Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beggers on the Bus; an unbearable burden!

Nothing humanizes a person like going by public transportation. Many car owners in developing countries may never know the trauma experienced in public transport. Beggers that i would usually feel pity for : i find very difficult to feel sorry for when they are taken advantage of the situation of cramped spaces in congested buses. Many are known drug addicts and alchoholics, who formulate lies to get pity from the already low-in-come earning bus commuters.

Having moved to Srilanka from Nigeria, I have been bitten by a comparison bug and I find myself constantly comparing the two Countries. In both countries Public transportation as in other places of the “third world”, is a major reminder of the almost subhuman existence people are forced to live in due to poverty.

Though there are varying degrees of distress when it comes to public transportation in the third world, such as the hazardous rusty “Danfos” in a city like Lagos, or the risk of being robbed by other “passengers” in the FCT. This article is about the City of Colombo, the commercial Capital of Srilanka. It is based on my observations, discussions and experiences in the couple of years I’ve been here.

Traveling over long or short distances in uncomfortably close proximity with strangers, particularly during rush hours is never a pleasant experience. The tightly packed spaces of buses will confound any sociologist as it is a very unique dynamic in human interaction. Standing or sitting with just enough space for you and in most cases others leans onto you.

While many people whom during normal situations would not come anywhere near you will be rubbing their bodies so close to you as they go in and out of the bus. You will pretend it didn’t happen, because acknowledging it will make life just too unbearable; So many perverts taking advantage of the close proximity to assault young women.

Neat or well dressed people, standing or sitting so close by is even tolerable, but what is unbearable is when beggars (some with possibly contagious diseases) come into this limited space, clutching the same bar handles you will be holding onto as you get on or off the bus, parading their illnesses for already desolate eyes to see.

It doesn’t seem fair to me that they should be allowed on buses during rush hours, there’s more than enough to contend with, the sweat drenched scents and on the rare occasion a pervert who decides to take advantage of the situation and lean in too closely even for the sardine -like arrangement of people inside the fast moving vehicle.Beggars on buses in third world countries are quite common, especially in major cities. Many with, cancers, amputations or fire accident victims usually move from their street corners into buses which is seemingly more lucrative.

On buses there can be no hasty rushing away, stuck in the vehicle till they reach their destination, passengers are a perfect target for sympathetic ears.The unavoidable sights such as stray dogs, street hawkers and poorly disposed garbage, are part of all urban cities. Beggars are a part of the landscape in Colombo's city center.

Majestic City, a major shopping mall in the heart of the city is a major tourist attraction. Yet even there several helplessly crouching beggars with various degrees of deformities and illness sit from morning till night waiting with hands outreached for rupees that passersby can spare.

I heard from reliable sources that they are picked up and dropped every day by a very well organized cartel that run the show. It’s indeed a sad life for them, to be shuttled to and fro in a daze of an unforgiving and harsh reality.But just in case you missed them on the street not to worry, many of them ply bus routes, some of them I’ve been told give a small percentage to the bus conductors, who also get a small side income from the misery and suffering of the helpless beggars
Usually on most days, going by buses is a very pleasant considering the very low cost and its availability. Hundreds of numbered buses crisscross through several routes around the city, plying constantly from morning till night; one is unlikely to ever get stranded due to lack of transportation.

They are consistent and safe on most days, even pick pocketing is not very common despite the rush hour congestion.Often enough, a man suffering from Elephantiasis the disease caused by lymphatic filariasis will limp into this already compact space, displaying his swollen leg as he appeals for money. With so little space for the sweat drenched workers returning from work, it’s a terrible assault to the senses. No matter the sympathy one might have for beggars, it truly is an unpleasant experience!There are other categories of beggars that come on the bus, some that allow a certain level of pity to flow; these are usually children, malnourished figures begging for arms in melancholic singsong voices.

Mothers with infants are another heart wrenching sight that make one ponder the whole point of existence just watching them walk from seat to seat with hands outstretched.
It comes as a big relief to the Colombo Citizens, that the government has banned beggars from going on buses from the month of May, 2010.

This is From a Sri Lankan Daily

I wish to thank Private Bus Owners’ Association President Gemunu Wijeratna on behalf of Colombo City Citizens’ Committee for banning begging in buses with effect from end of April.
He informed that this decision was taken to improve the service and make it commuter friendly, he added. Wijeratna said he will introduce a system of fines. A fine will be imposed on bus drivers and conductors who allow begging. The proposal for this will be announced officially.
A C M RAUFF - Secretary
Colombo City Citizens’

Edward Weerasinghe Kelaniya group correspondent

The banning of begging on trains is a timely move, although it has taken such a long time for the relevant authorities to realize the inconvenience caused to commuters. The same rule should apply to CTB and private buses as beggars have become a nuisance.
Most of the bus-commuters told the ‘Daily News that besides beggars, others who frequent public transport collect funds for medical treatment and surgery, some who identify themselves as university students collect funds to organise cultural shows, vendors of ‘Book-marks’ and picture postcards, musical entertainers, lottery ticket sellers and differently abled persons.
A regular traveller from Yakkala to Colombo Nimal Jayasinghe said that individual beggars engaged in their daily routine for years with infants which they once carried have grown over the years to become skillful child beggars.
Hence this menace should be banned in private buses and CTB buses as early as possible with the assistance of the police.


owusi jerrie said...

...beautiful heart and a well thought-out piece.

I see your concern for proper handling of people in need...and we know that the society will always have them...however we can refocus our approach and become more pro-active

with this approach the issue of the cartel would be addressed....

great piece and the heart is pure

Anonymous said...

I see your concern as a warm expression & the piece was beautifully executed.

the fact is that the issue raised is a global one and we must all become proactive and redefine our approach to handling people in need.

with a proactive approach i believe it would adddress the issue of the cartel....great piece & great heart


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