ABU ASIM reflects on the plight of beggars at Nizamuddin Dargah and other places of worship. Not all fast-talking operators out to fleece us, given a chance, they would prefer to work for their living... .
ALMS AND THE MAN: A familiar scene near Nizamuddin Dargah in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.
"ALLAH KE naam pe de do, Maula ke naam pe de do, Babu roti khila do... ." Beseeching voices welcome visitors to Nizamuddin Dargah every day. At many places of worship, beggars are a nuisance for visitors. This treatment is not reserved for visitors to the dargah alone. Anyone who passes by - whether to dine at Karim's or run errands to the headquarters of the Tableeghi Jamaat - is a likely target.
Like other professionals, beggars separate business from pleasure. "When there is no one from whom they can seek alms, they are seen gossiping and enjoying themselves. But as soon as they spot the likely victim, they start wailing and beseeching," observes Mohommad Yunus from Bijnor. And as elsewhere in the city, foreigners are vulnerable prey.
The territories are fixed. No two beggars can occupy the same spot. Mansoor Ali, a local resident, recounts, "One day I saw some beggars fighting. When I sought to know why, one of them told me that a beggar was begging from others' area."
Many hotels in the locality thrive because of them. Around the dargah people shout, "Gharibon ko khana khilao panch rupaye mein, aiya sahab greebon ko khana kilaiye sat rupaye mein aur dus rupaye mein!" The devotees, filled with piety, buy tokens of Rs.5, 7 and 10 from the shouting men and get food to feed the gang of beggars!
As you enter the Dargah the scene changes. Here you are met not by beggars but robbers - faith brokers who hoodwink the ignorant and superstitious. Well dressed and well fed, people call them priest with respect. These self-appointed caretakers of the dargah - they claim to be sons of Nizamuddin Aulia, adopting the surname Nizami though it is well known Nizamuddin never married - fleece the devotees who come in the hope of fulfilling their desires. Ask them about Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin (1242-1325) and they suggest you read books or look up his life on the Internet. And if you insist, they ask you to get out, as it is time for dhanda, not for talking.
If outside, you shell out some coins to get rid of the beggars, here you give in to their demands willingly or unwillingly. They have a register and ask you to give Rs.500, 2000, 10,000 and more - depending on how much you have in your wallet - for different rituals. Most interestingly, they insist on extracting money in the name of the beggars outside. Often people give money for langar, but it goes into the pockets of these charlatans. And if you refuse, these kurta pajama clad beggars force you - otherwise they will misbehave.
But who are those shabby ones outside the holy shrine? They are the most unfortunate of society. Children of a lesser God, they are physically, financially and emotionally suppressed. Take Mohommad Saquib. Handicapped from birth, he cannot work to support himself. His companion who lost both his legs in an accident is so ashamed of begging that he does not want to be photographed, as his children in Orissa might see it in some paper.
There is an anti-beggary law, but the Government has for reasons of its own not been implementing it. With liberalisation and globalisation, the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen and beggary increases. Natural calamities and communal riots only add to their numbers. In the words of a beggar: "Help us. We want respect and a means to keep ourselves alive. My fate has reduced me to beggary."