Almsgivings is enjoined as a duty by the great religions, all of which exalt charity as one of the chief virtues. And, apart from the idea of religious duty, all naturally kind-hearted people find true joy in helping those whose distress moves their pity. They learn the truth of the saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But alms given merely from a cold sense of duty without any real sympathy, alms given with the selfish object of gaining popularity or increasing one’s religious merit, however welcome they may be to the poor, are worthless because their motive is wrong. And alms given thoughtlessly may do more harm than good.
The indiscriminate charity encourages idleness and hypocrisy and pauperises the poor. To give a few rupees to a beggar may ease one’s conscience, but it leaves the problem of poverty unsolved. To do any real good to the poor, we must know them and their circumstances, and try to relieve them in such a way as would really help them, without rendering their miserable state worse. But to find out the really deserving cases, to decide whether money, or food, or work, or medicine, is the kind help needed, requires a lot of time, toil, and patience,
– an amount of trouble which we are rarely prepared to take. It is easier to throw the beggar a coin, and, with the feeling that we have done our duty, go on our way and forget all about him.
In India, begging is so widespread, and so strongly entrenched in religious custom, that it forms a very serious social problem. A large number of the Indian Fakirs, or professional beggars, are able-bodied men who could support themselves by work if they liked to do so. But they find it much easier to live idle lives, depending on the charity of those who have to work for a living. The number of these able-bodied beggars is now so great that a large proportion of the population of the country is producing nothing, and feeding like drones on the wealth produced by the rest.
So long as promiscuous and thoughtless almsgiving is continued, such able-bodied idleness will persist and increase. The problem of poverty is complicated and difficult, and will never be solved by thoughtless charity. Wise Laws, reform of social customs, and a great deal more thought and trouble on the part of the charitable, will be necessary before the problem can even be touched.