Government and the Old Woman in Forest

In the not-too-distant past, there was a very senior official .  He was an official of his own kind, very devoted to the welfare of the poorest people. He led a most simple life, so that he could devote himself single-mindedly to the dearest objective of his life which was to work for the welfare of poor and oppressed people, particularly the tribal communities of his country. Wherever he was posted, he tried his best to achieve this objective as well as possible within all the limitations of government set-up.

He had entered government service with very high aspirations of what he will achieve by his complete and lifelong devotion to the welfare of people. However lately he had felt very lonely and isolated as he was not getting the desired support from his colleagues. Instead many of them appeared to be working at cross-purposes and acted in such a way as to perpetuate the existing exploitative system. He continued to get complaints from several poor households, particularly tribals, regarding many-sided injustices they continued to suffer from the hands of even petty officials who punished them and confiscated their meager belongings on imaginary complaints which arose only because the tribals and some other communities had been deprived of their rights in various ways and were being treated like encroachers in their own home.

Sad and dejected, he thought about these problems for a long time. He wasn’t really getting the right picture from reading official notes and files, he felt strongly. Therefore he decided to venture into the forest area and its remote hamlets on his own, leaving behind his subordinate officials,  so that he could talk to people directly and hear out their true feelings in detail without the people getting interrupted and intimidated by his subordinate officials who in the past often did not even allow people to complete what they were relating.

So he called the driver of his jeep and just the two of them set out quietly to move around undisturbed in the forest area. He asked the driver to drive slowly because he was in a very thoughtful mood, thinking about what he would like to discuss with people.

Deep in the forest area the senior official saw an old woman carrying a big bundle  on her head and walking briskly, even though her weak body was bent with the weight on her head . The official asked the driver to stop a little ahead of her and then walked towards the old woman with folded hands.

Mother, he addressed her, I will help to take down your weight. Can you stop for 10 minutes to speak to me.

The old woman was taken aback and was a little apprehensive at first. But her experienced eyes could spot sincere kindness when she saw this ( which was rare). She nodded in agreement.

The official moved to help the  old woman with her head-load, but the driver intervened and quickly lifted the head-load and placed it on the ground.

The woman relaxed and sat down under a tree to rest.

Mother, the official said, I have one request to make to you. Please tell me that if the government really wants to help you , what steps it should take. Assume that the government is asking you what it should do to help you. What will you tell the government, what action of the government will be most helpful for you?

The old woman’s wrinkled face  lighted up with rare hope. Oh! she said, so you know the government.

Yes, Mother, I do.

Will the government listen to you?

The official hesitated for a minute , then said—Yes, I hope so.

I believe so.

The old woman said with some real hope—Well if you know the government and it really listens to you, then kindly tell the government that it can help us the most by simply going away from here.

For once the very senior official who had written many widely praised  books and scholarly papers could not find any words to reply. He kept quiet and in fact his face became a little pale.

Then after helping the woman with her head-load he quietly walked back to his jeep and asked the driver to return.

Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author whose rural/ development reporting has been recognized in the form of several prestigious awards.



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