Has begging got out of hand?
Posted on April 16th, 2012

Dr. Tilak Fernando

The word ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”BeggingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ is generally linked with pleading or ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”demandingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, particularly money. Generally beggars appear on the streets. Begging is also referred to as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”PanhandlingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢.

Apart from the common type of street begging in public, there are more advanced and sophisticated methods adopted today in a somewhat glorified manner. Internet begging, cyber-begging, or Internet panhandling is the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”online versionƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of traditional begging, seeking money to meet numerous needs. This type of supplication has a clear advantage over face-to-face street panhandling because of its ability to eliminate the shame or the apparent disgrace practised incognito.

Cyber-begging became evident, in the form of personal advertisements, during early phase of the internet with personal web sites becoming popular and individuals taking advantage of the features available therein. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) offering free home pages with a basic dial up connection service to the internet helped many desperados ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”to make hay while the sun shoneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. For some fraudulent organizations who managed to raise funds ingeniously from snail mail, the World Wide Web offered a more elaborate from by utilising the new found internet techniques.

Google exposes how ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”the Internet BeggingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ gained notoriety and momentum after June 2002 quoting Karyn BosnakƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s website, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”SaveKaryn.comƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, where ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”she was alleged to have used the Internet to seek public assistance to pay off her credit card debtsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢.

Beggar using an IPhone in Colombo

Begging letters are another form of foul play where rich individuals are approached with prayerful letters, usually when lottery winners are exposed publicly. Such letters written by someone can also reach an organization claiming to be ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”poor ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”and seeking help with a variety of human needs to very humorous.

Spiritual dimention

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Nigerian 419 scamƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ is an example of begging letters where 419 communications were sent to wealthy persons asking for financial assistance for orphaned children, emergency surgery, etc. The May 1850 edition of Household Words contained an article entitled The Begging-Letter Writer, noted down by Charles Dickens. In the article Dickens described examples of the many begging letters he received over the years and the ploys adopted by writers to gain funds.

Apart from a vast array of practices of begging, a different dimension takes place with many religious orders to mendicant way of life. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”In the Catholic Church, followers of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic became known as mendicants, as they would beg for food while they preached to the villagersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. In traditional Christianity rich are encouraged to serve the poor. In many Hindu traditions, spiritual seekers begging for food is regarded as a materialistic distraction from the search for Moksha (spiritual liberation). Begging, they believe, promotes humility and gratitude, not only towards those who give food, but towards the Universe in general. Dervishes of Islam makes Zakat (similar to a wealth tax) which is compulsory for every Muslim during oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s life time and another type of charity which is open ended to oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s heartƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s content. It is also found in the monastic orders of Buddhism called Pindapatha. In every such case meritorious deed and generosity of contributors seem naturally to fulfill another dimension of their spiritual self-advancement ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”to seekƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ a better spiritual station after death.

Modern tactics

A fast growing practice in Sri Lanka is ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”visiting beggarsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ seeking financial support with an array of beseeching. Poverty and destituteness is a different kettle of fish altogether as long as it is credible, but should those who with compassionate hearts become suckers to such tricksters who seem to take oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s sincerity as a weakness?

The other side of the coin is that every human being is born with a certain amount of self-respect. No one would like to stoop to a degrading level of humiliating by visiting house to house if they are able to manage their livelihoods, in the absence of a well designed social security system.

In such a backdrop how can people identify a bona-fide case unless a beseecher is known personally? In a world of fraudsters and tricksters who are hell-bent on making a quick buck by hook or by crook, at the expense of the sympathetic folk it becomes very difficult to trust anyone at present times.

This issue has become very complex in Sri Lanka. The moment one gets out of the house or opens the door or keeps the front gate open, beggars of different kind keep on approaching. When a vehicle comes to a stop at red traffic light signals what do we come across? Beggars bombarding you!

Certain type of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”beggingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ families have turned imploring as a profession for generations to accumulate sizable wealth by ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”employingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ other newer beggars. These groups claim to have marked territories and, if unknown beggars approach such areas it might end up in verbal and/or physical abuse.

Some advise the general public not to give a cent to beggars who come across on a daily basis as they are ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”supposed to be employeesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of big villains behind, who make use of destitute people to spin money. Here the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”employerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ is supposed to drop men and women at various allocated points and collect them in the evening giving them a percentage of dayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s return as their commission or daily wage!

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Aggressive panhandlingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ generally involves solicitation of donations in an intimidating or intrusive manner especially from foreign tourists where individuals are seen following foreigners in a Pied Piper fashion and not taking ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”NOƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ for an answer. In certain cases supplicating can be in a loud voice often accompanied with wild gesticulations and use of insults, curse or veiled threats.

Sophistication has become the term to be used with beggars in this technological age. The attached email picture shows a beggar outside the Colombo Town Hall engaged in his routine business…….. doing what? Have a good look … …… Using an IPhone! Who is taking whom for a ride…..?

2 Responses to “Has begging got out of hand?”

  1. Kamal Says:

    Is begging so bad? I don’t think so.
    Think of the rich who wants to get rid of their monies, earned just or otherwise for charity. They could donate a few and wish to earn more and wish to be reborn to earn more as well.
    The beggars assist them or rather do a yeomen service.
    May be he was counselling a donor with his I phone or may be he was helping one of his clients to earn more.

    India has taken this form of earning by begging to the zenith. I think they earn more than Ambani family to India. It is an art form in India, they beg in families never relent, follow one victim till he donates and gain merits, they take anything rejects none, nothing annoys them and begs even after receiving a donation. I think we should send our beggars to India for further training or post graduation

  2. nilwala Says:

    There is a slight but visible increase in the begging element, but NOT ALL those who beg are beggars. Let me illustrate….

    1. A couple of days ago we parked near Food City on Park Rd, and while I went into the supermarket, my husband remained in the car. He observed an old man standing on the sidewalk, who pulled out a wad of money and started counting….all of which were Rs. 1000/= bills. The count had gone on to well over Rs. 3000/=. At about that time I came back from the store and when opening the passenger-side door to get into the car, the old man came begging with palm outstretched. My husband then told him in Sinhala “I saw you counting your money and you have more than Three Thousand Rupees in your pocket”. The man looked very sheepish and mumbled something..we started up the car and drove off. This goes to show that begging is a fairly remunerative way of life.

    2. We had to stop for a red light at the Elvitigala – High Level Rd junction yesterday, where there are always a few beggars, one with an obvious physical disability of a deformed arm. These regular beggars were not there yesterday…instead, a whole family of reasonably well dressed people who looked like husband, wife and 2 children were standing on the median, and came to the driver side car window with palms outstretched for alms. I thought I had not seen right ,and that they were really attempting to cross the road, and did not know the Zebra crossing was a few yards behind. When they found no response from my rather surprised husband, they moved back to the car behind us, and the driver handed out a note. The lights changed and we had to move on so could not observe the rest of what happened.

    While these are only anecdotal, it struck us that the generosity of the Lankan public is exploited by quite a few who masquerade as beggars, and that this is a lucrative means of livelihood.

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