Bhutan is described in various magazines and online websites as a country with no beggars. This image is bound to change with the surfacing of beggars along the prominent streets in Thimphu- a city with a population of more than 100,000, and a major tourism hub.
Many of the beggars beg near shops or banks. Among the beggars are children who are sometimes accompanied by their siblings, some as young as 4 years of age. Another common area where the beggars frequent is the Centenary Famers’ Market or Saabji Bazaar. Some of the beggars settle for food handouts instead of money.
Speaking to some of the child-beggars in Thimphu, most of them said that their parents have died or left home. They do not go to school or have dropped out of school. The other segment of beggars is the elderly people wearing saffron robes that stay near the main streets, especially near the bridge in Saabji Bazaar.
A beggar from Haa, Zam, said she does not have any children. She cannot see properly and begs for alms to see her through day to day. 89-year¬old, Jochu, who is from Wangduephodrang has no children or siblings. He is often seen carrying a radio and begging outside shops. He says he has been given a house through Kidu and is content with what he gets by begging. Another man, Dorji said he has no home to live in and has to beg on the streets.
According to the Thimphu Thrompoen, Kinlay Dorjee, the law does not allow the beggars to be out on the street. “If there are people like that [elderly beggars], they are considered as destitute which means they have nobody to support them. So in that case, we will have to find them and take them to the Kidu officer.” As per the law, the gomchens who come begging door-to-door are not allowed as well.
Most of the beggars have homes but no family to take care of them. Many of the shopkeepers that this paper spoke to say they do not mind the elderly begging on the streets outside their shops. They say it has not affected their sales in anyway. “We give them something to eat every now and then, but not very frequently as they could get attracted and expect more every day,” a shopkeepers said.
Although many of the shopkeepers think that giving the beggars food everyday is an act of kindness, however, it could actually encourage the beggars and aggravate the situation. “We do not want to see any beggars coming around as beggars can also be thieves, and the police can chase them away if they are seen on the streets,” said the Thrompoen.