Most of us shun beggars. Sometimes we pity them and grace their palms with our alms. But they are human too and need love and care. The state treats them as criminals under Section 3 of Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act 1975 and a beggar can be sentenced to maximum of three years for beggary. It’s what happens after the sentence is pronounced by a magistrate in Bengaluru that is the subject of this article by Y Maheswara Reddy.
Once sentenced,beggars are sent to the Beggars Rehabilitation Centre (BRC) in Bengaluru. Once upon a time this place was considered jinxed. Not many in Bengaluru, even beggars, were ready to go near this place which was linked to tragedy. It was here nearly 300 inmates had died allegedly due to the authorities’ negligence and apathy. Today it is a bee hive of activity and a destination for number of visitors. This transformation has not come overnight, but through the determined efforts of a few in authority and a few who have rendered selfless service to the cause of the beggar rehabilitation, considering them their brothers and sisters.
Beggary is prohibited in Karnataka under Section 3 of Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act 1975. Under Section 12 of this Act, a Magistrate can sentence a person found begging for a period of minimum one year and which may extend to three years. Being a rehabilitation centre for beggars, the BRC was focusing on only bringing beggars and keeping them there till they completed their sentence as pronounced by the designated magistrate. In a nutshell the BRC was a jail for beggars and treated as such with security as a priority.
The BRC premises, spread over 160-acre of land, has two gates with round-the-clock security. It has 62 CCTV cameras to monitor the movements of the inmates. “There are more than 70 security guards to keep an eye on the inmates. The BRC has 35 staff working on regular basis and remaining are on contract basis. Care has been taken to ensure that a guard accompanies the inmates who are working in the agricultural field,’’ said one of the BRC staffs.
But security is not the only priority and this is where the transformation begins.
Clean and tidy dormitory
The inmates sleep in clean and tidy dormitories. There are four blocks and each one can accommodate 50 inmates. The inmates have a facility to watch TV after having dinner. They have to stand in the queue to collect a mat, a blanket and a pillow. They have to fold the mat and blanket when they wake up in the morning. Each one is provided with soap, tooth brush and paste. The other advantage is having hot water for bathing.
“The other dormitories are under renovation. We can accommodate more than 2,000 inmates when the renovation work is complete. As of now, there are around 600 inmates. We are not taking in more inmates to avoid inconvenience or recurrence of the unfortunate incidents of 2010. We shift excess inmates to the other District Rehabilitation Centres,’’ says BRC Secretary Chandra Nayak.
The Central Relief Committee headed by Secretary Chandra Nayak gives utmost priority for hygiene at the BRC. As soon as, the convicted beggars enter the premises, they are required to and facilitated to undergo a complete medical checkup followed a by series of hygiene enhancers like a haircut, shave and bath. They are also provided with uniforms and a personal identification number.
“We provide them uniform. Each inmate is given a personal identification number and also a personal locker to keep their belongings. We have modern laundry to wash and iron their clothes on a daily basis,’’ says S. Nagesh, in-charge of training, BRC.
The BRC staff told this reporter that a majority of the beggars caught by them and brought into the center are mentally depressed. “More than 65 per cent of them are mentally ill. We have to counsel them to know about their background. It is very difficult to gain their trust. It takes us two to three days to know what has pushed them to beggary. There are many reasons, including ill-treatment and negligence of their children, for them to become beggars,’’ says Dr. Shruthi, counsellor at the BRC.
The counseling is carried out over 10 to 15 sessions on a daily basis. “Men need more counselling sessions than women. They take more time to trust us before revealing their background. Most of them are suffering from acute depression more than any other type of mental illness. So far, none has shown a tendency to escape from here,’’ Dr. Shruthi said.
Primary Health Centre
The specialty of the BRC is well-equipped primary health center which has in-patient facility apart from treating minor illness of the inmates.
“Right now, four men and two women have been admitted for cold and cough, and fever. If the patients need special treatment, we will send them to nearby government hospitals. We have an ambulance for this purpose. Apart from this, doctors from NIMHANS, and a dental team from Raja Rajeshwari Dental College visits this center once in 15 days,’’ said Dr. Keerthi who has been working at the PHC for five years.
The inmates are provided with coffee or tea in the morning and breakfast at 7.30 am. They will be served with lunch at 12.30 pm and dinner at 6.30 pm. The BRC staffs take utmost care to ensure not only quality but also nutrient dense food for the inmates.
The food is being supplied by ISKCON. The inmates, who used to have lunch or dinner in dingy and congested rooms with asbestos roofs or in some cases in the open air amidst garbage, have the privilege of eating food at a hygienic and well organized dining hall eating at chairs and tables.
The dining hall is clean and plates and tumblers are washed by the staff members. One can never find this high quality of sambar with a variety of vegetables at any hotel in Bengaluru. Chapatis are also served for those who prefer chapatis over rice.
