It appears to be standard practice in this blessed land to target the weak in any new budget. Retired senior citizens invariably find themselves on the receiving end. 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 nurtures its minor children. The quality and worth of a nation should be judged by how diligently it ensures the welfare of these two segments of society. We appear to have miserably failed on both counts.
Look at the way the state treats our retired senior citizens. 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 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 tax deductions on their meagre 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.
Every time there is a news item about tightening the noose around the necks of “non-filers,” it sends a shiver down the spines of senior citizens. Don’t those who matter need to appreciate the fact that most “non-filer senior citizens” are already contributing more — due to punitive tax rates — than so-called “filers?" It is a travesty to equate retired senior citizen non-filers with “non-tax payers.” 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 daily-wage labour. Society owes its senior citizens a respite, if not special 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 abandon a large segment of the younger generation to their miserable lot. Even the NGOs and other do-gooders bend their efforts solely towards preventing child employment. They give no thought to the fact that the child 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 the plight that awaits such children and their families when they are denied employment. Shouldn’t these entities also be simultaneously arranging for alternative source of funding for the deprived families and admission for the minors in question into 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 centres; these minors will at least learn a skill or two that might sustain them and their families in the years to come.
A word about private sector ‘educational’ institutions! These institutions are catering little for the requirements of our society and are oriented towards providing fodder for brain drain. The best brains of the society are encouraged to seek greener pastures abroad rather than work for the uplift of the society back home.
The nation would be well advised to care for the welfare of the “seniors” and the “juniors.” 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 floodgates for disasters waiting to happen.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2018.
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