The forsaken ! | By Khalid Saleem


The forsaken !

THE unwelcome advent of the Corona Virus pandemic has turned life upside down on this blessed planet.

Most people, particularly those in the Third World countries, hardly know whether they are coming or going. The worst sufferers as always are two vital segments of the society: the senior citizens and the minor children.

In this blessed land, we as a nation appear more and more to have abandoned these two sectors to the wolves!

A look over the shoulder would not be out of place. Vibrant societies reveal two constants in their policies: looking after the senior citizens and, at the same time, nurturing the minor children.

The laudable aim is to draw on the expertise of the older generation and, at the same time to ensure that the future of the society passes into safe and competent hands.

The quality and worth of a society should understandably be judged by how diligently it ensures the welfare of these two vital segments. In the Land of the Pure, regrettably, we appear to have miserably failed on both counts. A dispassionate look over the shoulder may be in order.

Passing any Bank on the first day of the month, one finds interminable lines of senior citizens waiting to receive their pensions.

In the government-sponsored National Savings Directorate, senior citizens – the majority 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 life-savings.

The recent changes in terms of reference of the National Savings Scheme have taken the society back several notches.

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.

It is sad to dwell on the plight of the senior citizens found begging at crossroads. The same can be said of those who wait endlessly on roadsides for an off-chance of engagement as labor on daily-wages.

Needless to add, the society owes them a respite, if not due consideration. With respect to the junior members of society, 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.

The NGOs and other do-gooders – those who campaign so vigorously against ‘child- labor’ – the less said the better! These groups bend their efforts towards the sole purpose of 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 such do-gooders are directed strictly towards securing a ban on employment of minors. They do not spare a thought for what awaits such children and their families in case they are denied employment.

Shouldn’t such Entities also be simultaneously arranging for alternate source of funding for the deprived families and securing 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 such 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 are reduced to beg at cross-roads and those who are on the loose end and thereby 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 schools and universities of dubious repute in the private sector is no solution to the problems facing the nation.

Lack of public sector education facilities in the poorer urban centers and the absence thereof in rural and backward areas is what deserves urgent attention of the powers that be. By neglecting the primary education sector in our public sector priorities we are playing a dangerous game in which the chickens will come home to roost sooner than we expect.

A word about the sprouting like wild mushrooms after rains of private sector ‘educational’ institutions may be in order.

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 hardly catering at all for the requirements of our society. They are oriented more towards providing fodder for brain drain.

All in all, the country would be well advised to pay greater attention to the senior citizens as well as the younger element of what passes for our society. Neglect of these two vital sectors of our population would amount to inviting the worst in the years to come.

As things stand, we appear to be following policies that will open the flood gates for social disasters waiting to happen. Or does that smack of talking out of turn?

— The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC.

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