Criminalising welfare issues

SourceThe Hindu

Relevance: This article explains why the government should avoid criminalising welfare measures


Before the legislature adopts coercive legal measures, a welfare response should be considered


Recently, the Supreme Court turned down a petition to restrain begging at traffic lights, markets, and public places in light of the precautionary measures for the Covid-19 pandemic.

In doing this, the court rightly observed that being compelled to beg was a socio-economic issue that could not be remedied by directions of the kind originally sought. It required a welfare response from the state.

This order points to the largely ignored nexus between coercive measures and welfare issues.

Read more: SC refuses to ban begging, says ‘no one would like to beg if not for poverty’
Suggestions to improve State’s action towards welfare activities
  1. During the decisions about criminalisation, the state should consider whether the issue might be better suited to a welfare response. For instance,
    • Harsh Mander & Anr. v. Union of India (2018) case: In this, the court held the criminalisation of beggary under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 as unconstitutional. During that, the court noted that the criminalisation of beggary served only to invisibilise beggars without doing anything to address the structural deprivations that drove people to beg.
    • Similarly, the criminalisation of triple talaq by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, does nothing to address the structural gender inequality, social stigma, poor employment options, and lack of state support which actually cause the deprivations associated with divorce (and not just with triple talaq).
  2. Socio-economic marginalisation and poverty may frequently make people susceptible to exploitation, whether through poorly paid/unpaid labour, trafficking and sex work, or indeed, begging. The government has to create alternative, well-paying and dignified employment, to remove socio-economic marginalisation and poverty altogether.
  3. Focusing on the welfare aspect of exploitative practices also sheds light on structural forms of impoverishment.
    • In Suhail Rashid Bhat v. State of Jammu & Kashmir and Others (2019) case: The court held that begging is evidence of the failure of the Government as well as the society at large to protect its citizens from the debilitating effects of extreme poverty. The court also held that it is a failure to ensure the right to life ensured under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
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