The Dawn: Jul 18, 2014

Punjab Notes: No to state, yes to state jobs

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: —File photo

—File photo

Nobody in Punjab wants to travel by state-owned airline, nobody wants to travel by state-owned railways, nobody wants to go police station and nobody wants to face minions of revenue department. Nobody in fact wants to have any dealing with any of the government departments, yet everybody wants a government job. Yes, government job through hook or crook!

This is how a wit on his social media page simply but succinctly sums up the relationship between the state and so-called citizens in Punjab. Such a hilarious but poignant picture reflects the undeniable reality of the predatory nature of our state, partly inherited and partly manufactured. The state in Punjab due to myriad historical reasons never treated the people as citizens. They are rather lorded over as subjects whose existence’s raison d’être is to uninterruptedly supply the grist for the mill of the parasitic ruling elite.

The ruling elite in the modern Punjab, from the eleventh century onward, has been mostly of foreign origins and alien, an occupying force sustained by the might of the arms. It mattered little whether they descended upon the plains from Middle East, Central Asia or Britain. They being the conquerors had nothing to share but everything to impose; from property laws to eating manners and from religious practices to languages.

The political objective had been to humiliate the people called ‘Razeel’ (riff-raff) or ‘natives’ with a view to achieving the expropriation of their surplus produced as much as possible and as quickly as possible. The legalised plunder was institutionalised. The stark inequality between the rulers and the ruled was made a part of statute book. Such a task proved to be not too difficult in a society where conceptual framework of human inequality was considered to have divine sanction as is amply evident in the caste system already prevalent.

The predatory state developed the practice of ‘taking’ into an art. It incessantly took from the people whatever they had or produced. Apart from the institutionalised plunder, the men at the helms of affairs top to bottom, from ‘His Majesty’ to ‘Patwari (revenue cleric) to policeman unabashedly accepted gifts and took bribes. Corruption kept the state machine oiled and made it easier for the people to get things. The corruption stories of Turks, Afghans, Mughals and the British colonialists and their officials are an integral part of the annals as well as that of collective memory. In today’s Punjab the ignoramus political novices crying themselves hoarse over corruption and threatening’ revolution’ need to scan a few pages of a good history book. Corruption has been there in the past and will continue to haunt us in future unless there is clean rupture with the past which is not likely to happen soon.

Now the question is why the people from middle and working classes who are victims of corrupt practices of the state and its functionaries, are dying to be a part of the system that exploits them endlessly? Why the tormented seek to assume the role of the tormentors? We can take a cue from Marx to understand the situation who says that the ideas of ruling classes become the ruling ideas in a class society. Arabs too grasped the reality with their famous adage: the word of monarch is the monarch of the words. In other words the oppressed in Punjab forced by historical conditions have imperceptibly internalised the social, cultural and political ideals of the dominant segments propagated by the state and its functionaries that represent their world view. The task is rendered easier in the absence of prospects of a transformation aimed at redistribution of economic and political power on an equitable basis. To put it simply, the people try to find a short cut: if you can’t get rid of the oppressors join them. Such people lack the historical consciousness to realise that whatever they get by joining the ranks of the oppressors is a drop in the ocean. The lack of praxis, whatever the reasons, does not create conditions where the people could declare “we will not accept the drop, but must have the whole lot”.

Having the whole lot though is the perennial dream; it is thought to be unrealisable at visceral level by the oppressed people due to their internalisation of cultural and thought patterns of the ruling elite. Their interior is the exterior of the dominant culture which at subconscious level makes them idealise the oppressor. The cultural orientation of the working people i.e. the uncritical absorption of the values of dominant system, is a real hurdle in the way of real social transformation, explains the Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramci.

The members of middle and working classes eagerly ‘pay’ to get the state jobs in the hope of improving their lot. The moment they get the jobs they invariably follow the practice of making the other people ‘pay’ much more than what could compensate them. State job means no real work and a lot of ‘utli kamai’ (what one gets in addition to one’s pay package i.e. tainted money). If you can’t manage to have ‘utli kamai’ while in government job you are declared ‘nakhidd’ (useless). Bigger the government, the better. The hatred for the government lasts as long as you are not a part of it. —

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