Monday, November 24, 2008

Faceless Citizens

The people who pay the price for changes in the economy are those in the informal sector like street vendors, yet their stories never make it to the front pages.

Whenever I happen to go to a mall to accompany someone, I end up buying something. But, while buying a lot of thoughts come into my mind - I do not like this mall culture.

I came across a thoughtful article published in THE HINDU, Sunday Magazine on November 16, 2008.

Some excerpts:

Our friendly neighbourhood vegetable vendor has disappeared. Without a trace. No one is able to tell me what happened to him. I ask the man who sells bananas. He also comes every day by taxi with a basket load of bananas. In a few hours, his basket is empty. But he doesn’t know what happened to the vegetable vendor.

Another reason could be economic. A new retail store has opened in the area selling fresh vegetables at marginally lower prices than what the vegetable vendor charged. So, even though his vegetables were decidedly fresher than those sold in the store, and people had an old relationship with him, the majority graduated to the novelty of going to the store and buying vegetables wrapped in plastic.

I narrate this story, which will have echoes in most other cities across India, because it tells us of the largest number of people who are losing jobs and livelihood. The media runs front page stories when airlines staff are laid off. We hear about redundancies in the private sector.

Yet, these people remain invisible. Economic problems always mean stock exchange news, or news of some big factories closing down or stopping production for a few days. But what will happen to people who did not have security in their employment, could never dream of a salaried job, but survived nonetheless on their wits and by providing a much needed service? Who is counting these losses? Is anyone even bothered?

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