Christian Cripple here, folks.
It took a while, but I finally managed to get Joe and Tom to stop drinking long enough for Joe to sober up and cart me over to the nearest keyboard to write out this post, which comes hot on the heels of my first post a while ago.
The Internets is a fascinating place. In fact, I just came across something called the 'BBC' which apparently has lots of 'news articles' on things to do with the 'UK', whatever the heck that is. Still trying to figure out where the heck they put jolly olde England on the map. Apparently there's a really big 'continent' or two in the way or something.
At any rate, I ran across two articles discussing a disabled beggar in India, here and here. First of all, what the heck is a 'bank' and how do I get into one?
Now, isn't it interesting that the writers only mention Ms Das' disability as a result of an attack of polio in the second article, at the beginning, and not at all in the first? Her need for begging appears to have been caused as a result of this polio attack, so why shouldn't this information have been considered relevant for the purposes of the first article as well? It's possible that Ms Das' polio may not have been severe enough to be obvious to people, yet one must wonder to what extent she may or may not have relied upon her disability to solicit donations or alms.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing that disabled people who are forced to beg should rely solely upon their disability in soliciting alms. However, this does raise a question of what society considers people with disabilities to be.
Are they drains on society because they're not 'normal', require 'extra' services, and don't contribute to society at large? Are they considered in a more positive light, in that their experiences as disabled people can be used to their advantage - for instance, it's eminently possible that disabled people are creative and adaptable, as they have to recognise that they are part of a minority in that society is designed for what it considers normal, average people. The very definition of 'disabled' presumes that one is not part of this 'normal average', if you will.
At the same time, where exactly does this idea that the disabled can or should be lumped in with the poor come from? I know that in my experience, I can't exactly do much, being a cripple and all - just look at my picture on the left, people! - but I can beg. However, I can rationalise this by the argument that I represent a tangible means for Christians to demonstrate charity: by giving me alms, they show that they are good Christians and follow the teachings of Jesus in caring for those who are sick and destitute. ... Hm. I suppose I just answered my own question to a degree.
I say 'to a degree' because the answer I gave is religious in nature - there certainly have to be other answers to the idea that the disabled are part of the poor in society. Or is it possible that modern conceptions of the 'disabled poor' stem from my time, from the idea that the 'disabled poor' should be interpreted in terms of a religious framework? Granted, a religious framework is in and of itself attractive, because it also provides room for incorporating arguments of morality within itself, but this is to conflate religion and morality. Is it the same thing if a donor says that he is giving me alms out of religious duty or obligation, or because he is doing so out of a sense of morality?
To the first, one may argue that this is not the most honest of answers, because we are following an obligation. However, this would be simplifying the issue of religion. While it can be said that we are born into a religion - I was born to Catholic parents, after all - it is still a choice to follow the tenets of said religion.
Anyways, as I was saying, it is still our choice to follow the tenets of our religion. In that sense, giving to the poor, disabled or not, is not necessarily an obligation, but more of an agreement. By following Christianity, or whichever religion one follows, one agrees to the tenets of the religion itself, so it is not necessarily a one-sided conversation here.
However, this does not quite resolve the issue of morality, particularly separate of religion. This point is especially important, as there is no mention of religion in the two articles I mentioned earlier in this post. (Thank God for this 'keyboard' - I couldn't imagine dictating this to a scribe - after all, it's the fourteenth century, not the tenth!)
Let us examine the question of morality from the perspective of Ms Das first. She states that she "knew one day that [she] would grow old and have diseases, so [she] was prudent and saved for [her] pension." When we think of beggars with alms, we tend to assume that they live a hand-to-mouth existence; that they beg because they have an immediate need for money. Here, Ms Das has taken a long-term view of her situation and understood her disability as one that would exclude her from being able to hold down a steady job that would pay her well and, hopefully, provide benefits of some sort as well.
Perhaps this story is not extraordinary for the fact that Ms Das is disabled, but rather for the fact that she persevered at her 'job', if you will, because she took a long-term view of it and understood it as a job in the fullest sense of the word. She went to work, worked, came home, and did it again the next day. She lived off her earnings and saved what she didn't spend. Is this so different from 'proper' jobs in society today? I'm not saying we should all go out and start begging - that'd severely cut down on my clientele, for one thing!
It does, however, bring up the point that the disabled are perceived as being individuals with short-term goals: their goal is to get from one day to the next, to manage to survive another day with their disability (or disabilities). This is a negative and pessimistic view, one that fails to take into account the disabled person's understanding of and feelings about his or her situation in life: the articles about Ms Das seem to suggest that she was at least content with her job - it was something for her to do every day. She had a clear goal in mind: one must certainly wonder what ran through the minds of those who donated some alms her way. Did they think that she was a nuisance, a drain upon society, someone who didn't deserve their charity? Or did they give her alms just to make her go away and stop 'bothering' or 'pestering' them? Did any of them consider that this was potentially her job, that she was a person who was capable of - and had - concrete goals and purposes in life? After all, do we not all work to secure our future? Ms Das simply did it in a way that society considers 'inappropriate'.
Now, the same question - that of morality - from the perspective of the donors themselves. This is not discussed at all in the articles: the closest we get is a discussion of how Ms Das can be used as an example that one "can save even if [they] earn a pittance." This is an interesting comment, because it implies that this remarkable woman is remarkable precisely because of her talents both in amassing this sizeable fortune and in managing it shrewdly. The comment itself suggests an almost too-late appreciation for this woman's talents, and a recognition that her talents could perhaps have been put to better use, if only someone had recognised them earlier.
More than anything, the absence of morality in these articles on the part of the donors seems to suggest that donating alms is seen as a rote action, something that we do because it's socially 'proper', whether that's contributing to charities or giving directly to beggars or panhandlers, however we want to describe them.
Also, the mentions of the ability to "send in account payee cheques in [Ms Das'] name" to her bank and the outpouring of people "offering financial help to Ms Das after her story first appeared earlier this week" are interesting. Does society feel this moral need to help the poor and the disabled only when it can put a tangible face to the idea of 'the poor' and 'the disabled'? I'm certainly a person, and so is Joe
However, the idea of 'financial help' is interesting. Is it only possible to offer Ms Das, and people like me, Christian Cripple, financial help? Society is composed of networks, networks in which financial help is given and shared, certainly, but other kinds of 'help' are offered as well that are not necessarily financial. It may be moral, religious, collective or personal, to condense non-financial sorts of 'help' into four admittedly very broad terms. The offering of financial help carries with it the implication that society's responsibility to the poor and the disabled ends there: it is up to the person in question to determine his or her future. This is quite ironic, as it comes up against the idea that since the poor and disabled live a hand-to-mouth existence, they must be incapable, one way or another, of long-term goals, which suggests that it is society's responsibility to provide guidance. Which is it?
More than anything, these two articles demonstrate the conflicting attitude society has towards the disabled, especially if and when they're lumped in with the poor. Should the disabled be lumped in with the poor, however one defines that particular term - the poor? Or should they be considered on their own terms, or is it acceptable to lump them in with the poor - or any other socially-defined group - when appropriate?
Is this conflicting attitude perhaps a legacy of the medieval period, or does it go deeper than that?