THE BEGGARS BRIGADE.
I now come to a special element of both hope and difficulty in the solution of our Indian Social problem,—The Beggars. Here we have the lowest stratum of the submerged tenth, excluding from them the religious mendicants with whom we are not now concerned. I have classified them as follows:—
1. The blind and infirm.
2. Those who help them and share the proceeds of their begging.
3. Able-bodied out of works.
Now I propose to deal with them in a way which will not call for Legislation. In the first place it is most improbable that Government would interfere with beggary, even if asked to do so. Certainly no such interference would be possible without assuming the responsibility of the entire pauper population, involving an expenditure of many million pounds. In the second place any such interference would in all likelihood be extremely distasteful to the native public. In the third place I believe the question can be better dealt with in another way.
I propose to cut diamond with diamond, to set a thief to catch a thief, to make a beggar mend a beggar. In other words my plan is to reform the system rather than abolish it. To the radical reformer who would sweep out the whole “nuisance” at one stroke, this may be a disappointment. But I believe that this feeling will be diminished, if not entirely removed, when he has made himself familiar with the following scheme.
Of course if the Upas tree could be uprooted and banished from our midst,—if with a wave of his magic wand some sorcerer could make it disappear, so much the better. But this is impossible. We should require an axe of gold to cut down the tree; and this we do not possess. If a rich and powerful Government shrinks from the expense of such an undertaking, we may well be excused for doing the same.
But after all supposing that you can transform your Upas tree into a fruit-bearing one, will not this be even better than to cut it down? Such things are done every day before our very eyes in nature. The stock of the crab-apple can be made to bear quinces, and a mango tree that is scarcely worth the ground it occupies, can be made to yield fruit which will fetch four annas a piece!
What is done in the garden is possible in human nature. And God will yet enable us to graft into this wretched and apparently worthless Upas stock, a bud which in coming years shall be loaded with fruit that shall be the marvel of the world. This human desert shall yet blossom as the rose, this wilderness shall become a fruitful garden, and the waste places be inhabited.
Surely then, better even than the annihilation of beggary will be its reformation, should this be possible. At least the suggestion is well worthy of consideration, and in examining, the matter, there will be several important advantages to which I shall afterwards refer.