In this fifth archive story by Kristian Bertel, the photographer is meeting an old man in Sarnath in Varanasi, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Raising the living standards of India's poor has been high on the agenda for governments since Independence. However, India presently has one of the world's highest concentrations of poverty, with an estimated 350 million, and growing, Indians living below the poverty line. In this photograph an Indian man is portrayed in Sarnath, India.
Raising the living standards of India's poor has been high on the agenda for governments since Independence. However, India presently has one of the world's highest concentrations of poverty, with an estimated 350 million, and growing, Indians living below the poverty line. In this photograph an Indian man is portrayed in Sarnath, India.

Sarnath beggar portraiture

Poverty accounts for India's ever-growing number of beggars, mainly in the larger cities. For foreign visitors this is often the most confronting aspect of traveling in the subcontinent. Whether you give something is a matter of personal choice, though your money can often be put to better long-term use if given to a reputable charity.

Where is Sarnath?

Sarnath is a city located thirteen kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the Ganges and the Gomati rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna.

Portrait of a man in Sarnath
Singhpur, a village approximately one km away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, and a temple dedicated to him, is an important pilgrimage site. When traveling, you will without a doubt come across people asking for money. After all, poor people everywhere will reason that anyone who can afford to travel by definition has money to spare. Even a budget traveler may be much richer than most local people in some places. Many people who beg are doing so out of desperation. For others, however, begging is their chosen profession and they may make good money at it by local standards. In certain countries or in certain cities, beggars will have their schtick which they have honed over the years or through adult training for the children and will have key choke points marked out for themselves where they can make good money. Even a truly desperate person does not always have the skills or the taste for violence necessary to compete in the begging marketplace that surround the tourist hot-spots in these countries and begging out in the bush is a waste of time. Also note that often, these beggars may be part of a large begging syndicate and that many of these syndicates deliberately injure and disfigure those working for them, including many young children, as having obvious deformities is more effective at soliciting pity.

"With merely some few rupees in my hand I may have given this wrinkled man in Sarnath his daily meal money. Slightly he appreciated my thoughtful gesture and what I had of small money in my pockets"

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India
The man portrayed in this archive story is taken near Varanasi, also known as 'Benares', 'Banaras' or 'Kashi's, a North Indian city on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh. The city of Varanasi is located south-east of the state capital, Lucknow. It is the holiest of the seven sacred cities, Sapta Puri, in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi is also known as the favourite city of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. It has been mentioned in the Rigveda that this city in older times was known as Kashi.

Beggars in India
India is doing well and yet beggars are still part of the cityscape many places in India. These people are the visible evidence of poverty in the society and the reactions range from pity to rejection, so how do you handle them. The photographer has a few suggestions every traveler in India could ask themselves for instance how we feel when we see a person begging, who kneels. With pity or is it more of a queasy feeling and do we donate something or do we move on quickly? Beggars make it very clear to us that poverty is also part of our social history in India. Sometimes the beggar crouches quietly in the city center, sometimes the beggar walks begging through the compartments of the railways. How we handle begging people is a great argument so one can ask if donations in kind are much better than money and if we buy the begging person a coffee and a bread roll without being asked, it may be the tenth coffee and actually people do not like anything at all and then the donation does not help much.

The photographer's tip is just ask what the beggar needs for instance socks, razor or new shoes. In addition to a willingness to donate, a conversation also signals humanity. Those who find it difficult to simply donate money on the street can also support clubs or initiatives. These people crouching on the floor there show us quite impressively that social decline and bitter Poverty are very possible in India. Many stories testify to how quickly a descent from society can take place. Nobody is born homeless. Usually there are several strokes of fate that come together. Sometimes a moment is enough to set a whole chain reaction in motion for instance job loss, over-indebtedness, separation, eviction suits, domestic violence in childhood and adolescence. One can also ask if the need of the people are real or just played. The following applies to every begging person and nobody lives on the street for no reason the photographer can understand them or not and there are always reasons why people beg or live on the street. Also, nobody begs voluntarily and the life of a beggar is not easy. Many are sick and are abused by passers-by and even with multiple jobs, there are now workers who live below the poverty line. Low wages or part-time traps are just two reasons why you can be poor despite having a job. The destructive thing about such prejudices is that they create their own kind of reality and they form the basis for a mood that blames the unemployed for his unemployment. This fades the awareness of political responsibility for controlling the structural framework and that Awareness of the solidarity-based responsibility for people who are affected by unemployment.

Read also:  Blind people of India

Read also:  Blind people of India

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 sweeping man in Jaipur. 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.