Viewing beggars as inanimate objects devoid of humanity is a violation of their fundamental rights and one that must be corrected by the courts in the case of Ludhiana Commissioner’s order, writes AMULYA DHAWAN
The Ludhiana Police recently decided to make the city begging-free in the next two weeks. Rakesh Agrawal, the Commissioner of Police, Ludhiana, instructed heads of all police stations to complete the verification of beggars within two weeks and excommunicate them from the city limits. The police started a verification drive to identify the beggars and were committed to make the city and roads ‘beggar free’ by November 11.
The Police Commissioner also urged the residents not to donate money or food to the beggars on the roads. As per the announcement, beggars who were found residing for less than a year would be ‘sent to their native places’ and those with disabilities would be shifted to shelter homes; and child beggars would be sent to child shelter homes.
The announcement had also mentioned that able-bodied beggars would be asked to earn their living by working somewhere.
The police commissioner said that the beautification of the city was affected by the existence of beggars which grossly side-lined the Fundamental Rights of the people, which was aesthetic violence in the name of beautification.
Agrawal said transgenders would not be allowed to beg on the Ludhiana streets.
Begging for Blankets!
He also arbitrarily said that many beggars travel to Ludhiana during winter months to get blankets. He estimated that a beggar collects 20-30 blankets in the process. The philanthropic attitude of the Ludhiana residents was being exploited by the beggars, he said.
This accusation of collecting blankets gave a fraudulent perspective to the helpless who beg.
The police commissioner said that the beautification of the city was affected by the existence of beggars which grossly side-lined the Fundamental Rights of the people, which was aesthetic violence in the name of beautification. It also portrayed a classist approach by the authority, which refused to accept the harsh reality of poverty and homelessness.
The Commissioner asked residents to click pictures of the people practicing begging and send them to a WhatsApp helpline number. This clearly violated privacy and displayed them as objects of interest rather than dignifying them as rightful citizens.
Violative of Fundamental Rights
Mission Beggar Free Ludhiana not only disregards the rightful existence of the citizens but is also violative of the Fundamental Rights, notably of equality, dignity, life, speech, movement, residence, and livelihood.
Instructing or forcing people to work if they fill the parameters of being ‘fit’ is an instigation of forced labour and is a violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India.
According to Ram Lakhan vs State, the unreasonable prohibitions on begging are unconstitutional. They invariably deprive beggars of two fundamental rights: anti-beggary laws are thus, a blatant invasion of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and breach the right to life and liberty of beggars under Article 21.
Instructing or forcing people to work if they fill the parameters of being ‘fit’ is an instigation of forced labour and is a violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India. Furthermore, a study conducted by Sabina Yasmin Rahman explains the economic scenario of the people who engage in begging. It says that 70 percent of the people in the study who were begging and homeless had also engaged in marginal forms of economic activity at some point in their lives. This was as true of men as of women, including transgenders, able-bodied persons and those with disabilities.
The authorities said they would send back those who fail to provide proof of having resided in the city for at least a year back to their native places. This is a gross violation of the fundamental rights under article 19 (e) as it fails to regard the right to reside and settle in any part of the country.
A writ petition (public interest litigation) was filed by a resident of Ludhiana seeking prohibition against the Ludhiana Police’s policy. The petition also challenged the Punjab Prevention of Beggary Act, 1971 and the rules framed under it, by citing the violation of fundamental rights.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court’s division bench of Chief Justice R.S. Jha and Justice Arun Palli heard the matter on November 12. The Court issued notice to the state government regarding the challenge to its enactment. The state counsel assured the court that no steps will be taken to ex-communicate the beggars as the police are not authorised to do so. They also clarified that the project was implemented only with the objective of for the verification of the beggars to lodge children indulging in begging to shelter homes. Hence, the Court recorded the assurance and refused to grant a stay against the anti-beggary mission.
The general picture of beggars that more privileged citizens have, associates them with filth, trespassing, obstruction of smooth flow of traffic and hindrances in the daily lives of people. These notions not only unreasonably dehumanise the fellow citizens but also leads to us treating them as inanimate objects.
The constitutional court’s urgent intervention to protect their right to live with dignity would be very pertinent.
(Amulya Dhawan is a social science student from Sat Paul Mittal School, Ludhiana. She is an active member of Initiators of Change, a civic rights organisation, which works on voter awareness, youth development and civic education. The views are personal.)