By: Syed Khizar Ali Shah.
The country is being flooded by an ocean of despair and burning in the fire of inflation. The very cores of the lower class have been rattled. They have been brought to their knees and are questioning, “Why me, God?” Each household has a story of misery; each house has cried at the hands of inflation; and each has been broken.
Imagine yourself being driven back home from the office by your driver. Every day on the way back, the driver stops to buy chholay. This ordeal keeps going on for a week, and the annoyance grows over the unnecessary stop. Finally, upon inquiry, you shudder at the revelation. Your eyes are opened to something you could not imagine: the driver has a family of seven, and he uses an ounce of the peas to feed them. Every night when he goes back home, he only has two peas per child to feed them and one for his wife and himself. There are days when they have no peas for themselves, and the children cry, but one pea more or one pea less makes no or little difference. Now, compare their dinner to what you just had while reading this.
The above narration is based on reality. This is by no means the only case, but it is one that I have come across. The annual inflation rate in Pakistan rose to 24.5% in December 2022 from 23.8% in November. Food prices surged 35.5%, higher than 31.2% in the previous month, with onions (415%), tea (63.8%), wheat (57.3%), eggs (54.4%), whole grains (53.2%) and rice (46.6%) recording the most significant increases. Other upward pressure came from the cost of transport (41.2% vs 44.2%), namely motor fuel (49.5%), clothing and footwear (17.1% vs 18.6%) and housing and utilities (7% vs 9.9%). Compared to the previous month, the CPI increased by 0.5%, all indicated by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
With prices of goods and services skyrocketing worldwide, mainly due to an unconstrained hike in food and energy tariffs, Pakistan’s inflation rate has also plummeted to a record high, placing it at the 19th rank out of 184 nations. The retail cost of wheat flour across the country has surged like never before, putting additional pressure on consumers already battered by food inflation. With a new wheat harvest in Sindh and Punjab at least two and three-and-a-half months away, respectively, there appears to be little possibility of relief in flour prices over the next several weeks.
The recent spike in wheat prices over the last week or so, to around Rs4,300 per 40 kg, has made the domestic market nearly 30% more expensive than its international counterpart. People have been struggling to cope with an average food price inflation of more than 31% since July. Skyrocketing flour prices, which are touching record levels of up to Rs135 per kg, have put this staple out of reach for low- and middle-income households in the country, raising fears of increased food insecurity.
According to Unicef, 40% of Pakistani children under the age of five are stunted (indicating persistent undernutrition); another 18% are wasted; and 28% are underweight. This reflects the fact that almost 86% of our kids may go to sleep hungry. Consider this in the context of rising inflation and food insecurity. The only way to break the shackles of slavery is through quality education. Although according to Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan, “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by law”, that too is a dream for the common man. In a TEDx talk, Pakistan’s former finance minister Miftah Ismail said that Pakistan should be called the “one per cent Republic”.
Given that opportunities, power, and wealth are limited to the top 1% and the rest are not provided with the resources to succeed, this year, over four million Pakistanis will be turning 18. Of these, less than 25% will be fortunate enough to graduate from the intermediate stress, and about 30,000 will graduate from the British Council’s system. Most of them (75%) will not have been able to finish 12 years of schooling. This 1% will go on to complete their higher education, either here or abroad, and then go on to work in corporate roles or any other profession.
Ever since President Ayub Khan’s era, Pakistan has had 22 families that controlled 2/3 of listed manufacturing and 4/5 of banking assets in our country, showing a superfluous concentration of wealth. One begins to wonder whether Marxists are correct in claiming that education legitimises and reproduces class inequalities by forming a menial class.
Does education prepare the children of the bourgeois for positions of power? The answer can be easily found by looking at the cabinet of the federal government, where most of the members have studied. Are we following an education cycle that is perpetuated to persuade the proletariat to accept their subjugation as normal and natural and to believe that they share the same interests as the capitalist ruling class? Does education really foster equal and fair opportunities, or is it just a myth?
The ruling elite and the Pakistani government must reflect deeply on whether they are truly doing enough for the general masses to provide them with relief and fair and equal opportunities. They must do more and do it fast, as the people are suffering. No parent would want their child to go to bed hungry, and no parent would want their child to cry from hunger. It may not be long before they turn to crime to feed their starving children.
Pakistan is cooking up a recipe for total anarchy with the growing torment of inflation and food insecurity. Karl Marx predicted a revolution, asserting that the proletariat would soon rise up against the inhumane treatment meted out to them and the sheer injustices they had to endure. If Pakistan wants to avoid a French-style revolution, it must act now before it is too late.