Despite the industrial and economic development in recent years, poverty still remains a constant impediment to the real growth of India. In most of the cases, begging becomes the only choice for the survival for amny poor. People visiting various religious sites like Gurudwara and Mosques offer alms in the form of cash, food, and clothes, and if not then they simply ignore them thinking it is their daily job.
Sharad Patel from Mirzaganj, Uttar Pradesh at the age of 16, noticed the pathetic conditions of beggars near the railway stations, outside hotels and hospitals. He observed that many of them were even drug addicts. This bothered him a lot. So, he came up with a plan of making them self-reliant and helping them to live a dignified life. Yes, you heard it right!
Sharad spoke and shared his journey of ‘transformation’
Here’s Is The Journey Of This Man
A farmer’s son from Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh had a dream of becoming a doctor so that he could help the poor patients. However, due to his family’s poor economic condition, he had to leave his dreams behind. After completing his schooling, he decided to acquire a bachelor’s degree in Science and settle with a decent job to support his family. hence, Sharad moved to Lucknow to study further as there were no options for higher education in Mirzapur.
“In 2003 we shifted to Lucknow for my mother’s treatment of blood cancer, but during the treatment, she passed away. There was a time when blood was to be transfused once into her body in an interval of eight days. However, she could not recover.Durig my high school, I wanted to be a doctor, not to earn money but to treat the unprivileged people who don’t have access to good healthcare, my mother’s death and limited healthcare facilities also pushed me to become a doctor. But somehow I chose to pursue B.Sc. But the inclination to help the needy was always there”, Sharad said.
During his graduation days, he used to board bus from Charbagh bus stop of Lucknow. There was a Hanuman temple on the roadside where he would regularly see beggars sitting on the divider one next to another. For him, it was a completely different sight as compared to his own town where seeing somebody beg was a rare sight.
Soon after graduating, he decided to study in detail about this issue by enrolling himself into a Masters in social work course. His family was shocked hearing about his decision, however, realizing that he was determined to work for the needy, his elder brother supported him to pursue his passion.
Once in Lucknow, when he was pursuing his post-graduation, a beggar asked him for money. He thought only money is not going to be a real help, so he bought kachoris (snacks) to feed the beggar. This gave him immense pleasure as he was able to bring a smile to someone’s face.
This incident gave him an idea of feeding the beggars for free, however, he soon realised, this would not really make them independent . Speaking, Sharad said “I thought that feeding beggars in a long run isn’t going to be an easy task for an individual. I had to find a permanent solution to solve this crisis. I thought that there is a need to make them skilled which would subsequently help them getting employment.”
Meeting With A Lucknow-based Social Worker
With the help of his elder brother, Sharad got an opportunity to meet Sandeep Pandey who is a Lucknow-based social worker. He worked as a volunteer in Pandey’s NGO for five years. In these years, he learned several ways of how an organisation works to help the society and how one can file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This experience enabled him to understand the ground realities. Once he visited a beggars’ home constructed by the government, and he found that the rooms were empty and thousands of beggars were instead living on the roadside. When he investigated further, he discovered that these government homes were not utilised for the right purpose and even then caretakers were getting handsome salaries right on time.In 2014, Sharad filed an RTI application with the Government of Uttar Pradesh to learn more about its welfare schemes set up for the poor. In a reply to his RTI, the data revealed that there were eight homes in 7 districts that gave food and shelter to poor people. “We discovered that there were shelter homes which were not utilised. The strange part is each shelter home had recruited 10-11 employees, and even today they are being issued salaries which are around Rs. 4,50,000 for doing nothing. Its been three years, and we are still fighting that case,” Sharat told.In Lucknow, he carried out a socio-economic study on beggars and found that around 3,500 beggars live on the footpath. “Unfortunately, these beggars had no skills to grab any job. There were few educated beggars too who were unable to secure a job due to their ill-health. Most of them have been excluded from pro-poor schemes of Government as either they have migrated from other cities or they do not possess any identity proof,” said Sharad.
A Begining Of Sharad’s Movement
When Sharad started his work, his friends and relatives warned him that it was an impossible task and that he would not be able to finish what he has begun. “The day arrived, it was October 2, 2014, when I launched a campaign called Bhikshavratti Mukti Abhiyan, i.e. ‘Begging-Free Movement’ to make these people self-independent ,” he stated.
Later, he started building trust and comfort among the beggars and asked them co-operate because it was meant for them only.
He helped these poor people with ration cards that helped them in buying subsidised goods from Government shops. For this, he had to fight very hard as he had to convince the authorities to provide ration cards to over 100Ko beggars without address proof, which is usually mandatory. This was his first step to develop a sense of faith in the beggars, and the community started approaching Sharad for their cards.
So far, he has managed to provide Government houses to around 400 beggars under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna scheme. Since there were no schools in the vicinity, he took up the challenge and opened a school for kids who were forced by their parents for begging. “It was quite a tough task for me to convince their parents but somehow I got to succeed, and today there are over 100 kids in my school,” said Sharad.
Later, he started conversing with people to know about the problems faced by them on a daily basis. He even began inviting Government officials to address the issues.
“One thing that builds confidence in beggars was sharing a space with Government officials and other dignitaries. It generated a sense of acceptance in these people,” he added.
Achievements ‘Bhikshavratti Mukti Abhiyan’
After Sharad’s commendable efforts, beggars were now ready to bring a new change in their lives, but this mission was not possible without proper funds. So, he registered for an NGO ‘Badlaav’ in 2015. Due to his constant support, 27 beggars have left begging and started working in different areas.
Sharad is now taking help from the local municipal corporation to avail identity cards for these beggars that would later help them in getting Aadhaar Cards. He is also taking support from the beggars who are now self-dependent, to help the other beggars. They spread awareness through street plays. According to Sharad, Government’s shelter homes are used as punishment cells for beggars after they get arrested by Police.
“If the Government wants to change their situation, they should train these people in their areas of interest and then offer them jobs accordingly. With this, they can lead a normal, dignified life,” he stressed. Moreover, he had submitted a letter to the State Government to build a proper shelter home for at least 200 beggars. “I have asked for skill training centres, free medical treatment, nutrition and sanitation facilities in this shelter home,” he added.
Also, he has written to 22 other State Governments to monitor and outline laws for the prevention of begging.
A New Beginning For Beggars
With his team, Sharad arranged rental rickshaws for five men. They have been peddling these rickshaws till date.
Liyakat Singh, a construction worker, had lost his savings and only land to arrange money for his severely ill daughter. Later, he started begging as he was not getting a job in Lucknow. When Sharad realised that he is an educated man, he offered him a job in his learning centre where he now teaches around 130 children.
Rohit Saxena, who lost his shop was unable to get a job in Lucknow. So, eventually, he started begging outside a temple. Sharad’s team helped him find employment and now he works as a skilled carpenter.Majority of them are migrants who come from different parts of UP. Younger ones come to seek job opportunities while the elder ones come after facing the wrath of crop failure.
On a parting note, Sharad said, “We found that most of the beggars apart from drug addiction also suffer from diseases like Tuberculosis, cancer, and asthma. We have till now treated 148 people yet sadly lost 11 people.”.
Article Credit: Logical India