You see them everywhere. Pressing their faces against the car window at traffic intersections, or tugging at you with a baby in their arms. Despite high economic growth rates, poverty and unemployment continue to plague more than half of India’s population. Recently a friend of mine wondered in anguish, "Why it that we have two distinct India is separated by a distance of more than three oceans? One India where 370 million people are hungry and another India of the rich and famous whose children go shopping to New York!"
Begging and commercial sex are indeed pressing social issues in any developing country. According to the Ministry of Women and Children, there are 2.8 million sex workers in India, 36 percent of whom enter the trade before they are 18 years. A recent report by the Delhi School of Social Work states that the number of beggars in the country has gone up by a lakh since 1991.
Our cover story this month seeks to explore why some people resort to nonconventioanl means to earn their livelihoods. Whatever their compulsions, it is clear that a therapeutic and rehabilitative approach is the needed to address this social malaise; not philanthropy or charity.
Begging and sex work—long regarded as taboo and stigmatized professions, are at crossroads. With a high prevalence and incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country, sex workers have been the subject of targeted interventions that promote safer sex practices in a country where 80 percent of HIV is transmitted through the heterosexual route. What are the alternatives and options? What do the two groups themselves want?
Not an easy question. A friend of mine runs a home (free of charge) for senior citizens who are destitute remarked how families were unwilling to send them there because they earned a significant amount (Rs. 3000 monthly) by begging around the Meenakshi Temple! So where does the buck end?