WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
Of late, quite a few trends of human conduct in Assam have begun to cause legitimate concern. Some of these have brought about unpredictable responses to very normal and familiar human behaviour almost to the extent of making people wonder if they are still the denizens of the society they were born and grew up in. There is also a corresponding increase in people’s ability and willingness to trust others. These is an unhealthy and alarming trend for a society considering that our objective should be to move towards a society that thrives on greater trust rather than one where the ability to trust others is fast waning. And the society we live in is not one that was created by any outside elements. It is one that we have inherited, lived in and ought to refine and improve. These are not tasks that can be given out on contract as we do in the case of many of our other responsibilities. These are responsibilities that we have to shoulder with the utmost sincerity and dedication.
Almost all the larming developments in our society that I intend to discuss today are in some way or the other connected with the undue importance that money is getting in our society today. While no one will deny the importance of money in our day-to-day existence, any undue obsession with money is harmful because it warps our sensibilities and priorities in the most harmful manner. And the worst part of it all is that no one will risk the consequences of telling us that money has become an irrationally important part of our lives.
The real concern about the role of money in our lives arises from the fact that the greed for large sums of money without any work has become so excessive in our State. There is a world of difference between earned income and unearned income. And, quite obviously, when we talk of earned income, we are certainly talking about honest incomes that arise from work. And when one talks about work, there is no way of excluding even those who make huge sums of money in our metropolitan cities from dealing in stock and shares. They are in legitimate financial activities that are approved by both government and our society. But when we talk about unearned income, we certainly talk about larger sums that come to our government from the Centre for development activities but are siphoned out by those in power to personal coffers. This is stealth or loot of public money for private gains. This is one kind of unearned income which falls in the category of what a thief or a robber manages to acquire. And the most alarming development in Assam is that there is much more of misappropriated public money doing the rounds than honest earned incomes.
This unholy trend has its deleterious fallout not just on the morals of people but their mental make-ups as well. The foremost casualty is our disinclination for work. Most people who are thinking of big money without being in any lucrative or successful business or industry, are those who want the creature comforts and luxuries that big money brings without wanting to work. The decline in the capacity for work and unwillingness to work is all too evident both in offices and homes. The traditional Bihu delicacies that used to be prepared at home are largely bought from shops in urban societies. What we see of the activity of preparing delicacies for Bihu or of weaving gamosas on television is confined to the rural areas. In the upper middle class families, grown-ups who ought to know better, tend to dissuade their children from any work involving physical activity and to get even routine day-to-day tasks done by their domestic help. As a result, a lot of children are unable to perform simple tasks that used to be done by children 40 or 50 years ago. Obviously, their parents are not preparing them for the problems they will have to face when they grow up. There will be fewer domestic workers and those who are available for domestic work will have to be paid unaffordably high salaries. So they will have to continue with the corrupt practice that has been legitimized by our government officers—of using office staff for doing domestic chores. What seems rather likely is that the progeny of a large number of our government officers will have to devise more innovative forms of corruption to deal with the far shrewder and much more demanding office staff of tomorrow. Considering that senior officers who ought to have known better have persisted in projecting the view that physical work is something to be ashamed of, the satisfaction that people once derived from a job well done now belongs to the realm of fairy tales. People with skills have become so rare in the Northeast that we have to indent workers from outside for all skilled work and pay them much higher wages than are paid in other Indian States for the same work. When I was a schoolboy in the 1940s, there were skilled masons and carpenters just outside Jorhat. We never had to think of indenting any mason or carpenter from outside the State.
In the present situation of an almost total lack of skilled workers prevailing in the Northeast, the most vital remedial task on our hands happens to be imparting skills to young people looking for jobs. They all know that they lack important manual skills but are all mainly interested in acquiring only such skills that can be learnt in very limited time with little effort. We now have a lot of talk about skills from important people in high places who have no worthwhile skills to impart to others. But we have an entire institute dedicated to the task of skill development. It remains to be seen what kind of skills the institute can develop except skills limited to maintenance. There seems to be no concern about developing skills required for manufacture or production. And so we give the impression of wanting very large incomes without the requisite skills for such incomes.
The other issue of major concern for a State like Assam is the sudden spurt in the levels of heinous crimes. What is most shocking is that there should be so many cases of rape, with several instances of rape followed by murder. Out of over 3,000 cases of rape during the last two years, only about 1,700 have led to arrests. The trend that is most shocking is that there has been no news of convictions for months together. One does not expect much from our politicians in this regard. Their links with criminal elements all over the country are an established fact. But one does expect the bureaucracy to act positively in such matters. We want our bureaucracy to tell us why it should take so long to hold trials for and convict those arrested. What exactly is the message going out to women and children in the State? It is that in the present State of Assam, it is not safe for them to step out of their homes at all. There has even been a case of a girl going to a bihutoli with her boyfriend who was taken elsewhere and who got gang-raped by the friends of her boyfriend. Could one honestly ask for anything worse in a ‘civilized’ State of a so-called civilized democracy called India? Is it too much to ask what happened to the hundreds of senior officers of the State who should not only have hung their heads in shame at the total failure of the very rudiments of law and order in their State, but have taken active steps to ensure prompt delivery of justice? Has anyone even heard of a senior bureaucrat who has felt shamed enough to shake up the system to take very firm and swift penal action against any of the criminals? We have not. And that is perhaps a matter of greater shame than that such crimes should be committed in our State. We are burdened with a whole lot of fairly senior civil servants who can be counted on not to initiate any strong and swift action even when the State has to cope with crime that concerns all of us. We have a surfeit of senior officers who can glibly say “This does not concern me”, but not one who can suggest or implement any solution to something that concerns all of us. How can anyone be blamed for regarding them as nothing more than time-servers who cannot look beyond the needs of protecting their jobs and handsome salaries? Are we to be doomed for ever for having reposed our faith so totally in our bureaucracy even when the State is plagued by such a load of heinous crimes?