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I heard that it is unsafe to show money or help someone in India.
Are there any rules I should respect to avoid getting into trouble?

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I don't have any specific advice to answer your question, but on my travels there I was very rarely troubled by anyone. Not sure if it helped or not, but I was dressed and travelled very cheaply, so maybe they didn't think I was worth bothering! –  Ciaocibai Jun 21 '11 at 22:50
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By the way, in India they are referred to as 'beggars'. Paupers is an archaic term which many may not understand in India. –  Ankur Banerjee Jun 28 '11 at 22:26
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I was dressed cheaply and travelled cheaply and I was mostly annoyed by rickshaw drivers. Sometimes a gaggle of them. As for beggars they mostly haunt the tourist areas so they did pester me a lot in those places. They know the locals are immune to their scams. Going on back roads one or two blocks away I was treated as a curiosity rather than as a money tree. –  hippietrail Jul 5 '11 at 9:05
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Not to support those Rickshaw guys but it is mostly the enthusiasm.which makes them behave like that and nothing else. Just a simple smile and hello would make hem blush and they would be more than happy to help you if you need... Thats INDIA... –  Manty May 11 '12 at 12:12
    
You should try to engage a full time guide. –  Kinjal Dixit Aug 10 '12 at 15:00

11 Answers 11

up vote 58 down vote accepted

If you do not look like a native, then you will be hounded by paupers/beggars. If you help one, generally onlooking beggars may come asking you for money as well.

The rule to respect would be to ignore anyone asking for money - a conversation isn't going to lead anywhere.

Keep yourself safe - do not make a display of your money. You never know who's looking at you and what they have in mind.

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Also you may be surprised to learn that there are many paupers/beggars rackets run as businesses where many poor people will work under a boss and not for themselves. This is not something invented for Slumdog Millionaire. A common scam when I was in Mumbai a few years ago was apparent young mothers asking you to buy powdered milk for their babies. They are usually not the mothers of the babies and the powdered milk will be sold back to a store with the money being shared between the various participants in the scheme. –  hippietrail Jun 25 '11 at 4:48

One of the best strategies to people who will not let go of you, despite you ignoring them, was for me always to stop, look them in the eye and say "You are wasting your time".

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After many months in India I stumbled on my preferred method:

  • say nothing
  • give the palms together Indian greeting to the person asking as in the image below (they will almost always respond in kind)
  • continue with what I was doing

I do like that this is a bit more respectful to the other person. However, the main advantage is that when I just ignored the person begging they would often continue following me and asking. Every time I tried the above method they always moved on. Works like magic.

Clasped Hands

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I second Ankur Banerjee's answer. Beggars in India can easily differentiate the foreigners (as they call) from Desi's (ie., Indians). They also have the knack to identify even from the locals, whom they can get money vs who will not give, its all by experience.

Needless to say they know the value of dollar, and I have seen beggars asking for a dollar when a foreigner gives them a rupee, and other beggars flock. This will also expose your valuables - most beggars are pickpocket-ers.

The best to do is to ignore them completely. Don't even look at them. I have given a rupee when in India, but the beggar was arrogant that he says give a dollar. Now-a-days beggars don't take food (New India) - one reason is locals give old or rotten stuff, and the beggars are careful about that. Secondly, with money they have more options on food, and other things - beggars also have mobile phone (say cellphone)

I read a book by Kiran Bedi called What Went Wrong - in one of the chapters, I remember a foreigner got trapped by just helping a beggar, who happened to be a drug smuggler. Again the police is also corrupted, that the foreigner could not prove himself, and got into various issues.

So be careful - better not to help, than to help and get into trouble. I usually donate to iskcon.org; they claim to educate and feed poor kids.

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"most beggars are pickpocket-ers" - Do you have statistics to back up this claim? Me and my travel companion were begged many times in India but never pickpocketed. –  hippietrail Jun 22 '13 at 12:01
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Please don't take me wrong, I said that by experience. I guess you had been careful and did not give the chance. –  oneworld Jun 22 '13 at 23:05

Being a native person here, I usually have walks on the roads, where I see foreigners offering some money to the beggars and then a group of beggars surrounding them asking for money. It could be a real trouble then.

You can't describe that the person asking you for money is really a beggar or some snatcher. Snatching cases are quite common in India (at least in our region). So it is better not to talk with beggars and keep moving.

Even if you really want to help a beggar, you can offer them some food or even clothes, because most of the male beggars beg money for the sake of drugs.

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Just be careful and stay away from beggars.
Be alert always.
Don't wear any kind of ornaments while traveling in India.

