India is a nation that has immersed itself into the pit of nationalism and patriotism. Millions of people are ready to do anything for the country. But what good is all of this when people ignore the battles that the common man has to face due to an incompetent system?
In between all this patriotism – or chauvinism I should say – has anyone looked upon the people who actually make our lives easier? Has anyone paid attention to the struggles that street vendors face from our very own system? Well, I did.
Two days ago, when I stopped by a Kwality Walls’ ice cream van to buy an orange bar, the vendor looked upset. Like most nationalists in our nation, I ignored this at first. I took the bar and was about to leave when I looked at his face again. His face mirrored worry, anxiety, uncertainty, restlessness and anger, all at once. I just couldn’t stop myself from talking to him.
I asked him, “Kya hua bhaiya? Pareshan lag rahe ho.” (What happened? You look worried.)
He replied, “Arey kuch nahi sahab. Aap fikre mat kijiye aur ice cream khaiye.” (Nothing sir. Don’t worry and enjoy your ice cream.)
I insisted, “Arey chalo batao.” (Come on, tell me.)
“Woh khaki dress wale aadmi ko dekh rahe hain, sahab? Humare rakshak ko?” (Can you see the person in the khaki dress over there? Our so called protector?) He answered, pointing to a cop.
“Han,” (Yes.) I replied.
He continued, “Yeh har mahine aata hai aur 1500 rupay maangta hai.” (He comes once every month and asks for ₹1500.)
“Par kyun?” (But why?) I asked.
The vendor went on to explain, “Woh kehta hai ki yahan pe dhandha karna hai toh paisa dena padega. Agar raat 9 baje tak karna hai toh 1000 aur 11 tak karna hai toh 1500.” (The cop says that if we want to do business here, we have to pay. One thousand bucks if we leave by 9 pm and 1500 bucks if we want to stay till 11 pm.)
I asked the vendor, “Tum log dete hi kyun ho? Tumhari cycle mein toh registration bhi hai municipality ka. Mana kardo dene se.” (Why do you pay? Even your vehicle has been registered with the municipality. Refuse to give him money.)
He replied, “Sahab, yeh sab bas kehne mein acha lagta hai. Karna toh mumkin hi nahin hai. Ye log kisi civil dress wale ko bhejte hain. Paisa nahi diya toh teen din tak koi nahin aayega. Fir chauthe din woh khud aayega round pe. Ghoomega aas paas aur jab bohut saare customers honge, tab aayega. Gaali dega sabke saamne. Khule aam paise mangega. Aur sahab, usse char kadam door khada hona padta hai. Kuch pata nahi kabhi bhi laat-ghoonsa maar sakta hai. Khaya hai sahab maine bohut baar tabhi bol raha hoon.” (Sir, all this may sound nice but it’s impossible to do so. These people send a guy in plain clothes to collect. If you pay, all is well. If you refuse, the person leaves and no one comes around for three to four days. Then on the fourth day, he comes on patrol. He roams nearby and approaches me whenever there are many customers. He starts cursing me in front of everyone and openly asks for money. We have to stand at least 4 steps away from him as he can punch or kick us anytime. I’m telling this because I’ve had to face this many times.)
“Toh complaint karo, case karo, aur yeh sab mushkil hai toh ek baar himmat karke poocho usse,” (File a complaint or file a case in court. If this seems difficult, at least gather courage and ask him.) I said.
He replied, “Complaint toh kar nahi sakte kyuki likhne wala woh khud hai. Case karne ki aukaat nahi hai. Aur sahab, usko poocha tha ek baar kisi ne ki kyun lete ho paisa. Woh bola, ‘Ye dhandha hai hamara. Yehi samajh le.'” (We can’t file a complaint because they are the ones who write our complaints down. I can’t file a case as I’m not that rich. And sir, once a person asked him why he took money and he said, ‘Think of it as our business.'”
“Kab tak chalega bhai aisa? Kab tak sehte rahoge? Kisi ko toh shuruaat karni hogi,” (How long will this go on? How long will you keep on suffering? Somebody has to take the first step.) I said.
He replied, “Sahab, na toh mein neta hoon, na hi itna ameer hoon aur na hi itni himmat hai mujhme. Bebas hoke paise dena aasaan aur safe hai. Yeh log kuch bhi kar sakte hain. Mere do bachhe hain yehan. Unko kuch ho gaya toh ye sab kis kaam ka. Saat hazaar kamata hu. Pandrahso isko deta hu aur baaki parivaar pe lagata hoon. Meri khushi bas unki muskaan dekhne mein hai aur unko khone ka chance nahi le sakta.” (Sir, I am no politician. Neither am I rich nor do I have the courage. Bribing them due to powerlessness seems easy and safe. These people can do anything. I have two kids at home. What is the meaning of everything if something bad happens to them? I earn ₹7000 per month, pay them ₹1500 and give the remaining to the family. My happiness lies in seeing them smiling and I can’t take the risk of losing them.)
“Bhagwaan is desh ko dimaag de,” (May God bless this nation with some brains.) I said.
This is the real face of our nation. Everyone cares for the country but no one cares for the countrymen. It can’t get worse than this. Bribing a person who once pledged to protect you for survival – is this the so called ‘better’ or ‘new’ India?
In my opinion, we should start mending our own systems first.