An unsung hero of our times

Updated: Jun 22, 2020, 07:15 IST | Ajaz Ashraf | Mumbai

In this turbulent period when job losses abound, here's a story that challenges the philosophical proposition that any means adopted to enhance a business's economic efficiency are morally correct

The nationwide lockdown imposed with the aim of containing the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Indian economy. Pic/Satej Shinde
The nationwide lockdown imposed with the aim of containing the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Indian economy. Pic/Satej Shinde

Ajaz AshrafThere are individuals who invent a new moral principle to guide them in troubled times, often at a great cost to themselves. One such person is Pratik Bandyopadhyay, who chose to resign from his job instead of identifying a member from his team who could be laid off. Never heard of him, right? Until last week, Pratik headed the regional sports desk of the Kolkata edition of a national newspaper that booked a profit of over R400 crore and boasted a cash reserve upward of R1,000 crore in 2018-19.

Pratik and his team of four had worked together for nearly eight years. He took home R94,000 every month. His wife, a government schoolteacher, would pull in another R50,000. They have an eight-year-old daughter with whom they live in a house they own.

After the organisation slashed the salaries of all employees in April, in anticipation of a dip in its revenue because of the lockdown, Pratik sensed a bloodbath awaited them. His presumption was that the company's greed for profit, typical of the corporate world, will make it strive to match the previous year's profit, if not exceed it. Since dismissal of employees is one way of maintaining the bottom line, he shuddered on imagining a life without a job.

In April, an editor, based in Delhi, called Pratik to convey to him the management's instruction that heads of every unit at every centre of the newspaper must identify its "worst performer." What for? Most likely the worst performer would be laid off or his or her salary halved.

Better to resign than to identify the neck to be put to the cleaver, Pratik said.

The voice at the other end gasped in disbelief: What?!

Pratik said the quality of work of his team members had never been questioned over the last eight years, and now one of them was to be damned as the worst performer. That's unjust, inhuman, said Pratik, who was then asked to talk to Mr. Editor in Kolkata.

Mr. Editor lauded Pratik. He said who in today's world sacrifices his own job to save those of others! Yet Mr. Editor thought it prudent to warn Pratik, just in case he had revolution on his mind, that his action would not amount to even a scratch for the newspaper.

No goal other than to take a morally right decision, Pratik replied. He said the families of his four colleagues were solely dependent on their income. By contrast, he did not have to pay a rent and his wife earned a salary. Unlike them, he would not be out on the street. Days later, Mr. Editor suggested it would make great economic sense for Pratik to wait for the management to fire him. That would ensure him, under the terms of his appointment, an extra month's salary, which he would forego if he resigned.

"I told him that dignity matters to me more than a month's salary," Pratik said to me. His last day in office was June 15.

Pratik's resignation challenges the philosophical proposition that any means adopted to enhance a business's economic efficiency are morally correct. He has also proved wrong the assumption that departmental heads will always, to save their jobs, sack a subordinate to hold the bottom line. Implicit in Pratik's decision is the idea that bosses, who are better paid than their subordinates, should offer their scalps to company owners wishing to reduce staff.

We need more and more Pratiks as COVID-19 batters an already bruised economy.

We need a Pratik in the political realm, as those who subscribe to Chanakya-niti, which privileges power over morality, hold the levers of the state. We need him as a substitute for those who promised to uphold moral principles but belied our faith.

Remember Ranjan Gogoi? He was among the four judges who held a press conference, in January 2018, to warn the nation that the Supreme Court's functioning had become a threat to democracy. Gogoi had kindled hope – which he extinguished during his tenure as Chief Justice, and is now a member of the Rajya Sabha!

Or take Arvind Kejriwal, who grabbed the nation's attention because of the moral position he took on myriad issues, but cannot now offer even a word of support to Muslim and Left-liberal youth leaders who have been booked for conspiring to foment the February riots in Delhi. Some of them did indeed block roads to protest against the discriminatory citizenship policies, but this action cannot justify the killing spree that mobs were allowed to undertake.

The Delhi Police through their tendentious investigations want us to believe that the youth leaders were agent provocateurs. Only a Pratik in the Delhi Police could have pointed out that their attempts to prove right a Hindtuva allegation resemble the tactics of the Chinese to turn their bogus claim over the Galwan Valley into reality. With time out of mind, Pratik Bandyopadhyay represents rationality anchored in morality and humanity.

The writer is a senior journalist

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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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