Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are photographing a Pen begging child in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
In India children will expect foreigners to hand out free goods to them such a pen and there is another word for this by begging. So one can ask oneself if I am comfortable encouraging begging and if begging is incentivized, children may drop out of school in favour of taking to the streets and collecting goods from foreigners.
In India children will expect foreigners to hand out free goods to them such a pen and there is another word for this by begging. So one can ask oneself if I am comfortable encouraging begging and if begging is incentivized, children may drop out of school in favour of taking to the streets and collecting goods from foreigners.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 22, 2024

Pen beggars in India

Like a flock of children, a high-pitched chorus of pen demands rises from the throng and what started out as a emotional moment has ended with you being treated as a human vending machine. So even though a pen is a common writing instrument used to apply ink to a surface, usually paper, for writing or drawing, these pens are actually not good to give to the begging children.

What is a pen beggar?

Like in India there are child beggars or women with a rented child who beg for milk and pens. They bring you to a store to buy one at an inflated price, then return it to the store for cash.

An increasing phenomenon in India
'Pen beggars', as the name implies, are people who beg for pens and other writing utensils in public places and this phenomenon is becoming increasingly common in many cities around the world and is a worrying indicator of inequality and poverty. These pen beggars are a common sight in many parts of the country. While begging is a problem in India, pen begging is a unique phenomenon that has been around for many years. The typical pen beggar is a person who has no access to pens or other writing utensils and is forced to beg for them in public places, such as train stations, bus stops or even on the streets.

In most cases these people are homeless and are struggling to make ends meet. They may also be students or other people who are unable to afford pens and other writing materials and the pen beggars are often seen as a nuisance to many people, as they may be seen as a distraction or intrusive. However, it is important to remember that these people are often desperate and are just trying to make a living.

A symbol of inequality and poverty
In some cases, the pen beggars are also seen as a symbol of inequality and poverty. This is especially true in countries with large populations of people living in poverty. The lack of access to basic resources, such as pens and paper, can be seen as an indicator of inequality in access to education and other basic resources. So you can say that the issue of pen beggars is a complex one and it is important to recognize the wider implications of the problem. It is important to take into account the underlying causes of poverty and inequality and to take steps to address these issues.

In addition to a little boy and a beggar story, this it is important to recognize the dignity of the pen beggars and to treat them with respect and compassion. Providing basic resources, such as pens and paper, can help to alleviate some of their suffering and can help to reduce the need for them to beg in public places and these pen beggars and beggar children are a worrying indicator of inequality and poverty and it is important to recognize the wider implications of this issue. Taking steps to address the underlying causes of Poverty and Inequality, as well as treating pen beggars with dignity and compassion, can help to improve the lives of those in need.

"Pen beggars are people and begging kids who go around begging for pens. Most of them are school children who are looking for pens to use in their studies. They go around knocking on doors and asking for pens. If someone gives them a pen, they will usually thank them and move on"

Lack of access to educational resources in India
The problem of pen begging is caused by the lack of access to educational resources in India. Many students do not have access to basic school supplies like pens and paper. This leads to them resorting to begging for these things. The Government of India has tried to address this problem by providing free pens and other educational materials to schools and this has helped to reduce the number of pen beggars in the country. However, the problem still persists in many areas.

Stop giving pens to children

Here is why you should stop giving pens to children in India and some alternative ways to give to children in the country. Why go to school when you can profit on the streets and these scams emerge where children ask tourists to buy them goods, then return the goods to the shop in exchange for a profit. Either walk silently without seeing them or walk saying a firm "- No" or waving your head or hand. If you really want to give something to the beggars, then give food item you have. Give that and walk away fast. Only a real beggar who wants food will accept this.

With their brown eyes and a blindingly white smile, little school uniform so perfectly pressed and their tiny feet pound the ground as they run toward you, their backpack flapping on their back haphazardly. Other children, noticing you, begin to congregate around your legs and as they look up at you, heads just barely coming up to your belly, you cannot help but smile yourself. You are about to experience the "real" India all those guidebooks talk about. In that moment, the child is the most adorable child in the world. "- Pen?", "- What is your name? Give me pen!", "- No pen? Give me money!"

