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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rupees ten thousand per life, only

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There was a news couple of days ago about a couple committing suicide along with two children and a neighbour because they couldn’t pay 50,000/- fine imposed by caste panchayat. While such locally imposed caste laws are bane of the society, what had me thinking was the meagre sum involved. Naturally, half-a-lakh rupees was not meagre for people concerned who couldn’t think of anything else but to kill themselves, but this is not large amount for many people like us. Well, not trivial enough to throw away, but trivial enough to save five human lives. I wondered if somehow one would have known about it before they decided to die, he could have saved them — and he need not be doing any charity.

What if I pay off their loan and in return they work for me for free for one full year? I will be paying 60,000 (+lodging+boarding) for five members (and three working adults) for 12 months thereby effectively paying 1700/- per month per person which is less than market rate for full time servant. This, of course, is win-win for both since however substandard their life would have been with me at subsistence wages, it is still better than alternative of death. Two questions come to my mind: how would have I known about it, and whether they would have accepted this proposal?

Second question is a tricky one. From my point of view, proposal is bargain for them because I’d be willing to work for free and easily for more than one year if alternative is suicide. However, once I pay the sum, there is no incentive for them to stick to their commitment however great generosity I might have bestowed upon them, except moral obligation and gratitude to the benefactor. Unfortunately, humans have horrible track record in honouring their commitments. Ideally, I’d expect them to be forever thankful to me, but practically, I’d have fears that they will rob my house and run away very next day I kept them. Somehow, that is all possible. This possibility, real in my mind, could be reason enough for me not to make that proposal in the first place, unless I am willing to forego the money without expecting any return. Such situations are not uncommon in Indian society where people dying of cold or hunger or inability to repay loans is regular news. A donation of 50/- could have saved that life, if only, donor and sufferer had known in advance.

Am I being paranoid? Do you think proposal would have been accepted? What are the risks?

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