People We Pass By

It is clear that Anna, my daughter, sees people with disabilities when I don’t. We were having breakfast and looking down on the busy morning traffic when she commented “There’s a disabled man over there by the barrier, look”. I missed him – after all people cross the barrier all the time to get to the other side.

The people we pass by.
The people we pass by.

We walked out of the hotel and along the road and there he was horizontal and still. He had slept there with his only possessions – a shirt and a dhoti bottom. It became apparent later that he was mentally disabled and he scratched constantly at the itching weeping sores of his skin disorder.


People passed close but passed him by.
People passed close but passed him by.

Later in the day we noticed him eating from rubbish dumped in the gutter. Two days later we found again wrapped in his dhoti which barely covered his body sores. No one appeared to notice him and all passed him by.


Sometimes we pass people by because they are in plain sight. Anna, being on the autistic spectrum, has greater sensory acuity than most and sees things missed by ‘normal’ people. Sitting in a café Anna will see the person opposite her, the other people in the café and what’s happening outside, all at the same time since she has a limited capacity to prioritise. She not only sees them but perceives them differently. She perceives the marginalized people in society that most people consciously or unconsciously let their glances slide past.

Anna found some sights deeply disturbing. Late one afternoon she noticed a man begging in the street with a child. He was disabled, probably by polio, and his eyes implored passers bye to give him money to support the child in his arms. She was not sleeping.


This scene is repeated throughout India. The disabled man works for the beggar mafia and the girl was probably stolen or sold by her parents to be used, abused, and possibly later mutilated for greater earning potential. ‘Arms for alms’ is common.

Child beggars are addicted to solvents, alcohol and charras (a powerful Afghan hashish, often laced with opium), which are supplied by the gang masters to keep the children under control. The child beggars are terrified of speaking out “Gang masters hold you down and cut out your tongue if they think you have informed.” The disabled beggar is doing what he does to stay alive.

The evil done for profit is something we will never come to terms with.


Disabled man walks off with the girl. She is drugged to keep her restrained and pliant.