Sharad Patel: The Man Who Is Transforming The Beggars, Giving Them Employment And Dignified Life
Despite the industrial and economic development in recent years, poverty remains a constant impediment to the real growth of India. In most of the cases, beggers deliberately disfigure their identity to get public attention for more money. But, in most of the cases, begging becomes the only choice for the survival. People visiting various religious sites like Gurudwara and Mosques offer alms in the form of cash, food, and clothes, and if not then they simply ignore them thinking it is their daily job.
Sharad Patel from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh had experienced the similar scenario at the age of 16, he noticed the pathetic conditions of beggars near the railway stations, outside hotels and hospitals. Many of them were even drug addicts. Since it used to pinch him very hard, he decided to not augment the vulnerability of beggars by making them dependent on someone’s else money. So, he came up with an ideal plan of making them self-reliant that would help them to have a dignified life. Yes, you heard it right!
In this exclusive interview, Sharad speaks to The Logical Indian and share his journey of ‘Transformation’
Here’s Is The Journey Of This Man
A farmer’s son from Hardoi district of UP had a dream of becoming a doctor so that he could help the poor patients. However, due to his family’s weak economic condition, he had to left his dreams behind. After completing his schooling, he decided to acquire a bachelor’s degree in Science and settle with a decent job to support his family. Thus, Sharad moved towards Lucknow to study further as there were no options for higher education in Mirzapur.
“In 2003 we shifted to Lucknow for my mother’s treatment of blood cancer, but during the treatment, she passed away. There was a time when blood was to be transfused once into her body in an interval of eight days. However, she could not recover. Durig my high school, I wanted to be a doctor not to earn money but to treat the unprivileged people who don’t have access to good healthcare, my mother’s death also propelled me to become a doctor. But somehow I chose to pursue B.Sc. But the inclination to help the needy was always there” Sharad Said
During his graduation days, he boarded a bus from Charbagh bus stop of Lucknow. There was a Hanuman temple on the roadside where he would see beggars sitting on the divider consecutively, one next to another. For him, it was a completely different sight as compared to his town where once in 3–4 months, hardly a teen boy or girl asks for bhiksha.
Soon after graduating, he decided to study broadly about this deep-rooted issue by enrolling himself into a Master in Social Work course. His family was in a shock, realizing that he was determined to work for the needy ones but it was his elder brother who supported him throughout to pursue his passion.
When he came back to Lucknow for his post-graduation, a beggar asked him for money. He thought only money is not going to be a real help, so he bought kachoris to feed the beggar. This gave him immense pleasure as he was able to bring a smile to someone’s face.
It was a time for him to think on his idea of feeding the beggars for free. Speaking to The Logical Indian, Sharad said “I thought that feeding beggars for lung run, isn’t going to be an easy task for an individual? I had to find a permanent solution to solve this crisis. I thought that there is a need to make them skilled which would subsequently help them to get employment,”
Meeting With A Lucknow-based Social Worker
With the help of his elder brother, Sharad got an opportunity to meet Sandeep Pandey who is a Lucknow-based social worker. He worked as a volunteer in Pandey’s NGO for five years. In these years, he learned several ways that how an organisation works to help the society and how one can file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This experience enabled him to understand the ground realities. Once he visited a beggars’ home constructed by the Government, and he found that the rooms were empty and thousands of beggars were dozing on the roadside. When he investigated further, he discovered that beggars were not living in these homes and caretakers were getting handsome salaries right on time.
In 2014 Sharad filed an RTI application with the Government of Uttar Pradesh to comprehend its welfare schemes that were set up for the poor. In a reply to his RTI, the data revealed that there were eight homes in 7 districts that gave food and shelter to poor people. “We discovered that there had been sheltering homes with nobody being provided with this facility. The strange part is each shelter home had recruited 10–11 employees, and even today they have been issued salaries which are around Rs. 4,50,000. Its been three years, and we are still fighting that case,” Sharat told The Logical Indian
In Lucknow, he carried out a socio-economic study on beggars and found that around 3,500 beggars live on the footpath. “Unfortunately, these beggars had no skills to grab any job to generate income. Even educated ones were unable to secure a job due to their ill-health. Most of them have been excluded from pro-poor schemes of Government as either they were migrated from other cities or they do not possess any identity proof,” said Sharad.
