We bring you the 4th Article by Rajani tai from Chaturanga, a supplement of the local newspaper Loksatta. In her forth article, she explores the effect of giving alms on the psyche of receiver and specially if they are children. How it damages their self respect and how they consider it their right to receive handouts. She also briefly touches the quality of education offered in the Government schools and the rules and law governing these schools:
We had just begun our work. In front of our office was a Band Stand. Every morning a lot of children used to collect there. Therefore we conducted our teaching classes there. At the same time, some persons used to come there to distribute bananas and bread and such things. We saw firsthand, the way the children crowded around these people, how they tried to be one up in getting more, and the wretchedness they displayed. They were not beggars, nor did their parents send them to beg, but neither were they told not to take anything for free. In a way the children were getting training in begging and running after handouts. Even now we experience such things. We as citizens are very enthusiastic about distributing free handouts.
Some years ago we worked in a slum near the Sassoon court. Now due to widening of the road this settlement has been removed. One experience from there – One van came there regularly and distributed meals for the seniors and milk pouches for the children... They had a habit of either begging for food or eating such free food. The milk pouches were sold to the nearby tea stall and the money was used to buy liquor – the milk was never given to the children.
We enrolled the children from this slum in a nearby Government school. In those days lunch was not provided at the school and children carried their own lunch boxes. These children didn’t carry their lunch, as food was not cooked at their homes. The children stayed hungry the whole time, so we used to take them to nearby “Zunka- bhakar” (Sorghum Indian bread and cooked onions) center, for their midday meals. Of course now the children get mid-day meals at school and the Zunka Bhakar centers have become extinct. Even now there are many such families who do not cook regularly – especially in urban areas. In the villages you don’t find them as there are very few donors of freebees.
Slightly digressing from the main topic, let us see how the children going to Government school fare. The standard of these schools is very low. Though the children attend school only 30% know the basic Marathi alphabets. There is no one at home who can teach them or monitor their progress. The parents are busy trying to make both ends meet. Many a times they leave the house before the child leaves for school, therefore there is no one to check whether they actually reach the school. And the schools too are very accommodative – only 80% attendance is required. Yet only 50% children attain this target is the reality. Now exams are not conducted to promote a child to the next class, so once a child is enrolled and he has 80% attendance he is promoted to the next class irrespective whether he has learnt anything or not. Another lacuna in the system is that when a child is 6 years old he has to be enrolled in the 1ststandard, if he is 8 years old then 3rdstandard and 10 years at the time of the first enrollment then he has to go to the 5thstandard, regardless of his acquaintance with the basics of learning. Once he is enrolled, then his class teacher has to ensure that reaches the level of the other students – the law says so. In reality this doesn’t happen. Even if a child attends school, it doesn’t mean he can read and write.
Here is one case where we used to go to teach the children who stayed in a hostel run by a voluntary organization. Being an NGO it was run through funds donated by various distinguished and eminent persons of the society. Each one contributed as per their capacity. Some wanted to celebrate their child’s birthday, some wanted to celebrate the anniversary of their parents. A lot of food, clothes got distributed. In general, the hostel never ran short of food. In all these activities our teaching time table used to get disturbed. The classes were held irregularly, the teaching schedules and targets were not met, the children lost interest in studies – these were the few visible outcomes. But the serious and more long term effects which were not noticed was on the minds of the children. The feeling of self-respect started getting damaged. Instead they started expecting free handouts as their right. Here we see some voluntary organizations too unknowingly promote this culture.
Helping out others is always good but the donation has to be for a worthy cause – it should not be because it is our need to give. Giving alms to street beggars is always wrong because it encourages the parents to send their children to beg. We have our centers in such settlements. At a certain fixed time the parents barge in the class and send the children to beg. The location and time is already finalized.
This issue needs a lot of introspection on our part – is it their need to beg or is it our need to give. Many a times after an event we have a lot of leftovers, then we remember such slums where food is always welcome. We distribute the food and then suddenly the role changes – our need to dispose the excess food takes the garb of a generous donor and we bask in the unwarranted goodness. Whenever we give alms to any beggar anywhere, either to rid of their pestering or because we feel pity for them the end result for sure is the same- people beg because we give alms
For the original article in Marathi, please visit Shikshan Sarvansathi (Education for All) - Article 4
Translated by Mrs. Wasudha Korke