By Tensing Rodrigues
When we pulled into CST at six in the morning, the station was full; full of people who had probably arrived earlier or waiting to catch later trains; but many of them had probably spent the whole night at the station, probably many nights. They were still asleep, spread out over the entire concourse of the station. Soon a man came with a mug of water and went on sprinkling it over them, waking them up and driving them away.
CST is otherwise a shiny station now, with neat flooring, sparkling stainless steel benches, 24-hour Food Court, metal detector door frames and a scanner for passengers’ luggage. But why turn it into a dormitory for vagabonds at night ?
It was still dark when Konkan Kanya chugged in; but when I took the onward train two hours later, it was bright. So the scenes I had missed earlier where all there now. Yes, you know what I am referring to. Behind those squatting men were their dwellings. And quite many of them had disk antennas atop. That left me wondering : are we a nation of people who can afford satellite TV but not latrines ?
Fortunately or unfortunately Pushpak was not too full; there was enough space for vendors and beggars to move about from coach to coach. One after another, a number of hijdas came pestering the passengers. I was indeed shocked to see one of them helloing the TC with a warm and familiar greeting; the still shocking part was that the TC reciprocated the greeting. I almost got a feeling that begging is “official” on Indian Railways !
We seem to believe that begging is enshrined in our Constitution – those vagabonds making CST their home for the night, those men defecating along the railway tracks, beggars in trains … we find nothing really wrong with them. Probably we have interpreted the term “socialist” in the “SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC” of the preamble of our constitution as a right to beg.
You may find this very harsh; truth is harsh. I know the poverty in this country is real; I too believe like you that poor deserve our compassion. But, we are not talking of poverty or poor; we are talking of hypocrisy and mediocrity. The men defecating in the open are not all poor; poor cannot afford satellite TV. Hijra’s begging in the trains are not poor by any standard. The vagabonds sleeping in the station may be categorized as poor – but the poor of this country definitely deserve to be woken up in a better way.
The issue therefore is not of poverty; the issue is of a mindset that accepts all this as natural and unavoidable. There are basically three stakeholders in this problem – the people affected (“beggars”), the rest of us and the State. All three are responsible for the problem and can act to solve it; all three need to act together.