Beggars make money from change

Mendicants in a far-flung town in north India eke out a living exchanging coins for notes


Shivani Chaturvedi | March 25, 2010

Money changes hands
Money changes hands

Two unusually dressed men with bulging cloth bags slung over their shoulders enter a dhaba. They dig into their bags and place handfuls of currency coins onto a table.

By the time Mahesh Kumar, the dhaba owner, comes over to attend to them, they have taken their seats around the table; it seems the two sides have a deal to negotiate.

The coins are neatly stacked up on the table according to denominations of one, two and five for Mahesh to count. The total comes to Rs 138.

Mahesh rakes up the coins off the table and hands the men two notes of Rs 100 and 50. The deal done, the two men walk off with a cool profit of Rs 12.

I later learn from Mahesh that the two men, Ali and Alauddin, are faqirs, which means mendicants who make an appeal to the religious or spiritual sentiments of alms-givers..

Thanks to these two beggars, I don’t have to arrange chhutta (change or coins) in paying for tea and snacks taken at Mahesh’s dhaba

Ali and Alauddin are two of a kind of enterprising beggars who provide coins for a small profit -- a useful service that banks can’t or won’t provide conveniently and adequately.

Yes, even beggars use their money wisely, an insight that microfinance practitioners use in making a case for ‘financial inclusion’.

Simply put, everyone – even beggars -- needs savings, credit, money transfer, and other financial services.



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