The Poor Are Also Humans

April 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

April has certainly has been a cruel month this time.

Among the innumerable heartbreaking stories from across the world, the story of Mukesh Mandal in particular refuses to evaporate from my mind, even after weeks.

Mukesh, a migrant labourer stationed in Haryana, ended his life early this month, after having no money to feed his family of six. Before hanging himself, Mukesh, sold his celphone for Rs. 2,500/- and with that money bought some ration for his family, a fan for the house and also repayed the remaining debt he had.

Whether there was any pressure on Mukesh to repay the borrowed money or not remains unknown. Even after his death, the family did not speak of any such pressure on Mukesh. But even when faced with an extreme situation of not being able to feed his family and being pushed to take his life, Mukesh did not disappear into absence without repaying the debt money.

While the poverty, hunger, suffering, helplessness and humiliation of Mukesh are all true, let them not eclipse his dignity, his self-respect, for our looking eyes and percieving minds.

The words of one Brahmaji, a labourer in Hyderabad, reported later in the month, continues to echo in my mind, like the story of Mukesh, for the words of Brahmaji, like the final act of Mukesh, speaks of dignity and self-respect, along with a dire situation his life has been facing. He was reported to have said, “We are not beggars. We came to Hyderabad to work and earn money with self-respect. We feel ashamed in taking donations. I personally feel like committing suicide when donors came to distribute cooked rice and clicked a picture with my family.”

Harsh Mander once narrated his experience of having lived and closely interacted with a migrant labourer family, as a part of a project on understanding labour, poverty and hunger. The family which moved from one city to another, across states of India, for work was asked by Harsh Mander of the place they like the most to visit for work. The family said their second favourite place in India was Punjab because there the people treated them with affection. Their most favourite place was Kashmir for they were treated with not just affection but also respect, they said.

Unfortunately our society has never considered Respect and Affection as ‘basic necessities’ of humans. A connection is never seen between them and survival/ living.

In times when a Supreme Court judge asks why the poor would need to be paid wages when they are being fed for free, in a society where a helping hand is accompanied by a camera lens, it is not just hunger and poverty which needs to be confronted. We also need to confront the poverty of heart among the non-poor, which is us, that fails to recognize that those who put under the category of ‘poor’ are also humans and the poverty fo heart in us which also fails to recognize the existing dignity and self-respect among the poor.

Mukesh, who not just repayed the debt but also bought ration for his family and also a fan just before ending his life, was labelled “mentally unstable” by the police. If the system and mainly the State had a percent of the dignity and self-respect that Mukesh had, and for its people a percent of the love Mukesh’s heart carried for his family, then probably the month of April wouldnt have been this cruel.

The shadows of this April will be cast on several months to come. For sure.

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