October 4, 2010: Sporting a Reebok tracksuit and Nike sneakers, Shyam is looking happy serving water to the guests who have turned up for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games (CwG); after all, it is his first job and he is being paid nicely to do so. Shyam does not own anything that he is sporting. His clothes, his sneakers, his cap… everything is sponsored by their respective manufacturing brands. He is one of the several thousand beggars who were supposed to be transported to other states during the Games, but the government decided to employ them if some brands would sponsor their makeover.
The first ones to come forth were the bathing soap brands that claimed to wash away the month-old dirt that the beggars carried, and then came in the sportswear brands, taking care of their attire for the sporting event. Grooming and training of these people were done by a NGO.
‘This is part of our CSR initiative. We have some budgets especially allocated for social activities, to help the underprivileged. Moreover, being a sportswear brand, we anyway had to associate with CwG, and we chose this way. While we get our branding, these people get employment and Delhiites get their freedom from beggars,’ Reebok’s India office said in a release.
‘Caring for the people of the country is our foremost priority. As our brand is associated with the concept of overall hygiene, we decided to take care of the bathing and brushing-up part of the beggars. We sponsored their toiletry needs,’ said a spokesperson for Dettol.
And there they are once a filthy begging brigade, now a groomed workforce to assist in the biggest sporting event in the country. The whole world appreciated the move, and for the first time ever, the country had been able to give employment to beggars and helped Delhi get rid of a major problem that saw no solution otherwise.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit appreciated the efforts of the brands and NGOs, and promised to issue special identity cards to these rehabilitated beggars. She also requested real-estate developers to come forward and employ them at construction sites after the Games.
NOTE: This never happened. This story was never carried by any newspaper or online publication. The text written above is entirely fictitious and a product of this writer’s imagination.
However, the story can be made true. If several sports brands decide not to spend on several seconds of TV commercials and life-size hoardings inside the Games premises, and sponsor the beggars instead, they are bound to get enough positive mileage in the media. Moreover, there would be ‘n’ number of NGOs to come forward to assist in skill development and to instil manners in the beggars. More so, since the CWG committee is anyway asking NCC cadets and NSS volunteers as also college students to help them in various activities, why not employ the beggars instead? True, some beggars are physically challenged, but then the government has already identified areas wherein such challenged people can work and also reserved seats for them.
It is not just the Games, though. If one were to think about it, beggars can be helpful in many a ways.
Beggar can be a traffic cop: Why not teach them traffic management? If compensated adequately, a beggar would be happy signalling vehicles to move or stop, instead of knocking on their windows for alms.
Beggar as a spy: With intimate knowledge of the terrain where he does his daily rounds and his close observation of daily commuters, the beggar can be an asset for investigative agencies… only if he gets enough.
Beggar can be a billboard: Imagine that all of a sudden all Delhi beggars are wearing red attire and are not begging, but only sitting on the roadside at traffic signals. Won’t they catch your eye? And when you look at them closely, you realize that it is a telecom company that has dressed them in its colours and paid them enough to stay aside when their customers are talking on the phone at the red signals.
A beggar can be a lot more, only if somebody thinks, takes initiatives, and is not intimidated by the newness of it all. .