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OP-ED: Hungry teachers, old pensioners, skeletal workers … and black money

  • Published at 05:46 pm June 17th, 2020
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Bigstock

The rich get away with crimes, while the poor weep and huddle in the corner

I have seen the police pounce on primary school teachers, all of them poor and all of them asking for not many financial benefits. I have seen these teachers deprive themselves of food and drink for days and opt for a hunger strike before the national press club. I have been witness, as so many millions in the country have been, to the brutal manner in which they were beaten and bruised and dispersed and sent back to their little villages and small towns. They left this city in tears.

These poor teachers were not asking for their black money to be converted to white, for they had no money. They only asked for honest money to supplement their meagre incomes.

It has been my misfortune to see ageing pensioners, many of them undeniably on the way to their graves, shuffle along to government offices to collect their pensions. Day after day they have trudged to those offices, begging clerical staff to clear their pension papers. They had worn-out slippers on their feet and dirty, torn kurtas on their backs, their sunken cheeks testimony to the hard times that had always defined their lives. Their children waited for that pension at home, their ailing wives prayed that things would be all right.

These pensioners all too often carried their weary selves back home, weighed down with worries bordering on fears, wondering why the heavens were against them. They were not asking that their black money be magically turned white, for the black colour had never cast its dark imprint on their lives. 

They only wanted their honestly earned pensions after a lifetime of service. In struggling for that money, some of them passed into their graves.

I have seen, at the end of day, farmers break into helpless tears at their inability to pay back the small loans they had earlier taken out from a bank. Their crops had failed, their little rural trades were in the doldrums, and their families were threatened with hunger. They always looked behind their backs, fearfully, to see if the agents of the law were on their way to make them pay.

These farmers had no black money. If they did, they would not weep beside the dusty paths leading to their hamlets. Many of them wept, though, when news came through of the collapse of a farmers’ bank, when they were told that none of the affluent men who ran the bank had got their comeuppance. But these farmers have kept worrying about the repayment of their little loans.

I have felt the pain of thousands of men and women who, eager to lead more streamlined, slightly happier lives, bought shares at the stock exchanges over the years, only to see their investments wiped out through the machinations of powerful scamsters. 

They have wept copiously, for that invested money was all they had. When the shares market collapsed, it was not just the future of these citizens that was wiped out. It was their present too that vanished without trace.

These middle-class people did not have black money, for the money they invested in shares was spotlessly white. 

They never got their money back, even as the sinister elements responsible for their misery, the men who had deliberately and conspiratorially caused the shares market to collapse, stayed beyond the reach of the law.

I have seen ambitions in brilliant young people, those with little influence in the corridors of the powerful, go up in smoke. These are men and women who have struggled through education in poverty-struck families, have achieved good results, have submitted excellent answers to questions at public service examinations in the expectation that they can bring about change, in their lives and in society, through their honesty and dedication. At home, their parents and their siblings have, in a vicarious manner, dreamed of better days.

But those dreams came to naught, for the aspiring young on whom rested family ambitions of a bright future, were left out in the cold through the selection process. 

They read of black money graduating to white, their hearts breaking at the absence of just the right amount of money to give them a decent living. Their futures did not come to pass.

I have seen the rich, English-speaking entrepreneurs of my country jet off abroad, for treatment and for holidays and for buying homes in foreign lands, leaving the thin, skeletal workers of their factories screaming their lungs out on steamy urban streets for their unpaid wages.

Black money has come in handy for sections of these nouveau riche, these arrivistes. Those hungry men and women on the streets, their famished families back home waiting for food to be cooked on their mud stoves, do not have black money. They have pure white hearts, the emotions in them blackened into dark smoke by the heartlessness of their employers.

In these infernal times of the coronavirus pandemic, perennially hardworking journalists wait to be paid their salaries; day labourers look around for morsels of food for their crying children; rickshaw-pullers and drivers and helpers of CNG-driven vehicles and buses wait for hours before someone comes along to be transported to his destination; house helps out of work ask their employers if they can return or will have the good fortune to be paid their wages.

We inhabit a sad country. And we watch all those men who have earned money in questionable ways smile broadly when they are told they can make those wads of currency notes legitimate if only they cough up 10% in taxes. They lose little time showering praises on a “pro-people” budget.

The people, meanwhile, huddle and weep in the corner. A cloudburst in Ashar threatens to add an enormity of new grief to their tears. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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