Activists: Helping Beggars

 3000 Beggars saved, and still counting

But trying to help professional beggars can create problems, say Dominic

D’Souza and Bharat Unadkat  

Ketan Tanna | TNN  
   Beggars in Mumbai, like warlords, are deeply territorial. Each has his or her own traffic light, patch on the pavement, platform corner. You see them every day in the same filthy clothes, maimed, bandaged, with empty bowls and maggot-covered bodies. This wretched sight, which fails to move millions hurrying to swipe their cards before the office deadline, are the target of kindness of two men.


   Dominic D’Souza and Bharat Unadkat are as unlike as chalk and cheese when it comes to their backgrounds but they are united by their mission to pick destitutes off the road. Terminally-ill cancer patients are taken to Bandra’s Shanti Avedna or to Tata Memorial Hospital. The old are taken to ashrams like Paramshanti Dham in Taloja or Jeevan Asha in Andheri.

Leprosy patients are taken to Muktjeevan in Aasangaon, handicapped people to Helpers of the Handicapped in Kolhapur or Sharan in Vashi, and the Paraplegic Foundation in Sion gets the paraplegics. The ashrams run by Mother Teresa Foundation pitch in as and when required. There are many others and the list is long, says D’Souza. Since 1994, when he has kept a diary, the tally of those the two have helped has touched 3,000.

   D’Souza, a 38-year-old Goan Roman Catholic, was working as a Shanti Avedna volunteer in 1991. On his way to mass one day, he saw a bundle huddled in a blanket near Don Bosco Church in Matunga. “He was not begging, just lying on the road. He was not asking for help either but something in me said he needed help. He said he would like tea. But the vendor refused to give a glass because he said his customers would not want to use the same glass. I was in a hurry so I took a largish leaf from a nearby tree, folded it into a cup and poured the tea in it.’’ D’Souza went on to hear mass but could not forget the man. He went back to look for him but he was gone.

   Some days later, by some uncanny coincidence, Unadkat brought the same man to Shanti Avedna where D’Souza was volunteering. The home was meant only for terminal cancer patients but D’Souza helped him get admitted. They uncovered the blanket and saw a stinking wound crawling with maggots. D’Souza, now a telephone operator in Sion Hospital, recalls: “His name was Purshottam Kamble. He suffered from epilepsy and had had a bad fall that caused the injury. I can never forget the wound.’’ It was this incident that brought D’Souza and Unadkat, a 60-yearold retired businessman, together.

But rescuing beggars is tricky because professional beggars do not want to be rescued.

D’Souza, like a war-weary veteran, says he has to set parameters to differentiate between professional beggars and those who need help. “Those who are just sitting at one place and not begging, especially those who have a small water bottle and potli, need help. Professional beggars, on the other hand, can become wild if you try to help them. We have learnt many lessons,’’ he laughs.

   Donations keep trickling in. “We would initially try to take the rescued persons in a taxi but taxiwallahs would refuse. Someone donated an old Maruti 800 which soon conked and was replaced by a Maruti 1000,’’ D’Souza says. Expenses, besides the cost of transport, are minimal. “We have kept a helper on a small salary because persons with mental health problems require an attendant at many hospitals,’’ he adds.

   Both men are reluctant to talk about their work and refuse to be photographed. An NGO, Jeevan Jyot Cancer Relief and Care Trust, agreed to share an old set of photographs, showing Unadkat helping beggars in his old Padmini.

   (D’Souza can be contacted on 9967836904 and Unadkat on 9892818298.)
   
ketan.tanna@timesgroup.com  HOW CAN I HELP YOU: This 1996 picture shows Bharat Unadkat talking to a beggar on a Mumbai street

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Posted in Advocacy and Activism, Spirituality and Religion.

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