Anyhow it is high time that something should be done, and that on an extensive scale and of such a drastic nature as to deal effectually with the question.
I can easily imagine that some may fear lest in dealing with the system we should wound the religious susceptibilities of the people. Begging has come to be such a national institution and is so much a part and parcel of the Indian’s life and religion, that any proposal to extinguish the fraternity may cause in some minds positive regret. To such I would say that we do not propose to extinguish but to reform, and with this one hint I must beg them, before making up their minds, to study carefully the proposals detailed in Chapter VII of Part II.
I should question whether there is a single town or country district in India which does not present the sad spectacle of a large number of men, willing and anxious to work, but unable to find employment. Moreover, as is well known, they have almost without exception families dependent upon them for their support, who are necessarily the sharers of their misfortunes and sufferings. There is one district in Ceylon, where deaths from starvation have been personally known to our Officers, and yet the country appears to be a very garden of Eden for beauty and fertility.
In the early years of our work I remember begging food from a house, and learning afterwards that what they had given us was positively the last they had for their own use. Needless to say that it was hastily returned. During the same visit a cry of “Thief, thief!” was raised in the night. We learnt next morning that the robbery had been committed by a man whose wife and child were starving. It consisted of rice, and the thief was discovered partly by the disappearance of the suspected person, and partly by the fact that in his house was found the exact quantity which had been stolen, whereas it was known that on the previous day he had absolutely nothing whatever in his house! He had left it all for his starving wife and child, and had himself fled to another part of the country, probably going to swell the number of criminals or mendicants in some adjoining city.
I quote these instances as serving to show the impossibility of judging merely from outside appearances in regard to the existence or non-existence of destitution of the most painful character, which it is often to the interest of the local landlords to whitewash and conceal. It is only on looking under the surface that such can in many cases be discovered. It has been the actual living among the people that has made it possible for us to obtain glimpses of their home life, such as could not otherwise have been the case.