Monday, 26 December 2011

Being Indian: Dignity of Labour

I grew up with an engineer for a father, a teacher for a mother and an extended family full of educators, doctors and scientists. I remember when I was 8, my sister was 15 and just out of high school. She was the first one to take up Commerce as her specialization in 11th Std. At that point, I realized just how “science-oriented” my family was. I loved chemistry and mathematics, maybe because while I was growing up, I would pretend to be one of my mother's students while she took tuitions at home. Surprisingly, I just about passed in History. Despite that, I went on to study Arts in my 11th and 12th.

My parents never questioned my chosen path. I received a lot of criticism from an uncle (a scientist) who insisted that if I wanted to get into psychology (my then interest), I should do it through science as there was more money and scope for science. I stuck to my decision and completed my arts course. I went on to take up journalism and psychology in my degree. Less than two years into college, I realized being in an institution and studying just didn't work for me. I found myself bunking college and reading through huge psychology books at coffee shops. Attendance shortage, fines and being locked inside college against my will till 3 pm regardless of whether there was class or not eventually led me to quit and start doing random intern-ships and jobs.

I trained and worked in a lot of publications back then. I clearly remember at this point, I got into a huge argument with the same uncle. He claimed that working in a newspaper took very little effort and talent and that the humanities by itself are a complete waste of manpower. I stopped him and very simply asked him if he subscribed to a newspaper.

We often study about the cruelties of the caste system. In some parts of the country, the caste system in it's original ugly self still exists. But I think a more prevalent problem in this society is the lack of dignity of labour. The instances I mentioned above are fairly trivial to the larger picture. Another situation could cite a better example. Recently, I was at a friend's place attending a small party of sorts. Just before I took leave, the conversation was about maid servants and their inherent quality of stupidity.

A lady in her late 40s went on to say “Maids are born to be maids. They are not equipped to do better.”

I sat in disgust as I dined with this woman. I listened as the conversation went on into bickering about their maids incapability to take simple instructions. I have heard many people bitch about their maids. I too have, especially when I started finding money missing from my pockets. But to judge an entire group of people based on their occupation reminded me a little too much of the caste system. I really wanted to ask this woman why she was hiring somebody else to do a job that was apparently so insignificant?

Another day she named an MNC and asked me how they could hire her maid's daughter since she couldn't even speak decent English. I had kept quiet the other day and decided I could not do that again and told her that not all jobs in this country depend on English speaking skills. After all, English isn't even our native language.

This is the thought that fails me. How does speaking English make one superior? Isn't the objective of language communication? I myself am quite ashamed that I think in English and can't fluently speak a single Indian language. We are all for supporting movements that promote education for all, but where is that support when it comes to practising dignity of labour?

The above example is one of many. The way we deal with the people in our system highly reflects our thoughts. The maid servant, the watchman, the auto driver and many more are all people we take for granted in society. We assume that the reason they have those jobs is because they are uneducated, poor or simply don't know better. The sad part of it all is that we benefit greatly from the services of these people every day. I never fail to thank my maid servant as she leaves home every morning.

The traffic policeman is another person that I feel bears the brunt of this disgusting Indian habit. We hate all of them because we bumped into a few that offered to take bribes from us. Our policemen are highly underpaid. They are made to work long hours without breaks to eat or answer nature's calls. At the end of it, they have to somehow put up with us. All of us, in a hurry to get places that we forget lane discipline. We ride onto the zebra crossing before the pedestrians even get a chance to cross the street. We don't always wear our helmets. We are proud to drink, drive and get away with it and in the end we blame the police because they are under staffed. Who would want to be a policeman? Long hours, less pay and the worst of it, the public treats you like scum.

A trend is coming together. Over time, we are putting engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs on a pedestal. No doubt, these are noble jobs. The point is all of them are. We are all a part of this system and we all put in the same amount of effort. Dignity of Labour is defined as respecting all jobs equally. But when I see the way we treat each other, I can only see that we define dignity based on our incomes forgetting that if we didn't have one another, our lives would simply fall apart.


  1. Wonderfully put. A topic which has really made me wanna write about it. I am the youngest in my current office and the power equation really sucks. You can see it change when one of the men is talking to the editor (a female) and then to me (I am 20 yrs younger).
    So treating people well changes in many forms. Dignity of labour like you say is something that our work culture and probable social culture lacks like a gaping hole.

    We have to conscious of the rubbish coming out of our mouths no? I guess it takes a lot to be that mindful.

    Keep writing. I am now waiting. :)

  2. Prejudicious attitude/bias is something that we can't eradicate, no matter what! theres a racist in all of us, that when not checked, can emerge anytime, anywhere!
    Anyways, LIKE! wat u've written... good work sista!