THE study of any vibrant society will reveal two constants in its policies in order to ensure development and prosperity: it looks after its senior citizens and it nurtures its minor children. In the former, the intent is to draw on the expertise of the older generation and at the same time to repay the elders for services rendered. Policies in respect of the latter ensure that the future of the society passes into safe and competent hands. The quality and worth of a nation should be judged by how diligently it ensures the welfare of these two segments of society. In the Land of the Pure, we appear to have miserably failed on both counts.
Look at the way we treat our Senior Citizens. Passing any Bank on the first day of the month, one finds interminable lines of senior citizens waiting to receive their pensions. There has been no attempt to streamline this procedure or to shorten the period of waiting. In the government sponsored Savings Directorate, senior citizens – some of them in indifferent health – are obliged to wait sometimes for hours on end to receive their dues. As it is, they are already being treated as pariahs through branding them as ‘non-filers’ and slapping them with punitive taxes on their meager savings’ profits. In public sector offices, there are little or no special facilities for senior citizens. The national airline and railways used to have special discounted fares for senior citizens but no longer. In most public sector offices, senior citizens are at the mercy of uncaring bureaucrats, the latter mercilessly demanding their pound of flesh.
As an aside, mention may be made of several instances of senior citizens settled abroad, who made gallant attempts in vain to re-establish themselves in the homeland by investing their savings in business or industry. They have been discouraged, and in some cases hounded out, by a hostile environment and an indifferent bureaucracy. As a stung and utterly disappointed senior citizen remarked, “Abroad one is treated as a second-class citizen, here at home one feels totally abandoned. Take your pick!” One need hardly dwell on the plight of the senior citizens found begging at crossroads, or those who wait endlessly on roadsides for an off chance of engagement as labour on daily-wages. The society owes them a respite, if not consideration.
So far as the younger generation is concerned, we as a nation are even more callous. One would not dwell on the innumerable incidents of exploitation of children as these have been often chronicled by those better informed. Suffice it to state that the society has decided to totally abandon a large segment of the younger generation to their miserable lot. Even the NGOs and other do-gooders – those who campaign so vigorously against child labour – bend their efforts solely towards preventing the employment of children. They give no thought to the fact that the child who is thus deprived of employment may be the sole bread-earner of the family.
The efforts of do-gooders are directed towards securing a ban on employment of minors without a thought for what awaits such children and their families in case they are denied employment. Shouldn’t these entities also be simultaneously arranging for alternate source of funding for the deprived families and admission for the minors in question in public sector educational institutions? As it happens, most of these outfits adopt a linear – not comprehensive – approach towards social issues.
The cause of worry are not those children who are slaving away in workshops and as helpers in various vocational centers; these minors will at least learn a skill or two that might sustain them and their families in the years to come. The NGOs and others of the ilk need to shift their focus to those minors who beg at cross-roads and those who are on the loose end and open to exploitation by unscrupulous individuals and groups. These are the ones who will grow up to be criminals and worse; that is if they grow up at all.
Our official priorities are also lop-sided to say the least. Children coming from deprived families are denied admission in public sector schools, while the HEC is afforded millions to sink in hare-brained schemes to produce a handful of PhDs! Opening of more and more private schools and universities of dubious repute is no solution. The lack of public sector education facilities in poorer urban centers and lack thereof in rural and backward areas demands urgent attention of the powers that be. By neglecting the primary education sector we are playing a dangerous game in which the chickens will come home to roost sooner than we expect.
A few words about the sprouting like wild mushrooms of private sector ‘educational’ institutions. The financial side of these ‘seats of learning’ we shall defer to a future occasion. For the time being let us just dwell on the fact that these institutions are catering little for the requirements of our society and are oriented towards providing fodder for brain drain. The best brains of society are encouraged to seek greener pastures abroad rather than work for the uplift of society back home. This is a subject that would need to be paid some serious attention before it is too late. More about it at a later time! To cut a long story short, the nation would be well advised to look after the Seniors and the Juniors of what passes for our society. Neglect of these two vital sectors of our population amounts to inviting the worst in the years to come. As things stand, we are following policies that will open the flood gates for disasters waiting to happen.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.