Friday April 19, 2024

The people boom

By Mubarak Ali
July 16, 2018

Historical evidence suggests that if a country’s population increases beyond the limits of its resources, it deeply influences its social, political and economic fabric.

In the past, the Subcontinent’s population surpassed its resources, resulting in a large number of people being left unemployed. Many of these people were unskilled and, therefore, easily available to perform all types of jobs for aristocrats and the rich. As a result, the household of every ‘noble’ had a large number of servants who performed various domestic duties.

Consequently, the upper classes avoided involving themselves in any form of labour as they considered it to be humiliating. Labour became cheap and servants were employed on nominal salaries. This practice continued after the fall of the Mughal Empire when the East India Company came into power. An army captain employed at least 15 servants, including cooks, tailors, gardeners, carpenters and sweepers, to perform various tasks. Moreover, it made them deeply conscious of their status and class.

Historians have argued that the main reason for the lack of technological innovation in India was its burgeoning population. Labour was readily available in the market at cheaper rates in India. Meanwhile, technological advancements occurred in other societies because they needed machines as a suitable alternative to human labour. In the US, large plantations required either African slaves or machinery to replace labour. The same happened in Europe, which went through agricultural as well as industrial changes. India lagged behind in terms of technological growth because it had an ever-increasing population.

Following the decline of the Mughal Empire, small independent and semi-independent states emerged. Rulers, chiefs of ethnic groups and aristocrats insisted on having their own personal armies to protect their property. This culminated in internecine wars, which were fought to either occupy the territories of others or to plunder the resources of rivals.

There was no dearth of people who were readily available to join any army or group. Ambitious rulers employed between 20,000 and 50,000 soldiers without facing any problems. Since it became customary to not pay these soldiers regularly, most of them heavily depended on war booty. In the event of a defeat, the camp of a vanquished ruler was plundered not only by the soldiers of the victorious army but also by its own soldiers, who escaped from the battlefield with whatever they could get their hands on.

Other sources of income for these armies, including looting and plundering towns and villages, and extorting money from rich merchants and traders. There were also groups of soldiers who roamed from one place to another and offered their services to anyone who required it. In case of a political decline, these armies were considered a source of employment for people. But there was no compensation in the event of death or disability in the battlefield. Even then, people were prepared to die with the hope that they would obtain a small amount of money for their services.

When the East India Company assumed political power in India after defeating the rulers, it ended these civil wars. A large number of people became unemployed.

The British government adopted a policy of sending Indians as indentured labourers to its various colonies – such as South Africa, the West Indies, Burma, Malaysia, Uganda and Kenya – where they worked in mines and agricultural fields. Although these labourers worked hard, they were mired in poverty and didn’t have any rights. The descendants of these Indian settlers are still living in these countries.

After the creation of Pakistan, most workers were sent to England at a time when there was a shortage of labour after the Second World War. These migrants worked hard in British factories and contributed to the country’s economic development. In the 1970s, a large number of workers went to the Middle East because there were no employment opportunities for them in their own country. They worked under sub-human conditions to boost development in oil-rich countries.

Whatever they earned was spent towards improving the social and economic status of their families. This trend inspired young people who were unemployed to go abroad and accomplish their desires. But many of them became victims of human trafficking and, in some cases, even put their lives at risk.

Although the population of Pakistan is increasing rapidly, we are struggling to fulfil its basic demands. Our young people are mostly unskilled and, at worse, illiterate. They don’t find jobs in the country and are compelled to go abroad to seek economic opportunities. Many of them are involved crime and drug abuse, which creates social and economic problems within society.

Despite the excessive growth in the population of the country, no attempts have been made to provide people with skills and technological education so they don’t become a burden on their families and society.

We can learn a few lessons from those countries that have addressed these problems and developed economically and socially. A recent example that we must consider is that of Bangladesh, which is arduously managing the problem of overpopulation. Meanwhile, Iran is using religious teachings to control the growth in population rates. Experts believe that if immediate action isn’t taken to address the population crisis in Pakistan, it could result in more disasters in the coming years.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.