It’s no secret that very large numbers of Indians are dirt poor, literally. While the middle class is growing in numbers by 10% or so per year, hundreds of millions are very poor. Most Indians still depend on a good Monsoon season – if it rains well, there will be food on the table, if it doesn’t, then maybe not. So millions of them try to get out of the rural areas and migrate to the cities, where they will most likely live in shanty towns, under bridges, right next to sewage and traffic lines. As we get driven around in our car, we see these shanties everywhere. Many families seem to have absolutely nothing, except the dirty shoddy clothes that they are wearing. Many families have miniscule tents made up of plastic wrap and cardboard, with no protection whatsoever against the sometimes heavy rains. Many have slightly less improvised tents or shacks made of plywood or sheet metals. Finally, there’s many families in miniscule brick housing, maybe 10 by 10 feet. As we drive by, these families live literally a few feet away from the traffic, and we can see them sitting on the floors of their homes, eating with their hands. Sometimes they wash outside on the street with a plastic bowl of brown water. There are no toilets anywhere it seems, so business is taken care of on the streets.
Kids are playing around everywhere. The dirt and garbage that makes up their playgrounds is often unbelievable. The kids don’t seem to care, they just laugh and play. At other times, some of them run around between cars at intersections, begging for money, often with their parents sitting around at the corner. I had expected to find a lot more beggars in India, but while there are many, it is not quite as bad as I thought. Around The Gateway of India and other tourist spots, there’s quite few, although most of them are actually hawkers, who can be quite persistent and aggressive. Road junctions and, even more so, churches are pretty much the only places where they will come to ask for money. Any Indian volunteer social services group tells people, especially foreigners, not to give any money, especially not to kids, and we never do, so when we saw some Western tourist hand a kid Rs5 without even stopping or looking much at the kid, we were quite pissed off.
On the other hand, I am also not sure it’s such a great idea to take a picture of them, but I have somehow convinced myself that they probably think it’s fun, so there’s no harm done. Given all the constant staring and mostly very friendly, but still quite annoying, attention that we are receiving just walking around minding our own business, I very much doubt that the Western concept of privacy has a lot ov value here. Obviously, I would take a picture of a muslim woman, but I guess a kid is ok, begging or not.