There are many thousands of people in India who live by begging. In the streets and bazaars of every town, you will see them at every corner, begging for food from the shops and for money from the passers-by. Some are old men and women, some are blind or lame or without hands, and some are children. But many are strong and able men, who could work as well as anyone else; but they find it easier to live upon the charity of other people.
These sturdy beggars, or “fakirs”, pretend to be holy men. They go about quite naked except for a small loincloth, and their bodies are covered with dirt and smeared with ashes. Their hair is long and dirty; and they never seem to wash, because they think that the dirtier they look the holier people will think them to be. The fakir carries a long bamboo or a long stick of steel with a ring fastened to it; and a begging, bowl made of brass, or the hard skin of the gourd. He does not beg for food or money, but demands it as his right, and the shopkeepers put rice and dal, and other kinds of food from their stalls, into his begging-bowl because they are afraid that if they do not he will curse them and bring some great evil upon them.
While there are some holy fakirs, most of these sturdy beggars are ignorant, lazy fellows, of bad character. They make a good living by begging because the Indian people are very charitable and because they are afraid to refuse an ash-smeared fakir lest he should really be a holy man. They also think that alms given to the poor will bring them a blessing in the next life. But their charity really does harm, because it encourages a great number of strong men to be idle and to do no work for their living. Charity and alms-giving is a virtue, but those who give alms should see that they are helping the really poor and helpless. These sturdy beggars should be given nothing and made to work for their living like honest people.