Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Being poor makes you a criminal

The beggars' home, and facilities run by the state of Karnataka for the detention of beggars, is essentially a jail meant for those convicted of begging.

Section 2 of the Karnataka Prohibition of Beggary Act (KPBA), 1975 defines beggar as a person “having no visible means of subsistence, wanders about or remains in any public place in such a condition or manner as makes it likely that he exists by soliciting or receiving alms”. This provision alone indicates that shabbily dressed persons, persons who may not “appear” to have gainful employment can be assumed to be beggars. Aged persons who are destitute can easily be presumed to be beggars. In fact, the section does not even require that a person is found begging for her to be considered a beggar. A bare reading of this provision alone indicates the wide latitude given to the police to make an arrest, setting it up for gross misuse and arbitrary enforcement. This is evidently a statute whose main purpose is to make poverty invisible and cleanse public places of sights of destitution. In effect, it is to criminalise poverty.

Despite being a criminal statute nowhere does the Act provide for a person accused of begging to be adequately represented .The Act assumes that if one is arrested, then one must be guilty. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that he/she is provided with free legal aid. The Act does not even make a mention of representation of alleged beggars in the judicial enquiry before the magistrate. Those accused of non-cognisable offences under Indian Penal Code that are punishable with imprisonment for one year are accorded several rights, including a presumption of innocence, legal representation, bail etc. Alleged beggars under KPBA are not even given this fundamental right of a just and fair hearing.

Taken from here

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