Can right to beg be read under Article 19(1)(a)?

1

The beggar in India has always been an object of charitable attention.


 

Can right to beg be read under Article 19(1)(a)?

Article 19 of the constitution says

“Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc 

(1) All citizens shall have the right 

(a) to freedom of speech and expression;”

 

Freedom of Speech and expression means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or right to earn livelihood or any other mode.

Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed in his judgment in Ram Lakhan v. State[1] says  “Who is a “beggar”? What is “begging”? The answers to these questions are inextricably intertwined. Section5 (4) of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 requires the court to record a finding that a person is a “beggar” if the court, on the basis of a summary inquiry made by it in terms of Section 5 (1) of the said Act, is satisfied that such person was found “begging”. So, a “beggar” is a person found “begging”, a term which is defined in Section 2 (1) (i) of the said Act.”

Also in the same judgment justice Ahmed also explains one more question “Why does a person beg?” He tries to give the answer by categorizing the reasons so as to why a person begs. These are:

 

1)      A person is down-right lazy and doesn’t want to work

2)       Also a person may be an alcoholic or a drug-addict in the hunt for financing his next drink or dose he might be begging due to addiction.

3)      Thirdly a person might be forced by a beggary gang.

4)      And the last kind of beggars might be the people who earn by begging as they might be helpless.

 

It does not matter in which category a beggar falls for me. There are different reasons for everyone to beg and all of the beggars are in any of the categories and the reason in some way or the other can be a failure of the state. If a person is a drug addict or an alcoholic, he can be treated for this and state could provide financial help. Also the beggary gangs which exist could be curbed by the state by putting the people responsible behind bars. And the people who don’t have any other means to earn livelihood and are helpless to beg to feed themselves and their families could be provided some work by the state.

 

For all the four categories this is a means to earn livelihood and it is an occupation for the people whatever might be the reason. In Sodan Singh Etc. Etc Vs. New Delhi Municipal Committee[2], decided on 30 August, 1989 the court said that the street vendors had a right to carry on their business as vendors because this right to earn livelihood is guaranteed by the Constitution of India in article 19. Therefore the beggars also do have the right to earn livelihood by begging as there is no other means for them to earn.

Begging has already been argued as the right to profession and livelihood in the previous arguments. Now I would like to discuss begging as a Freedom to expression under Article 19(1) (a) of Constitution of India. Comparing Begging to a very similar situation of bar dancers in India, especially in Maharashtra. After the ban of bar dancers in Maharashtra by the amendment of Bombay Police Act, 1951 in July, 2005, a case was filed under the name of Indian   Hotels   and Restaurants Association and others Vs. the State of Maharashtra and Others in 2006. This law was struck down by the Mumbai High Court saying “The right to dance has been recognized by the Apex Court as part of the fundamental right of speech and expression. If that be so, it will be open to a citizen to commercially benefit from the exercise of the fundamental right.” This point has been discussed extensively in the article written by Flavia Agnes in “The Right to Dance: Mumbai High Court Judgment Strikes the Right Note” and also in Tanvi Sirari’s “Caught In The Moral Dilemma…”[3]

Begging is in a very similar state to bar dancing- “socially unacceptable” by the majority “Elite” group. Begging is the poorer section of the society expressing their need to survive and them resorting to last of their choices in order to do so and they should be given all the rights to express it. Stopping them would be like stopping their livelihood. Hence, Begging are protected under the Freedom of Expression under article 19(1) (a) on the Constitution of India.

Therefore, according to me YES right to beg can be read under Article 19(1)(a).


[1] 137 (2007) DLT 173

[2] 1989 AIR 1988, 1989 SCR (3)1038

[3] Center for Civil Society; available on http://ccs.in/ecatalyst/caught_tanvi.asp