LAHORE - A 35-year-old woman cuddling an infant runs towards vehicles as traffic signal turned red near Doctors’ Hospital on Canal Road. And Shamim Bibi shines after getting ‘charity’ from almost every third car at the traffic signal a few hours before Iftar.

Other traffic signals, busy streets, and scuttled squares show almost same scenes. In a country like ours, Ramazan is a money-making month, too, for professional beggars in Lahore.

A 55-year-old gipsy, Murad Buttal, is among tens of thousands of beggars who thronged the big cities as the holy month set in. “We come here to collect charity only in the month of Ramazan. We are very poor and we deserve charity,” claimed the gipsy who sees roaring business in the days ahead. Another eight members of his family including women are also minting money these days in Lahore.

According to a survey conducted by The Nation, a number of gangs of professional beggars have sprung into action. They have spread their tentacles across the provincial metropolis. With every passing day, beggars have been pouring into different localities.

Deplorably begging has emerged as a profession having correlation with divine months, sacred events, and sanctified occasions. Beggars fully understand that people of Pakistan driven by their Islamic values and religious obligations offer charity with generosity and kindness during this holy month. Hence, the beggars flooded the marketplaces, streets, and crossing to mint money. The philanthropists perceive that beggars are poor while the professional beggars artfully fleece money using different pretexts and employing unique guises.

A local cleric, Mufti Mustafa, says that many beggars become fake pious persons with tall claims of spiritual strength and ability to ensure spiritual healings against psychological abnormality. “Others simply extend their begging hands before every passerby depicting their poverty ridden distress,” he said.

The beggars usually resort to emotional exploitation of innocent people. Public generally misperceive that poverty is the main cause of begging whereas beggars use religion as a ruse or excuse to beg, Mustafa explained.

Unfortunately, the profession of begging is heaving and surging across the country since there is no proper official or administrative check to control the menace. Terrorists using beggars’ disguise become more lethal as people tend to approach beggars without fear to offer charities.

There are media reports that terrorists are also using the symptomatic disguise of beggars. Some analysts remarked that Tarnole (Rawalpindi) suicide attack against security forces’ vehicles was undertaken by a man disguised as a beggar. The attack resulted into martyrdom of two senior Army officers. Hence, there is a need to control the increasing numbers of beggars in the country.

Presently, the administration seems unconcerned as the social evil of begging flourishes under their nose. Police officer, Muhammad Sajid said that the overburdened Lahore police are unable to take legal action against all the baggers. “On many occasions, the police launched the crackdown but that proved a futile exercise,” he added.

Begging in Pakistan is a ‘free for all’ phenomenon. It has turned into a profession and is not only for the poor, disabled, invalidated and injured people but a profession of choice by many who believe that begging is a thriving business.

The people who are the main role players of the beggars’ gangs are also known as contractors and they take a 60 per cent share form the daily collection of charity. In turn, they offer the beggars protection while the areas police is also given share for turning a blind eye to their activities.

According to social scientists, begging is not caused by poverty; rather it reflects a predisposition, an attitude, and an outlook which entails use of disguising tricks to emotionally exploit the public. The aim is to fleece money. 

The rich people and civil society must denounce begging while administration including police and other law enforcing agencies must keep a constant check on begging and adopt measures to provide Zakat to the needy, discouraging downtrodden way of making money (begging).