For Abu Bakr, Ramazan is indeed the month of blessings. His earnings increase tenfold during the holy month when people are more generous than usual to the poor and also to those who beg for a living.
For the past 20 years, Abu Bakr has been begging at the Cantt Station while his family lives in Jacobabad. “The people of Karachi are so generous. They always come for the help of the poor. Since I have been here I have never slept hungry,” said Abu Bakr, a professional beggar who seems content with his line of work. “Cantt station is heaven for us. We leave in the morning and come back at night to sleep. There are charpoys available for less than Rs40 a night. Once in a month I go to Jacobabad for a day or two either by bus or train, and whatever I earn here I take it for my family.”
Except for one thing... The influx of “seasonal” beggars during Ramazan. “They aren’t professional beggars!” claims Abu Bakr, whose own family lives in Jacobabad and he visits them once a month. “They are mostly daily wage labourers who beg during Ramazan to boost their earnings. They leave their families in villages where they already have work and cut our share of profits. They beg for a month and earn more than they do as several months’ salary.”
According to social activist Rana Asif Habib, there are 973 signals in Karachi where people beg for a living. “In Ramazan, more than Rs10 million are disbursed to beggars as charity. There are also many families who distribute monthly groceries to the poor and homeless, many of whom include beggars, and for those who live on charity there can be nothing better.”
A septuagenarian Sadiq, who begs outside a popular biryani restaurant on Burnes Road, agrees with Habib.
“Karachi is a place where no one can die of hunger, especially in Ramazan when everyone is willing to give money and alms to the poor. I have no objection to the people who here to beg but I will put up a fight if they encroach on my spot. I want to stand at the place where I earn throughout the year,” he said.
Habib’s research states that there are about 100,000 professional beggars in Karachi while 400,000 arrive just before Ramazan to benefit from the charity of others. “A lot of them are from rural areas of Sindh and South Punjab and stay in Cantt Station, Qayyumabad and Sohrab Goth areas, among other low-income localities,” he said. Though “professional” beggars may be wary of “seasonal” beggars, the fact is that they too reap their share of charity worth millions from millions of generous people in the city, he added.