Its coming up to Christmas, and whilst I am not Christian, it does make me think about some fundamental things like kindness, generosity and most importantly respect.  I like to believe that I practise these principles in my everyday life, however traveling through India recently, I have certainly found myself challenged and internally conflicted in this regard, particularly when it comes to the issue of begging.

On every street corner I am confronted with people in need.  Small children, people with leprosy, physical disabilities, all with their hand out asking me for money.  On the face of it I have two choices here, to give or not to give, but I don’t find it that easy. This is a complicated issue.

I can’t give to everyone, the sheer mass of the poverty in India make this impossible. Everyday I would be asked for money no less than 20 times.

So if I am to give, how do I choose who is worthy of this rupee and who is not.  It can be so random and its difficult to know what each person’s circumstances truly are by a cursory look at their conditions on the street. Its like playing god on a minute level and I personally find this quite confronting.

If I do give, how do I know that the money goes to them?

The film Slumdog Millionaire highlighted several issues in India, one being the existence of “gangs” who deliberately maim people for the purpose of making them professional beggars.  Whilst it is heartbreaking to think of someone being physically harmed and then living a life of slavery, giving money to one of those gangs only serves to perpetuate the problem.  So how do you know that the person you are giving to is the true recipient of the money?

Does giving prevent people from learning productive skills?

An intellectual argument I guess, but a very valid one nonetheless, if someone learns that they will receive money by holding out their hand and harassing people who walk past (yes on many occasions I have felt harassed by people asking me for money), then where is the incentive to learn other skills that will enable them to earn an income.  Its like that old saying “give someone a fish and they will eat for a day, teach them to fish and they will eat for a lifetime”.

Its a simple argument against giving, but not that simple to execute.  Without access to education and opportunity, I understand that it is not always easy for people to learn skills other than begging.  This is a complicated issue, tied up in all the other social issues (like lack of clean water and sanitation) that makes India such a challenging place to live in.

One solution I have heard offered frequently is to pick a cause and donate to that instead.  This is definitely a valid choice and one that I have been considering more as I settle into my life here, I would like to find a way to give back (not just monetarily) and try to help others less fortunate than myself. I am not quite sure how I will do this yet, but I have no doubt I will in time.

However this solution doesn’t take away the feeling that I get in my heart when I walk past a small, malnourished child who is asking me for money for chappatis. It is relentless, and I find myself feeling like a worse person every time I refuse or walk away.  I think this is one of the few things in India I will never be able to get used to.

So what do you do? Do you give or not give?

To Give or Not To Give
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16 thoughts on “To Give or Not To Give

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  • August 6, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Hello Rakhee:
    Here is a alternate suggestion, if you’d like you could donate your time and money to a local cause by contacting the local NGO of the cause you’d like to support.

    In 2009, we have funded a for non-profit to offer assistance to rural poor. Our mission is to seek out rural public schools for girls/boys donate (Grade X) SSLC Exam Preparatory material for the entire senior class.

    My father after my mom passing two years ago have decided that we as non-profit (my Dad and other active volunteers) on the occasion of Diwali visit a Leprosy clinic distribute Diwali sweets to the patients in the sanatorium.

    Enjoy your trip in exploring India.

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    • March 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks Kevin, an interesting article indeed. I still continue to struggle with this question everyday though.

  • January 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    HI. first time here. Nice blog and interesting experiences. Instead of offering money which i am not sure how it would be utilized, i prefer inviting them to have some food at a hotel or bakery. But that cannot be done always either. so sometimes, even though not the best thing to do, one has to ignore this.

    • January 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Glad you enjoy the blog and thanks for your thoughts. It is a challenge to offer food but I will try it when it’s practical

  • December 25, 2011 at 1:57 am

    To give is not always monetary. I faced the same dilemma in India and did’nt know what to do. Luckily I met a wise man at the Gandhi Ashram. He said he rarely gave anyone money. Instead, he acknowledged the presence of the person- smiled at them or give a nod- they are not invisible. Sometimes he would cut the children’s nails, or play with them. Sometimes, it’s ok to give money based on the interaction. It’s purely subjective and depends on the moment. This helped me, I smiled instead rather than turning each encounter into a negative spiral of what to do or not do.

  • December 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I have been living in Delhi for almost 8 years and from these years i have learned quite a lot. When it comes to begging, am very picky. I never give out money to kids because there will either be an adult behind them or they buy those glue to sniff. If there is a shop nearby i do buy biscuits. But i try my best to give out some change to the elderly.

  • December 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    There is a website called ” giveindia” which highlights the less known NGOs and their activities. We can chose the cause (Education, health, old age care) and the amount to be donated. The site gives some sort of verification on the activities they carry out. This is a good alternative to supporting well funded causes which need to put in less efforts to raise funds. My former employer had an arrangement by which we could contribute by deduction from our monthly salaries.

    The grinding poverty as contrasted to the non availability of unskilled/semiskilled labor reflects a good level of missed opportunities and perhaps mismatch of demand and supply. Southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are ‘importing’ labor from as far as Assam and also from Bihar, Jharkand and such states.

    However, nothing can lessen the anguish and pain of seeing children helpless and begging on street corners. I feel ashamed and embarassed to be an Indian citizen at such moments as I feel helpless to alleviate this in any significant way. Money is not the solution to this aspect of Indian society. Education, awareness of better opportunities, some form of social net to protect such helpless sections of society is needed.

    • December 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing that site and your thoughts on this issue.

      I agree there does seem to be mismatched labour, when I was in Kerala I was told by a local that much of the tea industry’s labour was imported from the north.

  • December 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I wish I knew the answer to this question Raks. I’ll be watching these replies closely.

    As you know it’s my plan to bring TT to India to explore her heritage. I think about this a lot and I think the only way I can do this ethically in a way that doesn’t make us tourists is to spend our time in India working towards supporting causes that we can connect with.

    As you say, India is like an endlessly empty bucket and you could give everything you’ve got and it would be just a drop. For me, I have to find a way to feel like I’m doing something practical to help, even if it’s just one organisatin or group or family or person. But I don’t think that will make it easier to walk past that starving child.

    I am so glad that I subscribe to The Better India because those stories of positive progress and success really keep me inspired and feeling optimistic about India’s future.

    • December 21, 2011 at 10:39 am

      India is truly a contradiction. Just when I feel positive about its future, something happens that takes all that hope from me. It is certainly the most challenging place I have been, but I guess that is part of the attraction. I am sure you and TT will find it fascinating too.


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