Akin to unaddressed dog and traffic menace, begging is equally messing up with the heritage city like never before. Despite begging being a banned activity in Srinagar, many non-local baggers can be seen roaming and hampering the public movement freely.
Text by Amir Rafi
Make no mistake about it: They operate in battalions and at behest of some backing.
And that’s why, perhaps, they go scot-free, despite Big Brothers called CCTV cameras making Srinagar a surveillance city now.
The inaction against these non-local beggars—involved in a proscribed activity—is a barking sign of how Srinagar is being dominated by these drifters, who operate freely, and in loose numbers.
Even as these mendicants aren’t new to Srinagar where begging is officially banned, their arrival, during summers, is making many wonder: Who are they, and why do they visit Valley during a particular season and occasion?
“I came here from Rajasthan and currently I’m living in Batamaloo,” said a young female beggar, who was irritating a group of people, sitting inside Pratap Park, Lal Chowk. “I also have my family and neighbours with me. We’re around 50 people in number. We all do begging because we don’t have any other work to do.”
These non-locals are mainly cashing in on the ‘frank nature’ of locals.
“Kashmiris are very generous people,” said a middle-aged woman vagrant at Dalgate junction. Chewing Gutka, the woman beggar added, “It doesn’t take much effort to get money from them.”
Besides ‘generosity’, these non-local beggars seem to know their area of operation well.
As mercury soars in mainland India during summers, many of these beggars move towards the ‘weather-pleasant’ valley.
Once in Srinagar, they can be seen at all major places, including commercial hub Lal Chowk, Dal-Gate, Khanyar, Nowhatta, Sanat Nagar, Hyderpora, Jahangir Chowk, Batamaloo and many other areas.
“We came to Kashmir because it is a cold place,” said an aged beggar at Jahangir Chowk. “My family, relatives and my neighbours are also with me. It’s both vacation as well as work. We live at Qamarwari. Our group consists of nearly 100 persons of all age groups including men, women and children.”
Among these non-local beggars, women and children are the most active and annoying.
While children can be seen seeking alms from general public on roadsides and outside religious places, women operate with their infants at road crossings and traffic signals. They also wander from street to street and mainly chase down the tourists who come to Kashmir on vacations.
“Begging menace is a big threat to tourism industry,” said Sahir, a college-goer from Srinagar. “These beggars discourage tourists, especially foreigners, by instilling a sense of fear in them. In a way, they’re doing a great disservice to both place as well as place.”