Check out also:
A Visual Story: from Istanbul to Delhi.
Travel Photography:
Images of the World:
New Zealand Landscapes;
The Beauty and Wisdom of our World:

All images copyright Tim Biot 2007.

On my recent (2006/'07) travels in Asia I encountered a great deal of poverty.
Wherever there is poverty, there are beggars.
With this visual story I would like to share some of my experiences and show you a part of the world that remains largely hidden for most; because the world doesn't want us to know, or we ourselves simply don't want to see.
Most of the people in this portfolio had fallen to the bottom of society and were forced to beg for survival.
To others, begging was just like any other job. They made a decent living out of it and were as happy and healthy as most other people.

Afghanistan was tough; the land, the people, the system. It is a country with a violent past, a country of fighters. The beggars I met there were in a wretched condition, which reflects in the photo's I took there.

India is different from anywhere else in the world.
So are the Indian beggars.
When I say that for some begging is like an other profession, I mean that literally.
In India, beggars often work for a beggar master who will provide them with practical assistance and protection in return for a commission of the their profit. The beggar master might place them in a profitable location and make sure no one else takes this position from his beggars. He might help them with 'props', like a little platform on wheels for those without legs. He might provide a place to sleep, some food and clothes.
Others take it even further and are part of a union. This is an organization of beggars that functions much like a more conventional worker's union. They have work schedules: one team works the morning shift, the next team does the afternoon shift to ensure that everybody gets an equal opportunity to work equal hours in prime locations.
The more independent beggars also have many ways to encourage sympathy from potential donors. Some women rent babies or young children from mothers who need money themselves. One is more inclined to donate money or food to someone with a baby or a child clinging to them. If the child is old enough, it will participate in the begging process.
An illness or wound can be a blessing, because it will encourage pity and sympathy in passer-bys. Many leave their wounds to fester or emphasize their ilness for the same reason.
Some go as far as to contaminate themselves with leprocy. There are many centers in India that provide free medical service for lepers where they can keep their self inflicted disease in check. I encountered countless beggars with a few fingers missing, but otherwise in good health.
I even met some people who had cut off their own legs in order to become a succesful beggar. In Pune I met a 10 year old girl with only one arm. She told me her father had amputated her arm when she was very young. They were now begging together on the street.
For some this might all come as a shock. It could make you angry, either at the system that is responsible for this situation or at the beggars because you might feel mislead.
But this is India and in India things are usually not what they seem.
Before you judge these people, know that most people, anywhere in the world, would not be sitting on the pavement all day, living off mere scraps and handouts if they had the choice. But then again, it's India and they just might.
Most mothers and fathers would wish a different fate for their children than to roam the streets begging for alms. But then, we're in India and you just never know.
And when you encounter a beggar with an arm of legs missing, you can wonder: did he do this to himself? Whatever the answer, no sane man would ever shop of his own bodyparts if it wasn't absolutely necessary.
But then ...

Delhi - India

India is a country of opposites.
It's beautiful: the Himalaya's, Taj Mahal, the people.
It's ugly: suppression of the lower casts and women, the poverty.
It's rich: the history, culture, financial wealth for some.
It's poor: the infrastructure, social systems, financial poverty for many.
But overall it's endlessly interesting: the incomparable mix of colours, scents, sounds and people.

While India is becoming a powerful and progressive nation with a fast increasing industry and technology, hundreds of millions are left behind in poverty and neglect.

I took the following photographs around the Great Mosque in Old Delhi.
From dawn till dusk there are dozens of beggars around.
They are lepers, cripples, invalids. Some are blind, others are disfigured.
There are men, women and children.

I was very moved by this old blind man who was walking up and down the street holding his scarf out begging for some money.
He always held his head up in the same postion and repeated 'Allah, Allah...'.
At some point a little girl took away his money. I thought she was robbing him, but it turned out that she was family and was helping him out.

This blind lady was holding her hand out as she squatted down on the street. I dropped a few notes in her hand and the people around her started to laugh. She asked what was going on and when she heard that a white man had given her some money she smiled, took my hand and murmured a silent thank you.

There were a few beggars sitting on the stairs leading up to the mosque. Not much was happening, so I waited a while.
This man was holding out his beggar plate, not realizing there weren't any people around.
Suddenly he got excited about something and started to scream. Now and then he turned around and said something to his friend behind him. He was obviously very concerned and agitated.
His friend turned away from him and he dropped his plate and held his head in his hands in utter desperation.

There aren't too many quiet places to take a nap around the busy mosque.


If it weren't for the smell, I would have missed this man living in front of an abandoned house.
He had dug himself into the steps and was sleeping under a dirty blanket.
A glass and plate with some gruel lay next to him. There were flies everywhere. He seemed half awake, waving his hand at the flies who were covering his face.

Mc Leod Gansh

I walked passed this man's little shack every day. He always sat there covered in his plasic sheet staring in front of him.

Kabul - Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world when it is not at war. There has waged a war almost uninterrupted since the 80's and the country has fallen ever deeper into poverty during the conflicts with the Russians, Taliban and Americans.
Women are still severely suppressed, unemployment is staggering and medical services are almost non-existent outside the cities.
I have never seen beggars as destitute as here.

As I was walking along a busy thoroughfare on the outskirts of Kabul I came across two women who were begging on the side of the road...

This woman was lying in the gutter amidst dirt and rubble. Cars were racing past at great speed. She was waiting for the traffic to slow down so she could beg for some money from the drivers.
A few metres down the road was a man standing in the middle of the thoroughfare, surrounded by cars that speeded past him from both directions. He was crippled and leaned heavily on a wooden stick.
A passer-by told me that she was very old and that the man in the middle of the road was her son. They could barely walk and were forced to beg on the road for survival. The woman suffered from parkinson's disease and trembled uncontrolled as she held her hand up to the passing cars.

This woman had postitioned herself on the other side of the street. She held her trembling hand up to the cars that raced passed. Her grandson was sitting next to her, eating his lunch.
Suddenly she fell over, failed to get up and continued begging laying down, supporting herself with her walking stick.

At some point the grandmother of the boy crossed the street and positioned herself next to the other beggar. The other woman complained that she was taking her spot and they got into a fight.
The woman lying down couldn't get up and hit the other with her walking stick. The intruder tried to grab her assailant but fell over. They ended up on top of each other, unable to rise but still fighting.