I come from a country where we get almost nothing from the Government for free. Even though I pay my taxes, I have no guarantee I will get anything when I actually need. I drive on roads which are not safe, I cannot get a decent or preferential treatment when I go to a Government Hospital, I have to stand in queue for buying railways tickets irrespective of whether the time is very crucial for me, I cannot send my children to Government Schools as it is certain that they will not get a decent education there, I do not draw my quota of ration as the hassle is just too much, I have to spend enormous of time waiting for registering my family and myself in the Government identification programs like getting a passport or a Aadhar card or a Voter identification card; and this list is endless. However, when I worked in India, I paid the required 30% tax without defaulting. My wife continues to do so as she still works in India.
There was a point in my life when I had absolutely no money. I could not even buy food for my family. All we had was our house and so we did not have to live in the street. Everyday, during that period, I saw my family disintegrate. I saw what relatives actually felt about me and my family. We kept loosing more and more everyday. However, our good fortune was that we did not die. The Almighty kept us all alive to see another day when we would not face any such challenge.
However, all this time, the Government did not bother doing anything. I had paid all my taxes without any default all the years. The amount of tax I paid per year was more than enough salary for many middle class families in India. Also, we did not do any wrong to the Government that we were in that situation. There should have been multiple reasons. As far as I am concerned, I only see those days as my defiance against our destiny where I wanted that all of us stay together. I do not challenge The Almighty any more. My wife and me have lived in different cities for more than 10 years now. We meet often. And we are happy with that.
We lost a lot during this phase. However, we have gained back much much more. I attribute our present situation to application of the knowledge gained in this phase of our lives. I have much more than I could have ever asked for. There has been one irreversible change however. My otherwise healthy body is now diabetic. This is also not a complaint or concern as I can enjoy life with medication.
I have always learnt that life is about giving and taking. I take pride in the fact that India has made immense progress since Independence and we continue to thrive. I know this has been possible as many people pay their taxes regularly. Yet, it cannot be denied that there are many in India who do not pay their taxes and unfortunately the greatest value of such defaults come from the upper level of the society. So, the Government should create a system whereby the regular tax payers could be rewarded. The reward cannot be in the form of not just pulling them up as long as they are not defaulting. It has to be in material terms. One possible way could be giving a different colour Income Tax Card (PAN Cards as they are known in India) to good and high value tax payers. This card could be the license for preferential treatment at the Government facilities.
Also, it is a fact that many of us invest in Government Funds like making voluntary contribution to Provident Fund Scheme. We do so with that knowledge that we will get the money back (which is also not always guaranteed and can cause a lot of pain); though the amount of interest the amount would gain would be far less if invested in the market. However, the Government has access to this fund to use for public interest projects. So, it is a proof that there are many citizen who are willing to help the Government in carrying out its wealth redistribution program. The Government could extend the program so that it could check the financial sincerity of the citizen and for the citizen who match a required threshold of sincerity could be allowed to contribute to the Government coffer voluntarily at their own free will; without being forced to do so through collection of taxes. In my opinion, this will create a better character of our nation.
I was living in Thailand when the economic downturn took place. The Thai currency which was rock steady at Baht 26 to a Dollar; suddenly plummeted to around Baht 55 to a Dollar. There were rows of cars returned by the owners to the Banks. Owners of huge buildings were working in McDonald. The King of Thailand, at that moment, requested the citizen to help. I know about the request to the working class. It was that the working class would be divided in 2 categories. One group would take home 10% less salary and the other would take home 15% less salary. All my colleagues consented to the request. I did not see a single protest or hear about any such protest across the country.
