India has 3.72 lakh beggars of whom 21 per cent are literate, having passed senior secondary certificate exams and above. In fact, more than 3,000 of them have professional diplomas, or are graduates and even post-graduates, according to the Census 2011 data on 'Non-workers by main activity and education level' released earlier this week.
Many of them have turned the adage 'Beggars cannot be choosers' on its head - especially considering they are literate but chose beggary after their degrees failed to land them satisfactory jobs.
"I may be poor but I am an honest man. I beg as it fetches me more money, Rs 200 a day. My last job of a ward boy in a hospital got me only Rs 100 a day," said Dinesh Khodhabhai (45), a class 12 pass who can speak half-way decent English. Dinesh is part of a motley group of 30 beggars who seek alms around Bhadra Kali temple in Ahmedabad. Before their work begins, they sip hot tea offered gratis by a city philanthropist.
Sudhir Babulal (51) is a third-year BCom fail beggar who earns Rs 150 per day. Sudhir had come to Ahmedabad from Vijapur town with dreams of a good life but masonry jobs were erratic, fetching him Rs 3,000 for a 10-hour shift and nothing for weeks on end. "After my wife left me, where was the need to keep a house? I sleep on the riverfront and beg," said Sudhir.
Dashrath Parmar (52), who has an MCom degree from Gujarat University, is another pan-handler. This father of three, who aspired for government service but lost even the private job he had, today lives off free meals offered by charity organizations. His mother is hospitalized.
Ashok Jaisur, who cleared high school from Mumbai, begs in Lal Darwaza area. He left his job as a security guard after he lost sight due to cataract and now begs. "I have only one wish: to make my son Raj an animator," says Ashok who feeds his nine girls and wife from income earned off the streets.
"It's difficult to rehabilitate beggars as they get lured back due to easy money," says Biren Joshi of Manav Sadhana, an NGO working with beggars.
"People with degrees turning to begging reflects the grim employment scenario. People turn to soliciting alms when they do not get decent jobs and have no social support to fall back on," says sociologist Gaurang Jani.