Sharad Patel fixed ‘Sharma Ji Ki Chai’ in Lucknow as a venue for the interview. I was assuming it is a fancy tea restaurant while I was on my way to the venue. However, when I reached there I saw that it is a normal tea shop but the shop and a small park in front of it was densely crowded.
I came to know why people are waiting patiently for a cup of tea when Sharad offered me a cup of tea. The tea was so refreshing that it made my mind peaceful in the crowded place. That is the reason I was not distracted to interview Sharad to know about how he has been providing a dignified life to beggars in Lucknow.
It was 2013 when Sharad was on his way to take admission in MSW (Masters in Social Work) when a beggar approached him and asked for money as he was hungry. Sharad, instead of giving money provided him with some food. That is when he thought that he should do something for the beggars.
“We can not feed them every day. However, we can help them earn money so that they can earn money and feed themselves and their families,” Sharad told while sipping the tea.
Sharad, his friends Mahendra Pratap and Jaydeep Kumar Rawat started to meet beggars to know the root cause of beggary. But the efforts went in vain when beggars were not cooperating because of some reason. They came up with a unique idea. They made their physical appearances as beggars and spend two days with them. “We grew our beards and hair. Dressed like them and spent two days,” revealed Sharad.
They came to know that there are many root causes of beggary. Some left their families because of domestic violence. Some left their cities because they lost everything. Some left their families because of drug addiction. Some were kicked out of their houses because of some reasons.
Irrespective of the problems of individual beggars, the solution is one- pull them out of beggary and help them earn some money. Sharad started to rehabilitate beggars one by one by convincing them for a dignified life. They first help them understand that beggary is wrong.
Until now Sharad had made a rehabilitation centre under the banner of his non-profit organisation called Badlav as there is no such facility from the government. However, he did not let the municipal officials sit idle in the office.
Sharad and his team ran from pillar to post for months. Now Badlav is provided with a shelter home where he can provide basic necessities such as beds, mattresses, foods to beggars. Moreover, he is also having many facilities such as medical help, counselling, skill development programs and activities for entertainment for them. The team also helps beggars start micro-businesses with the help of various non-profit organisations so that they can start earning money.
As gurdwaras and some temples provide food to poor people which is known as langars, Sharad believes that every community should do this. “This will make sure that beggars are not sleeping empty stomach. Because there is enough number of religious places to afford food for them,” suggested Sharad.
According to the 2011 Census, there were over 4.13 lakh beggars, over 45,000 child beggars and over 70,500 differently-abled beggars in India. So far, Sharad has rehabilitated about 60 beggars and made them skilful to do something of their own to earn money. Moreover, he also convinces them to reunite with families. “Initially, they refuse to meet with families but gradually they give in,” said Sharad.
The journey so far has been full of challenges. Initially, no beggars were entertaining them and when they finally able to connect with them “we faced much resistance from civic authorities and politicians as well. But we will continue fighting for providing a dignified life for beggars,” revealed Sharad.
Even his family was shocked when they came to know that he is going to do this. But eventually, his elder brother turned out to be supportive of him. As far as his parents are concerned so his father is not supportive nor against what he is doing. His mother has been passed away long ago.
Sharad making every effort to reduce the beggary in India and hopes for a beggar-free nation one day. “We are now doing it in Lucknow, but gradually we are going to spread across the nation through our NGO,” said Sharad.