My Interpretation of the History
Initially, when man was evolving, there was no society and there was no Government. Every man had to fend for himself/herself. Gradually, man saw the benefits of staying in communities. As the communities grew, the needs of the man also grew. Suddenly, man realised that he could not cater to all his needs by himself/herself. So, man started a system of barter where everybody would share his part of the produce with the other in exchange for the commodity of others. Then, there was the problem of valuation of the commodities. So, exchange rates were worked out. During this whole evolution, man realised that the society could benefit from specialisation. So, work was divided between communities instead of being restricted to specific people. Now, the communities (which later got named as Caste in India) began differentiating between themselves in terms of their usefulness and influence. The stronger communities took control of the weaker communities (read as caste). So, there were Kings. Now, Kings would protect the rest of the people in return for commodities from the others. As security was the most precious commodity (as man is always afraid of so many things), Kings became the supreme in the society. The others were named as subject and were in a way slaves to the King. The difference is that this form of slavery came with consent as there was trade in this relationship. Gradually, Kings termed the commodity exchange as “Tax”. When the Kings became arrogant with power, they started misutilising the model and that was the beginning of creating the divide between rich and the poor.
Every year, I used to take 2 to 3 resources from the pool of graduate trainees recruited directly from the colleges (by the HR Department) for our team. In 2005, we added 3 such members – Anuj Kumar Roy, Kaushik Halder and Sivajit Sarkar. All the three of them were brilliant and soon they became very useful for the team. We depended on Kaushik for all our Rating Systems as he was the very good at rectifying existing programs. This is a difficult skill as I have always found that it was much easier to create a brand new program.
Among the 3 of them, Kaushik was the first to make a capital purchase when he bought a motorcycle. We were all very happy for him; although I was always a bit worried as Kaushik was not a very well-built person. He was on the shorter side even as per heights of Indian Men. Also, he was lean. One day, late in the night, I got a call informing that Kaushik had met with an accident through a head-on collision with a CSTC (Calcutta State Transport Corporation) bus near Sukanta Setu. I was told that he had been taken to Peerless Hospital and his condition was very serious. I found out that his parent were informed. His parents stayed in Berhampur which was more than 6 to 8 hours travel.
The next morning I went to the Hospital. His parents were in hospital at that time. I was told that it would need about Rs. 5 lakhs for his treatment. His parents told me that this amount was not easy for them to arrange. However, they would get down to gathering it. I found out from my company that Kaushik could get about Rs. 80,000 through the company’s insurance policy. I asked whether Kaushik had a credit card as credit cards offer accident benefit. The administration department found out from the credit card company that the credit card company would not pay any accident insurance to Kaushik as Kaushik had not registered any nominee against the card.
Anuj suggested that we collect money. However, I reasoned that we could not contribute so much on our own. I wrote our HR Manager in Gurgaon. He suggested that he would circulate a message across the company so that everyone had a chance to contribute. Through the message, we collected around Rs. 3 lakhs.
Kaushik had to be taken to the ICU in the meanwhile as his lungs were getting infected and his chances of survival were becoming remote. However, the Doctors comforted us that Kaushik was a brave boy and was supporting them adequately. Kaushik got cured. One of his legs (I forgot which one) was badly damaged. They fit steel rods in this leg. After 3 months of rest, Kaushik returned to work. Kaushik still works for Siemens and is one of the pillars of the Telecom Team in the Kolkata unit.
There are some people who are just accident prone and Kaushik is one of them. I was invited to his marriage. After office I went to the marriage hall in Garia. The bride was very nervous as that day Hurricane Aila had struck Kolkata and was moving northwards into West Bengal. Kaushik had decided to come by road from Berhampur to Kolkata. His convoy was stuck in a traffic jam as the road was blocked by a fallen tree. Amarendra and I loafed around in the marriage hall till night 2 AM. In between, when I used to meet the bride, I tried to amuse her with my silly antiques. However, she was a very brave girl. At around 2 AM, when most of the guests had gone home, we also left and I slept in Amarendra’s house that night. Due to Aila, there was no electricity in the Kolkata city that night. Next morning when I woke up, I was informed that Kaushik had reached the marriage hall and the marriage ceremony was completed. I took my car and went home to Barasat; got ready; and returned to office for work.