Dealing with unscrupulous traders
“This is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, fake, cowardly, covetous… As long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.” This is Machiavelli, one of the greatest gurus of politics, who unlike his modern-day followers never grew any bones in extolling self-interest as the major driving force not only in people’s personal, but in their political lives as well. In fact Aristotle too shares similar thought in ‘Politics’: “Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly ever of the public interest.”
This duplicity is at massive display in Kashmir. In fact it has always been a popular trait here, though people would rarely acknowledge it. For instance, while those in the politics and in social circles, including of course the faith traditions, who are either directly or through well-measured default, guilty of having contributed to the general societal decay here will never be held to account (accountability is not really the culture here), those who can help people rebuild their broken lives are also not in a mood to do their bit. And yet every single individual and party is pointing fingers at, and blaming others for the general rot, and none really bothers to look inwards to fix the responsibility within.
Without exonerating the government and its agencies for their continued failures on each and every count, it is also true that everything cannot just be blamed on the government alone. For instance, different traders’ unions and associations, who never miss and opportunity of doing politics over the Kashmir situation, never really bother to tell themselves and their colleagues to not indulge in illegal and illicit trade practices, including black marketing and overcharging. Same is the case with our religious preachers. You could hear them shout at high decibels from mosque pulpits about the morality and altruism that prevailed some 1400 years ago in some distant land in the Arabian desert, but won’t see them engaging with current societal challenges sharing in our faces on daily basis. They do not tell businesses to not cheat, they do not urge youngsters to follow traffic rules, wear crash helmets, and stunts while driving; they do not tell government employees to be fair to their mandated jobs, they do not talks against corruption…. Their self-interest or selfishness, despite being carefully packaged in the wrappers of morality and altruism, is overly visible, so much so that one really wonders how many common people are actually impressed by this type of naked treachery.
Few years back, in Massachusetts (USA), when lingering effects of recession and long-term unemployment left many without enough money to survive, there was a sudden surge in the homeless population (on an average 44 percent of a worker’s paycheck was needed just to cover rent of their housing). This meant there was overcrowding in state’s shelters meant for the homeless. So the government started accommodating the homeless people in hotels and motels as Massachusetts law requires the commonwealth to provide emergency shelter for homeless families who need it. But the point to note is that the government there paid an average of $82 per night per motel or hotel room. Ideally these hotels and motels cost far more, but the owners reduced the costs as part of their social responsibility towards the homeless people.
There are countless other examples showing how local traders chip in to help distressed populations in their times of need, as also on certain special occasions. But perhaps Kashmir is the only place where is kind of camaraderie and societal solidarity remains unknown entities. This is why we see the costs of essential edibles including the fruit and vegetables going up with the advent of holy month of Ramzan. See the irony, there is also a massive surge in peoples’ participation in prayers inside the mosques. But this sense of devoutness and piety is rarely visible on the roads and streets, and certainly not in the market places. Now if traders are indulging in profiteering and over-charging at will, it is also failure of the concerned government agencies. But let’s acknowledge that when it comes to seeking tax holidays and other financial benefits like loan waivers or interest subventions, these traders, particularly the leaders of various trade bodies are there in front seeking their share of the plum. But they never bother to tell their fraternity to behave – and not cheat people, not even during Ramzan. How unfortunate! Criticizing government is easy; looking inwards at the wrongs within needs courage. With due respect to exceptions, if there are any, an unfortunate reality is that our traders are yet to understand that they also owe something to the society which is the primary source of their fortunes.