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The alms factory pollution

The city’s conmen seem to have accorded a new meaning to the term ‘catch ’em young’, reports Jatin Anand.

delhi Updated: Feb 17, 2010 23:32 IST
Jatin Anand

The city’s conmen seem to have accorded a new meaning to the term ‘catch ’em young’.

It has been decades since sooty-faced toddlers — some as young as less than a month old — have been deployed outside popular places of worship, busy traffic intersections and central Delhi’s restaurants. Lately however, Delhi’s cons seem to have found a new use for them.

“These children perform various roles for different ‘subjects’,” said a senior police officer. “They will play a hungry, helpless beggar for a foreigner and a hawker or a pickpocket for a Delhiite.”

Gloria Yeh (42) from Manila, Philippines, had a similar experience on her first trip to India in September.

“A very young child in tattered clothes and a layer of soot smeared on his face, started following me as I walked out of a Kinari Bazar saree shop,” she said.

The urchin kept following her from shop to shop for more than an hour.

“He asked for money, but kept following me even after I had refused several times.” When Yeh was done shopping, she turned back to look for the driver of the cab that she had hired to take her shopping around the city.

“That’s when I bumped into the kid — making him fall head first on the street,” she said. “The smiling urchin immediately started wailing like hell.”

Yeh ended up paying Rs 500 for the child’s ‘treatment’ to a woman who suddenly appeared and claimed to be his mother.

Agreed Yeh, “We aren’t used to the kind of depravity so glaringly visible in India. I knew I was being conned; but I just wanted to get as far away from the wailing child as possible.”

Canadian backpacker Michael Jakus (21) lost his way trying to avoid a group of street children at CP. “They started chasing me after I got out of my hotel at Paharganj. I kept saying ‘no’ but they wouldn’t listen. When I finally got rid of them I was told I was somewhere in Chawri Bazar,” he said.

“Exhausted, I took an auto rickshaw and discovered my wallet was gone.”

“One can at least scream at a tout; but it’s a completely different ball game when it comes to little kids,” said Flora Saint Sans (26) from Berlin, who works for an NGO in Delhi.

“We will be coming closer to our goal of cleaning the capital’s streets of beggars well in time for the Commonwealth Games,” said Manoj Paridha, Secretary of Social Welfare, Delhi.