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Forced to beg, they now cook at police stations | India News

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In the three months leading up to the Maha Kumbh, police had rounded up 183 beggars in Haridwar. They soon realised that many had lost their jobs during the pandemic. They came up with a solution. Now trained by a five-star hotel chef, the beggars have been employed as cooks across police stations of Haridwar at a salary of Rs 10,000-12,000, reports MS Nawaz.
“I had come to Haridwar from Ranchi (in Jharkhand) a few years ago. I used to work as a daily wager. But when the Covid-19 lockdown came, all work stopped. Even after the lockdown ended, work was hard to come by. I barely had enough to eat in the first few months. I had no choice but to start begging,” Vishu Ram, 56, told TOI. “I had lost my dignity and all hope. I would often think of ending my life.”
Madan Mohan, 47, had a similar story. “I suddenly lost my shelter and was forced to live under the open skies. I did not want to beg but what choice did I have?” he told TOI.
Vishu and Madan are among the many beggars, between the ages of 30 and 50, who have been engaged as cooks by the police. “With this work, I am leading a respectful life,” said Vishu.
In 2017, Uttarakhand had adopted the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Begging Act, 1972 that banned begging. “Generally, when we detain beggars under this Act and then release them, they return and start begging again after a while,” IG Sanjay Gunjyal told TOI. And the pandemic had made things worse. “We wanted to change that.”
With the Maha Kumbh approaching — it begins on April 1 — police had been arresting beggars at Har-ki-Pauri Ghat in Haridwar, which draws lakhs during the congregation. “We brought them to beggars’ homes, where they were counselled,” Gunjyal said. There, they learnt that many of them had lost their jobs when Covid-19 hit, started begging and never recovered. “After several sessions of speaking to them and motivating them, some 30 of them came forward to seek work. Eventually, many from that group were picked for the training.”
Sixteen beggars, as of now — from Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra — were then signed up for training under a chef from a five-star hotel in Haridwar. After their training, they were engaged as cooks at police stations that are overseeing the Maha Kumbh. They are paid Rs 10,000-12,000 a month. “The money goes straight into their bank accounts, which we opened for them,” Gunjyal said.
But what happens after the Maha Kumbh ends? Police have a plan. Gunjyal said, “After the congregation is over, we will get them work. We must end this cycle of destitution.”

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