Delving into the moral ambiguity of caring for the stranger as I walk the streets of New Delhi


New Delhi and its people are full of contrasts. The menaces of greed and violence, the degradation of people and land, the juxtaposition of natural beauty and man-made horror and, finally, the sublime joy of human love, sacrifice and loyalty are always, everywhere, on full display. The world seems to shed all shyness here and display every possible permutation of beauty and sadness on these old, old streets.

Charity Spring is about caring for our world and helping those who care. I noticed something disturbing within myself today. Giving is its own reward, but when is giving harmful? Am I one to judge? How can I discern who are the deserving poor and who among us are not being honest about their capacity to care for themselves? And then there is the universal and time-worn dilemma of whether to give money to an addict who really does need nourishment and acts of human kindness to help keep him or her tethered to the world of the living, but who you are quite certain will spend the money on the addiction?

Several days ago, a list of America’s Worst Charities was published. It was the result of a yearlong collaboration between the Tampa Bay Times and the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, the nation’s largest and longest serving nonprofit newsroom dedicated to watchdog journalism. CNN joined the partnership in March 2013.

Such a damning assessment of fake charities exploiting the goodness of donors wanting to do the right thing. Horrendous findings. Many hundreds of millions of dollars raised from a giving public thinking they were really giving to the brand name charities that the corrupt ones named themselves after.

While I was walking towards the metro station in Old Delhi recently, I saw this man. He seemed to me like he was a healthy man, sitting comfortably on the path that lead to the subway with hands folded and eyes closed. He didn’t say a word. He was just sitting there, but with what seemed to be an imitation of pain on his face. Now I say imitation because from the direction I was walking he caught my eye early and it was a lengthy walk before I reached the place where he sat. I noticed that he squinted his eyes to steal looks at the passers-by, though he seemed want to to appear to be blind. Some kind people were dropping coins in the plate just strategically placed before him.

India is a rather interesting place to live and New Delhi tops the list of cities I’ve seen. The contrasting shades of life are so painful that you almost cry — and sometimes do. While you see people flying past in a Porsche, you also see some people literally dying in the streets from hunger and exposure.

Our society thankfully has created many shelter houses and free food distribution systems. In some ways this support system, as needed as it is, both elevates and demotes people who are destitute. Beyond the minimum sustenance required for survival, what is there to aspire to, to hope for?


Mother Teresa once said, and I think it has something important to say to what disturbs me here, that being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. Elsewhere she wrote or said, “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”  Is it for me to judge?

What am I to think or do about individuals and charities that at least seem to be exploiting the goodness of others? Give blindly or use deceit as an excuse not to care — not to see?

Whether or not that man I saw in the subway was truly blind and destitute, is there ever enough cause to stop us from caring, whether or not we are being deceived? Is caring its own reward?

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25 thoughts on “Delving into the moral ambiguity of caring for the stranger as I walk the streets of New Delhi

  1. Tanushree,
    From A Course In Miracles: “You see the flesh or recognize the spirit. There is no compromise of the two. On this choice does all your world depend, for here you have established what you are, as flesh or spirit in your own belief. If you choose flesh, you will never escape the body as your own reality, for you have chosen that you want it so. But choose the spirit, and all of heaven bends to touch your eyes, and bless your holy sight, that you may see the world of flesh no more except to heal and comfort and bless. Salvation does not ask that you behold the spirit and perceive the body not. It merely asks that this should be your choice. It is your world salvation will undo, and let you see another world your eyes could never find.”
    Thank you,

  2. That’s why I donate to shelters and charities and never directly to the panhandler on the street. I also think welfare should only be workfare. It can be work according to the ability of the person in need, but they should have to *do* something for what they get. Then at least the idea of having to do something for what they get is still there. I don’t know, it’s a difficult and complex issue.

