She sold fish at the market after college hours to help pay for her fees. Her name is Hanan Hamid. She is from Thodupuzha in Kerala. She is 21. Why is this even a news story, let alone a cause and a crusade for politicians to leap into the fray, and a subject for trolls to get ugly?
Millions of young Indians augment their studies by working in various jobs because they are poor but ambitious. In my building in Delhi, the traditional dhobi’s son is doing his chartered accountancy. After hours, he helps his father, collects clothes from the apartment and returns the ironed stacks. He does this with no trace of apology. The barber has a brother who is in his final year of college but he stands in during evenings at the little shop and cuts hair to help his family. No apology either. The guy who comes to clean part time at my place is saving up enough by serving as a waiter in a restaurant at night and will buy a car this week.
Whatever the future, he says, he will still pick up the broom and continue to clean. Outside the compound gate is an old-fashioned cobbler. His son is doing a management course and in the evening, he polishes shoes, happily unashamed of his duties. They all have one thing in common, they chase their dreams. I work with many of these people, dozens of them and they have great pride in themselves as they fight the odds. They are not sorry for being poor. And they do not seek benediction.
As an editor for many years, I always blocked stories that romanticised poverty and set it to music. There was something conceited and patronising about turning hard and honest work into a saga of courage because it perpetuated the myth of inferiority by denial. In our time in journalism, they were categorised as ‘shoeshine boy’ stories about little Raju with his little wooden box and his sunny smile and were banned by many sensible editors because they were obscene and presumptuous.
It also indicates that the only section of society that still questions dignity of labour in India are those who do not have to engage in it. What is insidious is that they cheapen it by pretending to display admiration. Sometimes, the privileged do not realise how hurtful they are when they do a Hanan Hamid on an individual. It is truly cruel to be kind because what you are really saying is: I am a better man than you, Gunga Din.
Let her sell fish, ornaments or become a bricklayer. How is it an issue for anyone?
By generating a controversy over a personal right to earn that is guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution, the law has been broken. It reads: Right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business to all citizens subject to Art.19 (6) which enumerates the nature of restriction that can be imposed by the state upon the above right of the citizens.1 Sub clause (g) of Article 19 (1) confers a general and vast right available to all persons to do any particular type of business of their choice.
Selling fish is included in the charter. Consequently, the newspaper that chose to highlight Hanan's choice, those who propelled to report, the politicians who jumped on the bandwagon and even the ugly trolls who went for her, share one thing in common. They invaded her privacy also guaranteed by law. In August 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.
That fundamental right of Hanan Hamid could be trampled upon by misplaced righteousness and piety because she was poor. A case of good intentions getting it all wrong. Making it hell for her.
Updated Date: Jul 28, 2018 17:10 PM