Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Quest for Ghee - Part I

As per the benefits provided to those Below the Poverty Line (BPL) a new mother is entitled to 5 kilograms of ghee or clarified butter. Asha gave birth to Krishna three months ago and received a coupon entitling her to the ghee. She went to the dairy in Baneda and presented her coupon. A man asked me to sign in a register. He then asked for my coupon. I gave it to him, and he went to the back of the store. When he returned he said there was no ghee. Asha asked for her coupon, and was told to come back two days later. Her mistake lay in parting with the coupon, for she has not received her ghee since then.

Her trust in the shopkeeper cost her valuable nutrition for her family. I've made multiple trips to the dairy and each time they have a new excuse for not giving me ghee. We decided to accompany her to the dairy. Asha didn't recognize the older shopkeeper - apparently, he was the father of the man who had kept Asha's coupon. Asha and I explained her predicament to the older, heavyset man. He looked at me and asked, What's your relationship to this woman? Who is she to you? I could've explained our volunteering in the Kheda, our organization in Bhilwara. Instead, my reply was curt. It's none of your business. That was my mistake.

The man turned hostile and became agitated. I didn't do a good job of keeping my cool either. He claimed the store was out of ghee. Come in the morning. He wasn't going to give Asha her due; why would he, after pocketing the Rs 1000 worth of butter? He denied the acceptance of any coupon, or that Asha had signed her name in the register.

We returned in the evening. This time, he flat out refused. Get another coupon from the hospital. I can't give you ghee without a coupon. At the hospital an official pointed out Asha could receive a duplicate coupon on two conditions:
1. If Asha wrote a declaration stating she lost the coupon.
2. The dairy shopkeeper wrote a statement admitting he hadn't given Asha any ghee.

This time, a calmer Nikhil spoke to the shopkeeper who agreed to write the note. I was too disgusted by the shopkeeper's blatant corruption to even attempt reconciliation. It was outrageous how much an individual had to struggle simply to obtain what was hers by law. An agreement was reached - the day after tomorrow all of us, including the shopkeeper, would go to the hospital to get Asha a duplicate coupon.

Through this experience I realized how important it is to be civil to those who have the upper hand, no matter how uncivil their behavior. I recalled a quote by MLK Jr often cited at KIPP- "Darkness can not drive out darkness, only light can do that."

On the flipside, some anger is warranted...after an initial attempt at civility. Were it not for our anger he would have continued with his 'Come Tomorrow' dogma.

Whether Asha gets her ghee is a matter of doubt. Even more doubtful is that the dairy shopkeeper will be implicated for alleged corruption. But I am certain of one thing - whether he stays or goes is irrelevant, because there are hundreds, maybe thousands like him in the Public Distribution System. Part of a system held unaccountable, they parasitically live off the unawareness of the poverty-ridden (supposed) beneficiary.


  1. Which Dairy in Baneda?

  2. Due to their ignorance people will be corrupt and remain so, unfortunate but true. Our anger may serve no purpose in getting rid of their ignorance. All we can do is strive for a deeper understanding of what goes behind doing such acts as they do, isn't it :)