"800 million people on the subcontinent live in poverty, but giving pens to children in India is a no no for foreign tourists. Though it may seem an innocent act of goodwill, it has some long-lasting repercussions"

Improvements of the education system
India's improved education system is often cited as one of the main contributors to its economic development. Much of the progress, especially in higher education and scientific research, has been credited to various public institutions. While enrollment in higher education has increased steadily over the past decade, reaching a gross enrollment ratio of 24 percent in 2013, there still remains a significant distance to catch up with tertiary education enrolment levels of developed nations, a challenge that will be necessary to overcome in order to continue to reap a demographic dividend from India's comparatively young population.

Extreme poverty in India
As a photographer it is a common scene too see throughout India, as well as other countries. Deep-pocketed foreign tourists come in, encounter the most adorable children ever living in less-than-ideal conditions and heartstrings are tugged. The tourists buy them pens, candy, some cheap toys. The children are delighted, the tourists feel like saints. However, that is wrong because though intentions may be good, the repercussions are not because, when beggars easily get money by begging, they do not try to work or even want to work. Instead, they keep growing in numbers. While it can seem heartless, it is usually best to ignore beggars in India and there are so many that even if you want to give them, it is not possible to give to them all so it is a question of survival and this must not be lost sight of.

Begging in India is a social problem and has to be seen in a holistic manner as there are numerous contributory factors such as poverty, unemployment, disability and migration. 2/3 of the people in India live in poverty almost 69 percent of the Indian population have to get by on less than $2 dollars a day. Over 30 percent even have less than $1.25 dollars a day, so these people are considered extremely poor and this makes the Indian subcontinent one of the Poorest countries on Earth.

As a country, which is characterized by strong contrasts, has recorded growth rates of up to 10 percent over the years and, with a gross domestic product of $1,644 billion dollars, is one of the largest economies in the world. But only a small proportion of the Indian population has so far bene fited from this impressive economic boom, because the majority of the people in India still live in abject poverty as seen in the beggars pic. The worst victims of poverty in India are women and children, the weakest links in Indian society that in particular suffer from poverty, which also can be seen in the beggars photos by the photographer.

From the village to the slum
More than 800 million people are considered poor in India and most of them live in the country and make their living doing odd jobs. The lack of livelihood jobs in rural areas is driving many Indians to the rapidly growing metropolitan regions such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore or Calcutta. Most of them can expect a life marked by poverty and desperation in the mega-slums consisting of millions of corrugated iron huts, without adequate drinking water supply, without garbage disposal and in many cases without electricity. The poor hygienic conditions are the cause of diseases such as 'Cholera', 'Typhus' and 'Dysentery', from which children in particular suffer and die.

See this video about beggars in India made by Real Stories.

Photographing pen beggars in India
"- My recent trip to India provided me with a unique and eye-opening opportunity to photograph the pen beggars of India. I had heard stories of these individuals, many of whom have been living on the streets for years, relying on the kindness of passers-by to provide them with pens in exchange for their services. On the day of my trip to India, I went in search of pen beggars. After wandering around the streets, I eventually came across the boy in this photograph. His face and hands were rough and calloused, yet his eyes sparkled with a certain glint of hope. I was determined to capture his story and fully realize his plight", the Photographer says.

"- As I got closer I could see in his eyes the sadness and desperation of his situation. I took several pictures of him and continued to ask questions about his life. His response was simple yet powerful like he was saying that he didn't want to beg, but he had to do something to survive. His felt possible words touched me deeply and I felt so inspired by his resilience. It was a humbling yet enlightening experience and it was an honor to document the everyday struggles of pen beggars throughout India. It's moments like these that remind me of the beauty of giving and how a simple act of kindness can truly make a difference in someone's life. This experience has taught me to never take anything for granted and boost of my appreciation for those I encounter in daily life", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a child in Mumbai. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.