Ramadan attracts hoards of beggers from Indian planes to Kashmir but these special summer visitors do not always come on their own. They are usually a part of sydicates run by some “Lala” who manages begging as a seasonal business. Sameer Yasir chatted some of the happy beggers up.
Everyday, a little after dusk an auto rickshaw arrives at Srinagar’s posh Lambert Lane collecting beggers from the street. In the wee hours the next day it leaves them back again to beg. It has been happening for a few years now and the migrant beggar rush increases during Ramadan. Some estimates say the city hosts 3000 migrant beggars.
Thirteen-year-old Anjali is one of them. She “works” on Hari Singh Street outside an icecream parlor. Her face is weather-beaten, her nose run black from dust and dried slick as she asks for alms.
Anjali along with her mother travelled here all the way from Pune were she used to work at a plastic factory. She now lives in Bemina in the shanty boat colony and pays Rs 800 rent every month.
She says the journey to Kashmir was hard. Anjali says Abdul Lateef Khan, a “lala”, packed many of them like animals in a truck on the outskirts of Delhi. “He brought more than 200 of us here.”
“Every Friday in the evening he comes to collect money and than disappears,” she said. “it is easy here to get money from people because they are kind hearted. If you know how to ask and beg you won’t be disappointed.
Small makeshift colonies that have come up on the outskirts of Srinagar arewhere these baggers hire rooms and live. In Bemina hundreds of makeshift tents have suddenly cropped up recently and almost all of them beg in different areas of Srinagar.
Many even travelled beyond Srinagar to places like Kupwara, Handwara and Baramulla to explore “potential for begging”.
The migrant beggars come from different parts of India and the “trade” is very much organized. Contractors like Lateef bring them to Kashmir on a deal that half the begging gains will go to the “lala”.
“We give lala 40 percent of what we earn and on top of that we feel much better here.It is better here than any other Indian city to beg. The weather here is good and it doesn’t take much to earn good money. I make more than 300 (Rupees) a day and give it to lala.We ruturn after EID. He (lala) gives us money and drops us back in Delhi.” Says Anjali.
Migrant beggars are the only “tourists” Kashmir has received even during the worst conflcit conditions. Nothing has dissuaded them from returning every year. They have discovered their own “paradise” in Kashmir. They make quick money here – especially during Ramadan- and come winter they disappear.
Anjali and her mother beg at different places in the city. Their compatriots are almost everywhere – near bus stops, outside hospitals, schools, government offices, mosques, in universities, shopping complexes besides the streets.
“People feel pity on them because they look poorer than our own poor which motivates a person to give money to them,” says a teacher.
Hafiza, a beggar from Gaya in Bihar carries a half-burnt brother in her lap near Pantha chowk.She springs into action during frequent traffic jams using her infant brother to invike pity. She admits making more than 500 rupees a day.
“Whenever we would hear about Kashmir they said it was a dangourous place but after coming here I found it good.People here are more human than any other place in India. I used to beg in Delhi’s Cannaught place but would only get 30 to 40 rupees a day but I make more here.”
For these baggers Kashmir is no less than any developed country were theysometimes earn more than a professional.
“There is a lot of money with Kashmiri people.They give you a lot which is unheard of anywhere in India. It is like AMRICA for us,”says Anwar Alam,a beggar from Bihar.