    • I agree with your strategy of donating directly to charities/shelters because I sense (believe with my heart) that the vast majority of panhandlers are trying to raise money for themselves to buy the poison of their choice (drugs or alcohol). That’s not to say all the people that shelters and charities give financial assistance to don’t use that money to do the same thing but I think the percentage is lower. I say the key is “conscious” or “aware” charity is the key. It’s like a double-edged sword. If you give a street person $ that they use to use on drugs/alcohol, you not only don’t help the problem, you make it worse by helping that person stay chained to their addiction (which keeps them homeless and hopeless).

      • I am totally with you on this, you can never say what they use your money to buy and most of the times its the poison that they love. But as I said, we never know what’s gonna happen. everything is a mystery.

  3. I appreciate you tackling a situation that is hard, and it is always important to see how across the world things are so different yet the same. I know even the most open minded Americans seem to have trouble viewing the world on any terms but their own but it is sad that one of those free food programs killed 22 kids in India, though. I know it was a mistake, it isn’t a dig to India but… I feel like India and the US both need to figure out a good system for the poor bc here you have people taking advantage of it, you also have the working poor which is sadly becoming more and more common. I also believe we are the two largest democracies, and with that comes inevitable corruption from the top politicians and CEO’s to the street beggar. Like the poster above said, it is a complicated issue. Here you know the guy is going to go buy liquor; sometimes I almost can’t really blame them…the homeless has increased atleast 10 fold in my city in the past few years. Anyway cool photography, too.

    • I am not judging, I mean it. I am merely putting forward my experiences in India. Maybe the scenarios is different in different countries. Also, I am not putting them under the same group. I have said earlier too, people are needy and India is obviously one country which needs ample help.

      • No I wasn’t trying to accuse you of that… It is a complicated situation and hard for a lot of people to talk about. I’m sure it is different in different countries, like I said I enjoyed reading your thoughts :)

  4. It’s all we can do to determine what we will do. Help is a two sided coin. If we really take a moment and decide to have a conversation with the “helpless one” in need; truly hear their story, than that could be one way to make the choice instead of judging without knowing. I’m not saying you are, but I do this all the time. I really want to know why a young, healthy man is standing in the metro begging for dollars. We will never know if it is true or not (their story, I mean), but it does catch them off guard and in most cases, I get turned down…they end up walking away from me, which meant they really weren’t in need…just lazy. Ask for their story, if you have five minutes. If it rings true for you, then help them out.

  5. You have no business diagnosing whether that old man was able to work or not. There are many invisible causes of disability.

  6. In Britain we are in reverse. The right wing government post banking crisis is dismantling the welfare benefits system. We do not have your abundance of support because people used to be supported by the Benefits system. People are systematically having benefits taken away and often very limited charity relief driving people to shop lift. Loan sharks are everywhere. It is becoming a very nasty hateful society The able turned against the disabled. the working turned against the workless. I think you ask the right questions but be careful of jumping to the wrong conclusions. It is very easy for those who are not on the streets to condemn those who are in my view. But I quite agree about motivation. There were problems with our benefits system but the way they are destroying it is condemning and demoralising people not motivating and inspiring them. So our charity tries to do the latter. Best wishes


    • I am not jumping on any conclusions. I left it open ended to discuss. I agree with you regarding the society. It is becoming less and less humane!

      I am merely trying to share my experiences and thoughts.

      Thank you for helping me out :)

  7. This post is disturbing. Disturbing because it seems very stingy, presumptuous and judgmental. Can this be posted on a page for a “charity?” It’s an odd representation.

    In my opinion trying to say definitively who might be lazy and who already receives what is the opposite from charitable. And sure there are scammers, but to put this thought out in the universe and be pushing a charity simultaneously, is questionable.

    • I am putting forward some possibilities and examples. I am not judging. I know some people like those in the above article from my life. I am putting these instances forward.

      Please don’t take this negatively :)

      • Tanushree, okay. But, choice of words is everything. The wording seemed negative. Perhaps get a neutral person from your life to read this. Ask them if it seems negative, it does not come across neutral and the poor are already stigmatized don’t you think?

  8. I don’t like the term “the poor”. You should refer to “poor people” or “people living in poverty”. They are not a separate entity. They are people. As soon as I saw that you never once referred to these people as people I lost interest in what you had to say.

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