The Dignity of Labour
Recently I was waiting for a few minutes at a traffic signal when I happened to notice an old woman selling bangles and assorted fancy items wheeling her hand cart away from the busy junction on the orders of the officious police force who didn’t want people to clog traffic right at the intersection. On a hot summer day, especially here in madras when the temperatures touch 40 degree centigrade even in the shade to see these old women push heavy hand carts laden with merchandise trying to sell them in the scorching noon sun somehow trying to make a living honestly instead of begging or stealing or praying to god for a handout made me reflect on life in general and the value we assign to dignity of labour.
And immediately, unbidden I recalled my colleagues, highly educated office workers seated in air-conditioned rooms who at the stroke of ten am or ten patients whichever is earlier close down their pens for the day saying “I have worked enough for the pittance they are paying me” regardless of the throngs waiting outside for a consultation. And these people, the ones who work only for my salary amount kind are even lauded for their work because compared to others- the ones who sit reading the bible or divinity texts all day in the hospital and prefer to teach only bible gospels/classes to any student who approaches them with a doubt, at least the ten am workers see at least a few patients a day while the born again Christians spend all day communing with Jesus for which the government pays them a salary and gives them an airconditioned office and a captive audience of eager young students- eager to pass somehow/anyhow. And that this is all overlooked or justified by the higher authorities who are frankly afraid of being labelled anti-minority in the vein of excessive secularism and being politically correct towards religious minorities by allowing them to proselytize young college going kids in the classroom.
Anyway, leaving that aside, the very fact that eighty plus elder citizens are still working in the summer heat teaches us two lessons. The first is the most obvious, that there is no social security in India and you either work or you starve, even if you are a centenarian. Which means that either you work hard in your youth and middle age and save the money to tide over your old age or you try and get multiple children at least one of whom will take care of you in your old age, which explains the population problem.
The second lesson to be noted is that people in India, leave alone the officialdom, I am talking of even the common populace, look down on people who work with their hands/feet etc. There is no dignity in labour if you are not working in an airconditioned office sitting down in front of a computer. Even the most productive of manual workers, factory or industry workers or self-employed persons don’t command the respect of a say a 22-year-old software techie who just passed his arrears exams borderline or the bureaucrat who sits on his backside all day and only comes alive to demand baksheesh to scrawl his signature across a file. These are the kind of people who are most respected in India as seen by the ubiquitous engineering colleges and civil service training institutes.
I don’t have any solutions to offer, I don’t even know if I can achieve something with this rant of mine. But as a writer it behoves me to chronicle the times we live in for posterity and as a result I am recording this to the world wide web in the hope that someday someone in the far future will want to research why such an ancient civilization like India collapsed so suddenly and they might be interested to learn that it was because we valued shirking work more than honest labour and rewarded those who worked the least and punished those who didn’t.