Last February, I took the CSS exams after completing my graduation. Like all the hopeful candidates I was also waiting anxiously for the result. On 30th September, the result of the written exam was announced. With the grace of Almighty Allah, I was also among the 364 lucky candidates who made it to the list. Obviously, I was over the moon, and I could not sleep that night partially because of the excitement and partially because of the fear of the next steps in the recruitment process.
A few days later, on a cold drizzling night. I was standing outside a bakery near my home. There, I encountered a kid who was barely ten years old. He was selling boiled eggs. The sight of a child working at such a young age and in cold weather sent chills down my spine. He was wearing a T-shirt with a sleeveless old hoodie without any socks, gloves, and shoes. In his feet he was donning a worn-out chappal. Out of curiosity, I approached him and asked him a few questions. In response he told me that he was working for 6-7 hours daily and that he was making his way back to his house which was very far from that place. Upon asking, he told me that he was going there on foot. After that he picked up his cooler and moved on.
At that moment some questions and thoughts came to my mind. What if I was born in such a destitute family? May be this kid is sharper than me. Will he ever get a chance to move up the social mobility ladder? How could I have taken this exam if I hadn’t got the opportunity to study? Can this kid achieve what I have achieved with just hard work?
I doubt that. Luck matters more than hard work. I am not saying that determination and hard work are useless. They are crucial for success and both these traits can transform a person’s life. But luck comes first.
Where you are born makes a hell of a difference. A baby born in a big city in an affluent family has greater advantage in life than a baby who opened his eyes in a poor family even if the family is residing in the same city. This is pure luck. In our society, there are such head starts at almost everything. Whether it is education, health, jobs the society is rife with inequalities.
Let’s look at education first. In the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, education comes under the chapter of fundamental rights. Article 25A states, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” But the facts show that no one cares about the constitution in this country.
According to UNICEF, there are 22.8 million out of school children aged 5-16 years in Pakistan, which is the second highest in the world. At least, we are at the top of something. Pak Alliance for Maths and Science (PAMS), an Islamabad based NGO, in its report ‘The Missing Third’ indicates that out of the total 63 million children aged between 5-16 years, 20 million- one third- are currently out of school. Then there is the discrimination in our school system. There are different types of schools in Pakistan based on class; the elite private schools, forces schools, low-tier private and government schools, and madrassahs. Which type of school a child attends is decided by luck.
Those who are lucky enough to get basic and college education rarely make it to the higher education institutes due to the poor economic conditions of their families. Recently, I came across a young man who has passed his intermediate. He was selling Rooh Afza on a roadside because his family doesn’t have the means to finance his higher education. On the contrary, they needed him to support them financially in these tough times. Can he and many others like him ever get a respectable job in the private or government sector with just hard work? I don’t think so because lady luck is not on their side.
The health sector paints a similar picture. The unlucky ones go to the government hospitals where there is a lack of equipment, doctors and staff, poor hygienic conditions, with no proper wards and beds. Besides, the people were forced to go to the private laboratories and pharmacies for tests and medicines as the hospitals don’t have these facilities. On the other hand, there are private hospitals which can only be afforded by the rich class. An Amnesty International report puts this discrimination into perspective, according to which about 40% of women in Pakistan don’t get proper prenatal care during pregnancy.
Similarly, on the economic front there are vast discrepancies. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2020, the poorest 1 percent held just 0.15 percent of the national income, while the richest 1 percent held 9 percent of the national income in 2018-2019. When it comes to poverty, The Asian Development Bank estimates that 21.9 percent of the country’s population were living below the poverty line in 2018. One can say for sure that COVID-19 and the ensuing economic problems have pushed these numbers even further. These 22 percent Pakistanis are just unlucky. A few of them may change this situation for their coming generations through hard work but most of them will never escape this vicious cycle of poverty.
Who is to blame for these gloomy statistics?
No doubt governance in Pakistan is not even close to satisfactory. The state has certain responsibilities towards its citizens which it had repeatedly failed to fulfill. But it is also true that we as a nation love to blame the government for every wrong in society. The truth is that we, as a society and as individuals, are shirking our own responsibilities. We are quick to overreact, criticize and even protest for the things which we barely understand, like economics and politics, while we ignore our responsibilities to those around us.
Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor, in his book ’12 Rules for Life’ advises young people to take on more responsibility in life to make it meaningful. One of his most common recommendations is to start by cleaning one’s room. If you want to make the world a better place, start by making your own life better and meaningful. This in turn will affect the lives of those around you.
As much as it is the responsibility of the state to mitigate the sufferings of the ‘unlucky’ in society, it is also a duty of us ‘lucky ones’ to look around us and share the fruits of our luck with the rest of the community. And may be, just maybe the world will be a better place to live, if only a little.