Please take this following note with the spirit of which this post was intended. I recognize that poverty is very, very real in India (along with many parts of the world, including the USA). With that said, if you’d like to help fight poverty in India please feel free to visit the following site for more info: Indian Charities. Thanks!
After visiting the Darga Sharif (Ajmer), the JAR group decided to walk back to the JAR bus which was required ~10 minutes of walking through a narrow market street congested with pedestrians. Only a minute into our walk, a few street beggars approached our group asking for change. Each of them had a sad story to share, and it was not hard to feel a bit touched by their stories. However, we had been instructed not to engage them or offer them any cash.
So I kept walking. And the street beggars, both women and children, continued to follow me. It was quite impressive, considered I managed to change my pace and direction several times, but they had no trouble keeping up! Then, I made my first mistake. I engaged one of the street beggars and requested that she please stop following me.
Tip #1: Do not ever engage in conversation with street beggars, if you are not planning to offer them cash
As soon as I verbally acknowledged the street beggar, she took it as a sign that I could be won over. From this point forward, I had no chance of escaping her using either reason or my (lack of) speed. To her credit, she was extremely persistent. In fact, in her pursuit she knocked over a small toy at an outdoor merchant’s stall. When the merchant yelled at her, she accused me of knocking over the item. In effect, she was able to make me feel like it would be more convenient to pay her to get the privacy I so desperately wanted.
Tip #2: Never flash any sort of currency in front of a street beggar, unless you’re expecting to pay
In this case, I didn’t… but I have been burned before. If you show the cash, expect to pay. Once a street beggar sees the cash, they will start to get a bit more aggressive in their pursuit.
Tip #3: Pay for one, pay for all
If you decide to pay a street beggar a small to moderate amount, you will finally be left alone right? Not the case! In fact, the story of your generosity will spread like wildfire to the nearby street beggars and they will seek to receive your blessings (aka cash) as well.
Tip #4: You can still help!
After my first few tips, it may seem that my negative experience dissuaded me from wanting to help out the street beggars. Not the case! I found it personally fulfilling to provide alternative forms of help to street beggars. If I had a juice box or food on hand, I would offer it to a child beggar. If a street beggar was performing a service (e.g. playing music), I felt more inclined to offer them a small amount of change while walking by.
There are times you may want to help in your own way, and that’s perfectly ok. My only recommendation would be to have a game plan prior to interacting to street beggars and then consistently stick to that plan!
This was the first of many times that the JAR tour guide, Hari, would tell me to take it all in… “It’s part of the Indian experience!”