A Begining Of Sharad’s Movement
When Sharad started his work, friends and relatives warned him that this is an impossible task and he would not be able to finish what he has begun. “The day arrived, it was October 2, 2014, when I launched a campaign called Bhikshavratti Mukti Abhiyan, i.e. ‘Begging-Free Movement’ to make a few people self-independent whom we call beggars,” he stated.
Later, he started building trust and comfort among the beggars and asked them to step forward in the initiative because it was meant for them only.
He helped these poor people with ration cards that entitled them to buy subsidised goods from Government shops. For this, he had to fight very hard as he convinced the authorities to provide ration cards to over 100 beggars without address proof, which is usually mandatory. This was his first step to develop a sense of faith in the beggars, and the community started approaching Sharad for their cards.
So far, he managed to provide Government houses to around 400 beggars under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna scheme. Since there were no schools in the vicinity, he took up the challenge and opened a school for kids who were forced by their parents for begging. “It was quite a tough task for me to convince their parents but somehow I got to succeed, and today there are over 100 kids in my school,” said Sharad.
Later, he started conversing with people to know about the problems faced by them on a daily basis. He even began inviting Government officials to address the issues.
“One thing that builds confidence in beggars was sharing a space with Government officials and other dignitaries. It generated a sense of acceptance in these people,” he added.
Achievements of Sharad’s Initiative ‘Bhikshavratti Mukti Abhiyan’
After Sharad’s commendable efforts, beggars were now ready to bring a new change in their lives, but this mission was not possible without proper funds. So, he registered for an NGO ‘Badlaav’ in 2015. Due to his constant support, 27 beggars had left begging and started working in different areas.
Sharad is now taking help from the local municipal corporation to avail identity cards for these beggars that would later help them in getting Adhaar Cards. He is also taking support from the beggars who have now become self-dependent to help the ailing beggars. They spread awareness among beggars through street plays. According to Sharad, Government’s shelter homes are used as punishment cells for beggars after they get arrested by Police. Thus, these shelters no more remained a reformative centre.
“If the Government wants to change their situation, there is a need to train them in their areas of interest and then offer them jobs accordingly. With this, they can lead a normal, dignified life,” he stressed. Moreover, he had submitted a letter to the State Government to build a proper shelter home for at least 200 beggars. “I have asked for skill training centres, free medical treatment, nutrition and sanitation facilities in this shelter home,” he added.
Also, he has written to 22 other State Governments to monitor and specify their laws for the prevention of begging.
A New Beginning For Beggars
With his team, Sharad arranged rental rickshaws for five men. They have been peddling these rickshaws till date.
Liyakat Singh, a construction worker, had to lose his savings and only land to arrange money for his severely ill daughter. Later, he started begging since he was not getting a job in Lucknow. When Sharad realised that he is an educated man, he offered him a job in his learning centre where he now teaches around 130 children.
Rohit Saxena, who lost his shop was unable to get a job in Lucknow. So, eventually, he started begging outside a temple. Sharad’s team found him employment and now he works as a skilled carpenter.
Majority of them are migrants who come from different parts of UP. Younger ones come to seek job opportunities while the elder ones come after facing the wrath of crop failure.
On a parting note, Sharad said, “We found that most of the beggars apart from drug addiction also suffer from diseases like TB, cancer, and asthma. So, we have till now treated 30 people yet sadly lost 11 people.”.
The Logical Indian team wholeheartedly applauds the efforts put in by Sharad through his NGO Bhikshavratti Mukti Abhiyan. He is undoubtedly an inspiration for all of us.
Originally published at The Logical Indian.