The TISS Mumbai alumnus whose project fights for beggars’ rights and rehabilitation

Tarique involved in fieldwork

Tarique Mohammed Quereshi, a graduate of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai is passionate about beggars! Nothing moves him more than seeing a beggar child shivering in the cold and scrounging for alms at traffic signals. You or I might shoo away such a child but Tarique would go out of his way to care for him. He in fact, even fights with governments for them. Koshish – an action project that works for the rights of beggars is Tarique’s brainchild.

How it all started

About a decade ago, Tarique left his hometown for Delhi so that he could prepare for the Indian Administrative Services exam. But watching people sleep on the city’s streets, covered with newspapers made him think about life differently. “I asked them whether they felt cold and they answered that they were not sure of being alive to see the morning and feeling cold was the least of their worries.” After feeling dissatisfied with the available ways to help the homeless, he decided to come to Mumbai to pursue MA in Social Work from TISS from 2004 to 2006. As part of his coursework, he worked with an organisation working with youths living on the streets. One day he found that many of the boys living on the streets had gone missing. “I was told later that the police had picked them up and sent them to the beggar home. I went to visit the boys and was shocked to see the condition of the boys and the beggar home,” said Tarique adding, “I believe Koshish was born that day.”

Tarique Mohammed Quereshi

Koshish and the movement against Anti Begging Act

‘Koshish’ then originated at TISS and committed to completely oppose Anti Beggary laws because according to Tarique, “They criminalize the person for his state of poverty.”

“A beggar is punished not for what he has done but for who he is, thus making it a status offence. Under the beggary law, its the poor and destitute that are punished,” explained Tarique.

Koshish’s tryst is to ensure minimum rights for beggars and push for changes in the way beggar homes are run. Till date, Koshish has provided direct and indirect support to over 5,000 beggars and homeless destitute. The work done by the programme in Mumbai is being replicated in Delhi and is also piloting in Bangalore.

Touching lives

Jamaluddin, a 21-year-old youth (name changed) was arrested and put into the Chembur beggar home in Mumbai when Koshish found him. “At first, he was unwilling to listen to us and do any kind of work, since he has been a beggar since childhood. But we spent a lot of time with him and regularly counselled him for six months. His attitude gradually started to change and he was ready to do a tailoring course,” says Pradip Kamble, the programme officer of Koshish in Mumbai. Currently, Jamaluddin works as a tailor at Sanpada in Navi Mumbai. “It has been two years and he is earning quite well,” Pradip adds.

Back in 2007, 65-year-old Archana Gaikwad (name changed) was living on the streets, seeking alms after being thrown out of the house by her son-in-law. Her 18-year-old son had already taken to the streets. Over time the lady turned gravely ill. When volunteers from TISS found her, she was in the final stages of life. After getting admitted to the hospital, she died a few days later. “She did undergo treatment for a few days. By the time she was brought to the beggars’ home, her situation had become extremely critical and unfortunately, she couldnt be saved. But her son was then supported by us for his studies and formal training in dance. Dance being his passion, he quickly picked it up and he now works as a dance instructor.”

Tarique showcasing a presentation to the Government officials, on the shelter assessment data that he made for the Delhi Government

The Government’s stand

“The Government has a range of schemes and programmes for the poor. However, their delivery leaves a lot to ask for,” says Tarique. He remarks that most of the people who need this support from the state are not even recognised as the citizens of the state. “In the absence of any documentary evidence, technically they dont even exist. And this is a huge problem. If you do not even exist officially, how can you avail of the support? In this context, our state policies and schemes have more or less been failures, especially those meant to eradicate poverty. As a consequence of this failure, the focus shifts from removing poverty to removing the poor, with various anti begging laws becoming the tool and mechanism for this purpose,” he says.

Koshish also runs a programme called Employers’ Collective which provides job search support to the inmates of beggars’ homes among formal and informal industries. There is another programme which helps beggars trace their families and be rehabilitated back with them. “We initiated the National Collective on Homeless, which is meant not only to reunite them with their families but also ensure that the persons are positively accepted back into the families after suitably addressing the reasons for separation or abandonment,” says Tarique.

Koshish conducts regular orientation meetings with college and university students so that there is awareness about the issue of beggary. Koshish also trains the police, officers from government departments implementing Anti Beggary law, law students and academicians. “The idea is not to criticise the government but to engage positively and ensure that the combined energies of the government and those of ours are put to use to support the victims of this legislation,” he says.

On being asked how Koshish is funded, he says, “Koshish is supported by various means including TISS’ internal resources, funding agencies and individual supporters. We have several Friends of Koshish who support us on a regular basis.”