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Saturday, August 29, 1998 Published at 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK

World: South Asia

Drive against Bombay beggars

Bombay officials want to move beggars off the roads

By Sanjiv Srivastava in Bombay

In India's largest city, Bombay, the police have launched a special drive against beggars and eunuchs, who are a big nuisance to tourists as well as local residents.

The police action was given the go ahead by the ultra nationalist Shiv Sena government, after it received complaints of harassment by beggars and eunuchs from local citizens' committees.

The move to drive beggars and eunuchs off Bombay roads is the brainchild of the local culture minister, Pramod Navalaar, who sees himself as a state appointed guardian of Indian culture against what he describes as evil western influence.

Some of his past decisions, like banning advertisements showing models in the nude and stopping barmaids from working late evenings shifts, evoked a mixed response from the generally fun-loving liberal elite of Bombay.

New-found aggression

But his latest campaign against the tens-of-thousands of beggars and eunuchs has been widely welcomed.

Beggars and eunuchs are not a new sight on Indian roads, but their new-found aggression is becoming a big problem.

On being refused they no longer move ahead silently, still persist, and if that also fails they'll resort to heckling and abuse, sometimes even threats.

They are bigger nuisance at traffic signals, where the sight of a beggar angrily banging the car bonnet of a non-obliging motorist is no longer a rare one.

No accurate data

No accurate data is available on the number of beggars and eunuchs, but the immensity of the problem can be appreciated by some old statistics.

More than 25,000 beggars were rounded-up in Bombay the last time a drive was launched against them in the mid-1970s, but most of them returned to the street in a few months, complaining of appalling conditions in beggar homes.

The situation hasn't changed much since then and past experience makes many doubt whether this fresh initiative will make much headway.

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