The Prohibition of Beggary Act of 1975 brings under its umbrella, all adults irrespective of their sexual or gender identity. The Act makes an exception for people who indulge in begging for religious purposes, children and student who go out to procure money for their education. The Central Relief Committee gives provision for the representatives of a custom or religion to beg in a private or public place, without being a cause for nuisance. Every State in the country has implemented this Act, albeit in different names.
It is unfortunate that the police deal with Transgender individuals who beg, in a crude manner. There is a provision for those taken into custody for begging to be produced before the Magistrate. One can produce a bond before the Magistrate saying that they will not beg anymore, in order to be released. In case of subsequent offenses of begging, the Magistrate may ask for a certain amount of money for surety, and to let the person go. But more often than not, the police provide transgender people with no such choice and take them directly to rehabilitation centers. Lawyers who are contacted when this happens produce affidavits declaring that the said person will not practise begging that point on. An identity proof is also provided for the purpose of verification and for proving that the person has familial roots and is among the community of trans people. The managing authority of the rehabilitation centers too has the power to issue a release of the person once they procure a bond from them, carrying their address and proof of their identity, and stating that they will not practice beggary. However, this is hardly ever put into act. Most rehabilitation centers detain people until a lawyer comes to secure their release.
Children who accompany adults who beg, according to rules, are to be sent to the Child Welfare Centres or CWCs. For the child to be allowed to go with a parent or guardian there must be a proof that the child is not an orphan. There must be an identity proof stating that the child belongs to a family they can go back to. Documents like Aadhar card, Ration card, and proof of admission to an educational institution are asked of people who do not possess any of these. In this way, CWCs are often quite insensitive. They also go to the extent of refusing to send the children back with their parents.
Most of these families are nomadic and cannot provide a guarantee that they will be able to send their children to school. This is where the lawyers step in. They get the children admitted to open schools and other institutions of the kind and ensure the release of the child.
The Act has gained prominence recently because of The Persons In Destitution (Protection, Care and Rehabilitation) Model Bill of 2016. The Bill seeks to repeal the Acts related to beggary in all states and put into action, a common set of rules. It is expected to turn into an Act next year. According to the Bill, begging will no longer remain a criminal act but it is said to have many problematic provisions as well. The Bill says that there will be three different centres namely the outreach and mobilization unit, the rehabilitation center and the referral unit. These units have the power to identify beggars in various locations and take them to the rehabilitation center, counseling or rehabilitation centers. The drawback with this provision is that it can be done at random. Identity Cards can be issued to the beggars and through this, the government can track them easily. The police cannot arrest them at sight but any person can report about them at the rehabilitation centers. The autonomy that the beggars have is thus not respected. Under the said Bill, a Central Relief Committee has indefinite power to arrest and send beggars to a rehabilitation center. Further, it does not recognize begging to be a practice passed down through tradition.
Like the Act of 1975, the new Bill also targets those who run Begging Rackets and individuals who entice people under them to beg for alms. This too comes with its own loopholes as the police may be able to use the provision to target the Trans community which has the custom of people working under one overarching person.
The Bill, with its many rules and regulations, does not come with any measures to check the negative effects it can have. Changes can be made if we collectively raise our voice against the problematic provisions. There is still time to identify the problems in the Bill and appeal to the Parliament to make it a more conducive law to enact.