On the issue of street hawkers!


The issue of street hawkers has entered into an interesting public debate triggered by Patricia Mukhim’s article, ‘Hawkers may have rights but what about responsibilities’ (ST. June 17th, 2016). I wish to contribute to the debate with no particular intention of siding with the motion or the opposition, but to state the facts as they are. The PWD roads and Municipal footpaths were constructed for general public purposes, and not for private individuals to set up stalls for selling either material goods or services. As P D Nongrum said, emotions should not blind our judgements in trying hard to justify the unjustifiable, because the PWD roads and SMB footpaths are not natural markets (ST. June 20th, 2016).

     I agree with Rev. NB Diengdoh that the hawkers are part of our society who were compelled by circumstances to be hawkers (ST. June 21st, 2016). Cow dung is a valuable matter which a farmer would lovingly handle with his bare hands to fertilize his crops. But the same matter would be menacing dirt if it happens to be in a Church yard’s lawn or in the school compound. A colourful plastic bag is a beautiful thing to carry clothing, books or other items, but if it happens to be in a roadside drain it would be an eyesore. So it is said that dirt is nothing but ordinary matter in the wrong place. Likewise the hawkers who crowd the streets and footpaths are ordinary and respectable citizens, but happen to be in the wrong place. Should we encourage respectable citizens to remain in the wrong place forever? Moreover, the hawkers in the streets of Shillong do not constitute the vast sections of the poor on this part of the earth. The vast majority of the poor are struggling for their livelihood in some other rightful places.

     I believe that Patricia Mukhim’s article is a purely rational and legal expression, and not a moral treatment of the issue in question, and she is right on that line. Rationally and legally speaking, a criminal who committed a heinous crime and is convicted by the court to capital punishment, must be executed whether he is rich or poor, powerful or weak. The President’s act of pardon in such a case is not based on rational argument, but on extra-legal and moral considerations. Likewise, rationally and legally speaking, some selected individuals have no right to set up private business on the public footpaths; hence, they should be evicted, and there is no question about it. How they should be evicted is more of a moral question than a rational one. Whether they should be evicted straight away, or be provided with alternative locations, or be economically empowered through other non-objectionable enterprises, is the joint responsibility of the society and the State. I had made some suggestions on this issue in the article, ‘Solving Shillong’s manifold problems’ (ST. October 8th, 2014).

          It is good to have sympathy with the hawkers for being compelled to earn their living in the wrong places, but it is not a charitable act to make them believe that they are engaging in businesses in the rightful places. I agree with Omarka Laloo who expressed positive comments on the actions of the Jowai Municipal Board to evict roadside vendors from the footpaths at Ïawmusiang Jowai, who are sometimes motivated to remain there by sheer greed, ignorance and lawlessness, with the sole motive of earning money at any cost with no thought for peace, health and development (ST. June 22nd, 2016). Sometime ago a woman who had claimed a particular spot in the street at Motphran in Shillong as her private property had badly assaulted another poor woman who attempted to spread her wares there.

     The very idea of working for the poor and the needy has today become an elitists’ engagement. Even religious institutions are beginning to lose credibility as real centres of charity for the poor and the needy. Indeed, the idea, ‘na ka bynta ki kup shiliang ki sem shiliang’ (for the poor and the needy) has become a stale catchword of crafty politicians. Blaming capitalism and its economic policies is not a concrete solution either because in any kind of social system there are inherent loopholes. Working for the poor is to empower them in whatever way we can to be in their rightful places, and not to encourage them to remain as matter in the wrong place, as that would only devalue their real human dignity.

Yours etc.,                                                                                           

Fabian Lyngdoh,

Via email

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