.
Another remarkable finding is that most of these marginalized individuals are not from the mega city.
“52 per cent of girls in this business belong to various other cities and districts of Sindh, while the second largest group of 21 per cent hails from Punjab. Bangladeshi girls are estimated to be 9 per cent and 7 per cent are from KPK.”
The second big circle of beggars consists of children who are either abducted or given away by their parents. In order to make them appear more vulnerable, amputations are also carried out to which a number of orthopedics are a party to. Poor families are coerced to handover their children to these mafias. On many occasions, deals are finalized on drugs as along with beggary this menace has also turned into a specter. These children earn between Rs. 200 – 250, but around Rs. 180 to 200 are taken by either associated mafias or addicted parents.
The third largest circle transgenders, are growing in number due to abolition of their old professions. This community mainly covers four major areas of Karachi which include Zamzama, Gulistan-e-jauhar, Azam Basti and Gizri.
“The community is not only forced to beg but is also sexsually exploited. Currently the transgender community has reached the scale of up to 17,000 in Karachi only.”
Similarly, child abuse and sexual harassment are not uncommon in the city; multi-lumpen activities have also been noted by our researchers. Women on the streets are sexually harassed and are forced into prostitution while children become pickpockets, bootleggers and pimps. Moreover, Children are also observed being addicted to glue and other drugs. These children take as their role models other notorious persons serving in different gangs; therefore it is not a surprise that many of them turn into gangsters.
However, this neglected section possesses the same aspirations but are shattered due to the socio-economic conditions. A hungry looking beggar was reported as saying,
“Who does not want to be literate bhai? We too feel like becoming responsible citizens like others but our ignorant parents, self seeking society, reckless government with fateful destinies create hurdles in fulfilling our dreams.”
Rachel, a 25 year old Christian, further elaborated the reasons of acquiring begging as a profession. She said that people like her want to send their children to school but poverty doesn’t allow them to give their children a healthy standard of living. These kids at a school going age learn ways and tactics of begging. The meager amount of Rs. 250 per day only allows them to pay their rent (estimated above Rs.1000) and feed their children. These economic urgencies along with parallel power structure in low-income localities, force them to turn lumpen.
Political analysts believe that introduction of hyper-capitalism and enforcement of neo-liberal policies in late 1960’s resulted in deterioration of labor movements all over the world. The goons that capitalists tend to use for their control on labor were no more required, besides rising surplus labor and unemployment increased the growth of lumpen section massively, resulting in self organization among these sections.
Besides liberalization and economic deprivation, Soviet-Afghan war opened new illegal ventures of capitalism, which includes trade of weapons and drugs. Transportation mafia and land encroachment gangs also started developing as the mega city swelled up with slums. Soon every illegal activity was turned into an organized crime and Mafias developed political connections for their benefits.
In respect of spatial analysis, in its initial years Karachi experienced a concentric theorist expansion in beggary i.e. most of the beggars were seen in the old area of Saddar, the center of economic activity. But as Karachi grew with great pace the multiple nuclei theory better represents the demarcation. Chanesar Goth is no more the biggest slum as many centers have emerged in the city such as malls, parks, railway stations and signals.
Religio-Social makeup is a vital factor supporting beggary through Sadqas and Khairats, conforming religious and societal norms. According to our findings, while middle class holds government accountable for not implementing the 1958 anti-beggary act, deprived classes view it as a natural outcome of poverty. Police on the other hand considers implementation of the law as being unfair with these downtrodden.
“Keeping in mind the current deplorable social and economic conditions, the detention of beggars would be unfair though anti-beggary Act 1958 was intact under which operation against beggars could be launched anytime if they create problems for the citizens,” local police official explained.
The implementation of anti-beggary law is impossible under these economic conditions especially because the state failed in providing the basic necessities in low income areas. Even NGOs have failed to rehabilitate beggars while the government keeps on feeding the menace through initiatives like Benazir Income Support Program.
The findings clearly indicates that this disease is an outcome of socio-economic conditions, chiefly unemployment and negligence of state and the ruling elite. Super-structure utilizes this section to enforce its hegemony, therefore only a strong working class movement could result in safeguarding the needs of this section and hence eliminate this menace.