Tyranny of inequality

Published February 26, 2024

“All people who work with their hands are partly invisible, and the more important the work they do, the less visible they are.” — George Orwell

IN a typical landscape one’s eyes take in everything except human beings. They take in the Creek Vistas, the manicured gated communities, the expensive restaurants, the foamy ocean waves and the green golf courses. How come they always miss the sanitation workers in spite of their bright orange jackets, the security guards in blue, the railway coolies in prominent red shirts and the coal miners blackened to the eyes, their throats full of coal dust, drenched in sweat, pick-axing their way through the rocks? Clearly we have designed a dystopian and cruel society whose eyes can no longer perceive its ordinary people. Over 12,000 sanitation workers, often less than 16 years of age, sweeping the streets of Karachi for less than Rs15,000 per month are just one example of this ‘invisibility’.

Pakistan, desperately seeking a breakthrough, is unable to understand that the country is being held hostage by its own small but ruthlessly unethical and insatiably greedy breed of politicians, bureaucrats and beneficiaries. A class that extracts and usurps every resource of the toiling ‘invisibles’ to a point where there is no more blood to suck. We fail to realise that Pakistan can progress only by beginning to ‘see’ our ‘invisible’ citizens, who have been cruelly and illegally pushed into extreme poverty and illiteracy. We may well have succeeded in designing one of the cruellest inequities on Planet Earth.

The tyranny of stolen wages has resulted in mind-boggling inequality. Data obtained using ‘right to information’ to determine the highest and lowest salaries in the public sector reveals that the ratio of the salary of a janitor and the senior most bureaucrat in the UK is 1:8, while in Pakistan it is 1:80. The ratio of the salary of a janitor and the senior-most judge in the UK is 1:11, while in Pakistan it is 1:115. The ratio of the salary of a janitor and the heads of the highest-paid public sector organisations in the UK is 1:23, while in Pakistan it is 1:266. At least 12 Grade OG-8 officers of the State Bank receive Rs3,935,000 per month not to mention petty cash of Rs3 million each for club membership. Clearly, the wealth and luxuries of the rich are sucked and stolen from the exploited and impoverished segment of our society.

The working conditions of the poor could not be harsher or more dehumanising. While on the one hand the elite seamlessly moves from air-conditioned Vigos (purchased with taxpayers’ money) to their air-conditioned offices, the ‘invisibles’ are made to enter poisonous, raw sewage-filled gutters to manually scavenge clogged human excreta with their bare hands and zero safety protection. Many die in the process. The cost of just one of the 150,000 such government vehicles could buy at least six gutter cleaning machines. Approximately a million ‘invisible’ private security guards in Pakistan stand in front of banks and offices for 12 hours’ duty each day, receiving less than half the minimum legal wage, with no overtime, weekly holiday or EOBI benefits. Ask a Grade-22 officer to do this for just one day.

There can be no progress until we begin to ‘see’ our ‘invisible’ citizens.

Discrimination is yet another format of inequality to suppress and suffocate the poor. Some 75m ‘invisibles’ are not registered with the EOBI; they will get zero pension and can only look forward to a bleak future. The 17.5 per cent pay rise in July 2023 translated into an increment of over Rs150,000 for most senior government officials. But the poorest and neediest who deserved the largest raise were given only a meagre increment of Rs7,000. Sadly, millions have not recei­ved this pay rise even eight mo­­n­ths after its pro­mulgation. Cle­v­erly camouflaged, the state provides 17 types of allowances and 11 types of perks (besides basic salary) to government officials. These freebies increase geometrically with the rise in grade or rank. On the contrary, those who actually carry our load are denied even the pittance of minimum wage and EOBI. The fact that almost all those who enter the gutters are non-Muslims is yet another aspect of this brazen discrimination.

The elite-centric (convoluted) system has trapped 99pc men and women in a life of intense misery, while allowing the remaining 1pc (the elite) to buy villas in Portugal and violate traffic laws, and carry unregistered weapons in their Land Cruisers in Pakistan. This process ought to be reversed by slashing the bloated salaries, pensions, perks, protocols and privileges of the rich and providing a decent living wage, pension and equality to our least visible citizens. It is they whose toil and tears have been exploited by the elite to accumulate their questionable wealth and false glory.

The writer is an industrial engineer and a volunteer social activist.

naeemsadiq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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