The Hyderabad police have shockingly banned begging on the city’s roads (for two months), officially citing that it causes “nuisance and danger” to traffic and pedestrians.
This move feeds into the already existing negative and painfully, almost deliberately insensitive public portrayal of people who beg as lazy, criminal or involved in some sort of inter-city begging mafia racket (complete with stories of kidnapped children and deliberately blinded men). As Sabina Yasmin Rahman, a Ph.D candidate at JNU who has been working with begging communities since 2010, says in her myth-busting 2016 piece on the issue, the idea of the “begging mafia” (which both Delhi police and the AAP once had to sheepishly admit did not exist in Delhi) is largely a fantasy tailor-made to assuage middle-class guilt, but this time couched in some vague-o morality.
Even more disturbingly, it seems that Hyderabad police have taken this move in light of the fact that Ivanka Trump will soon be visiting the city to attend the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2017 on November 28th. The prohibition on begging, ordered by city police commissioner M Mahinder Reddy (with no prompting or request from Trump, as far as we know), will last for two months, beginning today and continuing until January 7th, 2018.
The international media is reporting this story with headlines like “Indian city rounds up its beggars ahead of Ivanka Trump visit”. A Financial Times report says that the new directive doesn’t just mean individuals found begging will be charged, but that they are being actively rounded-up and locked away. It seems work has already begun on the “clear up”, and 400 people from Goshamahal neighbourhood have been placed in a “rehabilitation centre”…in a local jail. The same report quotes an officer saying many of those rounded up protested saying it was a violation of their freedom to live anywhere they want, and that he told them, of course, that it was “for their own good”.
This isn’t the first time Hyderabad has attempted something like this, by the way: back in 2000, a similar order was passed in the city before the arrival of then US President Bill Clinton.
One one hand there is the “awkwardness and annoyance” that begging purportedly causes to people sitting in air-conditioned cars and the visiting daughter of a dubious foreign President whizzing through Hyderabad. On the other hand there are the lives, livelihoods, homes and most basic rights of Hyderabad’s most vulnerable citizens. Eeni Meeni Mini Mo. The government made its choice, a heart-breakingly callous and ill-intentioned choice, one that really shows you where our priorities lie.