“Our BRC management has been paying Rs 65 per day to ISKCON for supplying food to each inmate. We serve them full meals. We also serve egg and banana on alternate days,’’ Nagesh said.
Earlier, the food was cooked at the blackened kitchens on the premises and the quality and hygiene were casualties waiting to happen. In fact sub-standard food and unhygienic conditions were attributed as the main cause for the death of hundreds of inmates seven years ago.
“A German team visited the BRC recently. They have promised to install the latest water purification system free of cost. It is said to be the first of its kind in Karnataka. As of now, we have a reverse osmosis (RO) plant to supply purified drinking water to the inmates,’’ he said.
Allotment of work
The BRC staff indulge in due diligence before allotting work to the inmates. They keep the inmates idle initially for three to four days to enable them acclimatize. The inmates are then divided into four categories based on their physical and mental strength.
Those who are familiar with agriculture are assigned horticulture and agricultural work. They assist the BRC staff to cultivate different fruits and vegetables.
Some of them are assigned to the stationery workshop where they assist in preparing binding files and others are given the task of creating most of the daily hygiene requirements of the BRC - weaving doormats, phenol, detergents, soap oil, floor cleaner, glass cleaner, room freshener, toilet cleaner, incense sticks, hand wash, candles, bleaching powder, dish wash powder, bar soap, dish wash bar, paper plates, mops and brooms.
“Earlier, we used to procure these products for internal use by paying an exorbitant amount. By making these products on our own, we are saving lot of money,’’ said a teacher of the home products making unit.
Each of the inmates are paid Rs: 10/- per day for their work which keeps them occupied and also teaches each one of them a skill. Their earnings are handed over to them on departure from the BRC after serving their term.
Families have no clue
Ibrahim, 32, from Mysuru has been serving his two-year term at the BRC but his family members are not aware of it. “I am from Mysuru. I was caught while begging near a temple on Mysuru Road. I do not want my family know about it. I will join my family after serving sentence (two years) here. I am getting Rs 10 per day for working at the binding section,’’ said Ibrahim.
Anjanappa, 56, from Malleswaram in Bengaluru was caught while seeking alms near Shiradi Sai Temple at Malleswaram. He says that he has no family except an aged sister. “We have none to support us. I could not job anywhere because of my age. I had been begging to feed my sister but landed up here. I have to stay here for more than a year,’’ said Anjanappa.
While the inmates were reluctant to talk about why they are there, they had no complaints about the way they had been treated. Most were in fact appreciative of the fact that they were treated so well, given their background.
Many retired employees, especially government employees, are known to be busy with their grand-children or working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in return for an honorarium. However, M.C. Shankarnarayan, who retired after working for 40 years with MSME Development Institute, has been rendering yeomen service here. Shankarnarayan played a key role in converting the barren and weed infested land into a lush green field.
“I am working here voluntarily without any expectations of remuneration. I am following the advice of my father and grandfatherto give back to society what you have already received from it. My father and grandfather were teachers. I am not a teacher but an engineer. Now, I am trying to teach the techniques of converting the barren and weed infested land into fertile and green land,’’ says Shankaranayan with a smile.
He commended the cooperation of BRC staff, especially Secretary Shankar Nayak, for supporting this environment friendly activity and helping him plant many fruit trees on the premises. “I have procured good varieties ofbanana and papaya seedlings. By giving importance to fruit bearing plants, I am achieving two purposes – one is providing fruits to the inmates and attracting more and more birds to this garden. We are also growing lemon and coconut plants,’’ he said.
He also thanked Sankalp Taru, the first technology-enabled non-governmental organization (NGO) involved in providing plant cover in the country for encouraging and motivating corporate companies to sponsor saplings at the BRC premises. “Recently, we have planted fruit bearing saplings on a two-acre land. There will be no shortage of fruits for the inmates in the near future,’’ he said.
The greenery and water ponds had made this premises home to not only different species of birds but also 150 peacocks.
Separate block for transgenders
As of now, there is no provision for the BRC staffs to keep transgenders caught while begging at traffic junctions in the city. “At present, we can accommodate only women and men. Till now, transgenders are allowed to go back to their homes after paying the penalty and being strictly warned. We are mulling over constructing a separate block for transgenders. It may take some more time,’’ Chandra Nayak said.
There is a maxim that goes “Beggars can’t be choosers “Really? Any beggar would choose the BRC over begging on the street – that is the level of the transformation. It provides a dignified life to all who enter its portals and helps them believe in themselves once again. That in itself is a noble mission fulfilled.
The BRC management plans also to create a medicinal plants park. They are also planning to have a Green House to cater the needs of horticulture and floriculture. “The medicinal plants park will be set up on three to four acres of land within a few months. We are planning to focus on horticulture and floriculture to have sufficient quantity of fruits and flowers. We may supply flowers to KR Market in the near future,’’ M.S. Shankarnarayan said.