Her face covered and the veil spread out in front of her, Shakeela sends prayers out to passers-by, hoping that those on way to Hazratbal shrine would drop a coin for her. A few feet away, a schoolbag on his shoulder, her son Shehjar too has his hand extended. The two rush into a bylane after they spot six policemen approaching, rounding up men, and throwing them into a jeep. Word has spread about the district administration’s order to arrest beggars in the city. Deputy Commissioner Dr Syed Abid Rasheed Shah, who passed the order in his capacity as District Magistrate, said beggars create “massive nuisance” for the public, especially at traffic signals. Police took into custody 70-odd people Thursday, the day the order was implemented, and about 150 persons over the weekend.
Shakeela lives in a rented room in downtown Srinagar with her two children. “My husband died two years ago. I used to do odd jobs, but I fractured my right arm and have been forced to beg so that I can keep my children in school and can afford food and a roof above their heads,” she said.
A senior police officer told The Indian Express, “Filling jails with people seeking alms was not an option and therefore, police is detaining them, counselling them and then releasing them. We cannot hold them forever. There is also concern about who will provide their bail. So we counsel them not to return to these places.”
Authorities are also concerned about tourists being “bothered” by beggars and with children running at signals, asking for money or food, which they say can lead to accidents. The order, issued last Wednesday, mentions five categories of persons liable to be arrested if found soliciting alms, under The Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Beggary Act, 1960.
There is also a technical problem in formally arresting beggars, another police officer said. “The Act provides for a judge to send them to beggar homes. But there are none in Srinagar, so we can only detain and release them on the outskirts later,” he said.
Meanwhile, main streets and traffic signals in Srinagar seem clear of people seeking alms and the authorities are claiming that the move has been largely successful. Officers ruled out any rehabilitation plan for those removed from the streets over the last week.