Life on the edge: Watchman woes

A few days ago when I woke up for my daily morning walk, I heard an unusual commotion in our street. Some people could be heard shouting loudly “Chowkidar chor hai!” I was intrigued as I had no hunch about any early morning rally by the Opposition parties in our area. Bewildered, I came out and found that the sloganeers were not the members of any political group. The crowd comprised the people living in our street with the watchman in the centre.

As I explored the matter, I was informed that the previous night a gang of thieves had burgled one of the houses in the street. Keeping in view the rising incidence of thievery, the denizens of the locality had appointed this young man to guard our houses. In the wake of that episode, a few were holding the boy responsible for neglecting his duty whereas the rest believed that he must be in cahoots with the burglars. Despite his persistent pleadings of being innocent, he was handed over to the police to extract the truth. Thankfully, with the aid of the CCTV footage, the real culprits were arrested by evening. On their statements that the watchman had no involvement in the act, he was released. Much to my surprise, the chowkidar resumed his duty from the same night.

Out of sympathy, I initiated a conversation with him early morning the next day. What followed next was nothing short of a big shock. With teary eyes, the sobbing boy told me that he was the only son of his labourer father. Since they had a large family with six nubile sisters, his father’s income was not sufficient to keep the pot boiling at home. In order to supplement the meagre income of his father, his mother and sisters worked as domestic helpers. Seeing his whole family fighting against the grinding poverty, he had taken up the job of watchman on the paltry salary of Rs.2000. As the boy was a graduate, he was simultaneously preparing for the Banking exam.

Hearing his pitiable tale, I was overwhelmed and tried to put a five hundred rupee note into his pocket. The honest boy immediately held my hand and refused to accept the money despite my repeated requests. Now my eyes welled up when he said, “Sir, I am poor but I am not a thief’. Saying so, he moved ahead, whistle in mouth. I however stayed frozen to the spot, ruminating over the predicament of such people. In today’s political scenario ‘Chowkidar’ has become a buzzword. Some eulogise the big Chowkidar of Indian politics and some are busy casting aspersions on him. All the leaders have their own political axes to grind. But has any one really thought of the plight of countless real chowkidars? It is not an isolated case of our street’s chowkidar.

Many from his community work assiduously in various sectors by staying awake and guarding our lives and property. They have to spend sleepless nights yet whenever any untoward incident of theft occurs, they are the first ones to be suspected. Time to accept the fact: Every chowkidar is not a chor.

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