A matter of self-respect : The Tribune India

A matter of self-respect

A matter of  self-respect

Photo for representational purpose only. iStock file photo

Rajan Kashyap

THIS is a true story of grit and fortitude, traits typical of the lowest earners dwelling in rural Punjab. Manjit Kaur is a widow, totally unlettered; she supports her handicapped son with her meagre earnings from doing housework in our colony in Amritsar district. I have no means to verify her claim that she is 65 years old. Sprightly she appears, as she travels on a dilapidated bicycle from her village, traversing daily a distance of at least 12 km for her chores in homes such as ours.

Some months ago, Manjit came to my wife, distraught and in tears. It transpired that the company supplying electricity to her single-room hut was threatening to disconnect the supply. Apparently, a bill of over Rs 45,000 was unpaid. The destitute woman could never have conceivably consumed, even in several lifetimes, the amount of electricity billed. The woman feared she would have to go to jail, as there was no possibility on earth to find the resources to meet the default. It was found that some miscreant neighbours had cunningly hitched their home connection to the measuring meter of her dwelling, thus saddling her with the liability.

The episode had a happy ending as another employer of Manjit interceded with the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited to write off a major portion of the dues. On our part, as she was our helper, my wife offered to pay a part of the revised bill. Manjit accepted the help with great reluctance.

For the poor, life is full of adversity. This we discovered last week when Manjit turned up with a heavily bandaged hand, apologising profusely that she had met with an accident. She insisted that she would do the sweeping with her unharmed limb. On seeing the medical report, we realised that one finger of her left hand had been severed. The woman had cycled the distance from her village, clinging to the handlebar with one hand! My wife was dumbfounded. Here was a worker, with a finger severed four days ago, who was prepared to travel and work, despite her handicap. It would be cruel to allow Manjit to work at all. We offered to pay her wages for the full month without her having to work at all, and also bear the cost of her treatment.

We requested her to have a meal at our home, as she did earlier. We were flabbergasted at the brave woman’s response, which showed her fierce self-respect. ‘I haven’t worked, so how can I accept your offer?’ In her own way, the uneducated woman taught us a lesson in fortitude. Charity was not what her ethos prescribed. My wife is using her powers of persuasion to reason with Manjit, but at the moment there is an impasse!

Is this the spirit that fuels the famed Punjabis to strive and fight, and not demand or accept alms?

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