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Don't wear Google Glass while in India. –  damryfbfnetsi Jul 24 at 23:24

I do travel through the roads of India and find foreigners being flooded with beggars. It is better one avoids them. In few cases when one does go on to give some alms, it attracts few more from round the corner.

In the end, it is up to you to decide whom to give and whom not to. Local mafia's or black private org's leave beggars ranging from old aged to kids with babies in their hands, at busy places at the early hours. You can usually see many near traffic signals, etc. You can avoid giving them alms. Also remember you don't expose the costly gadgets or jewelry while traveling.

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In India, you are likely to be constantly under attack by agonised human beings - mothers with infants in their arms, small children, disabled, lepers and others. It is often difficult to turn a blind eye. More often than not, I would suggest ignore, harden yourself, say no firmly and walk away. But maybe sometimes you might want to give in to the tug of your heart - especially with the young children and the infirm. Keep small change for those occasions. If you are surrounded by many, again, be firm and say no.

It is true that most beggars are part of organised begging rings. So instead of money maybe you can ensure that a child gets one square meal a day. It isn't really much; the child doesn't go hungry and you will walk away feeling good.

So, my advice, look at each situation and decide how to deal with it. One thing I try and follow, if someone is providing a service - such as cleaning vehicles at the traffic junction, selling newspapers - I "buy" the service from them and give them a little more than what they expect (pay Rs 5 for a newspaper if the paper actually costs Rs 2).

I would not say it is "unsafe" to give. As in any other country, it is always good to be cautious.

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I can't speak for India but in Mexico there is very strong discouragement for giving to children. In Mexico every child has the right to a free education. But if they are successful beggars they will take that career path and not go to school. Since it is young children we give in to tugs of our heart for their careers are short when the new young cute kids come along and they find themselves without an education or an income. At this point they have few options other than a life of crime or a very short life. –  hippietrail Jul 5 '11 at 9:01

It's a difficult problem in any country. Most charities however will tell you that you should never give money to beggars. The reason being it's just money and often that money will go to drugs, drink, or even a 'supervisor' - as seen in Slum Dog Millionaire - kids beg for a gang, and they don't get the money themselves.

Charities have the viewpoint that they can better distribute the money, buy clothes, food and so on, and ensure it gets to the correct people.

However, there are problems with this. Some charities have massive overheads - much of the donations go to paying some staff, transport costs etc - so only a percentage of your donation reaches the end person.

In addition, some countries don't have charities for every area, or the people can't get to the charity, or are scared to use one, or don't even know they exist.

In the case you're worried about this, instead of giving money, offer food or water instead, it's immediately beneficial - if they're begging for themselves they'll be grateful, and your donation isn't wasted. Just make sure to try to treat them as a person still no matter what, whether it's drugs or unemployment or whatever that got them into that situation, they're in a hard place but are still people, and still deserve some respect.

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If you can't ignore them, have some things prepared that you can give them instead of money. Chocolate bars would be fine - the children will be happy and you won't have a bad feeling. Don't give them money. Try to get out of places where a lot of people could surround you and watch for thieves.

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I have seen older kids hit younger kids for accepting food instead of money. Though perhaps it was for not sharing. I can't remember if this was in India or Mexico. My gut feeling was that the older kid was somehow a boss of the younger kid. Younger kids are cuter so they get the frontline begging jobs. –  hippietrail Jul 22 '11 at 8:14

The best tactic in India is to ignore beggars / paupers and keep moving on. The very fact that people give money creates a vicious cycle where people are forced into the profession by local mafia. Yes, you may think your alms to a small kid will feed him but it reality very often what happens is that the kids' parents or local mafia will take away their money at the end of the day.

Sometimes, beggars can be quite insistent and might even physically try to hold you back by tugging your shirt etc. The best way to handle the situation is not to throw money at it, but by politely-but-firmly saying no and walking away.

This doesn't mean, however, that you cannot help financially disadvantaged people out. A good starting place is GiveIndia, a directory of organizations in India that are tackling various issues in the country.

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You can always buy them food though. –  SalmanPK May 24 '13 at 14:31
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Buying them food does not even seem to be "something to do though" :( Quoting @hippietrail here "A common scam when I was in Mumbai a few years ago was apparent young mothers asking you to buy powdered milk for their babies. They are usually not the mothers of the babies and the powdered milk will be sold back to a store with the money being shared between the various participants in the scheme" –  Adrien Be Dec 6 '13 at 22:38
    
@AdrienBe What is you give something that should be consumed more or less directly? –  Bernhard Dec 6 '13 at 22:47
    
@Bernhard : prob the best idea –  Adrien Be Dec 7 '13 at 0:12

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