My niece and her husband were recently visiting from the Netherlands – he is a young, well informed and widely read young Dutchman and there were endless hours of discussions and arguments on economics, politics, climate change and what have you. One of his observations struck me – he said that many of the labor intensive jobs in manufacturing that had moved to the developing world were moving back to Europe, because increased automation had eliminated the labor component altogether. And their fear was that this would lead to a state of lesser jobs in the years ahead, with a permanent group of unemployed, who would perforce be those unfit for the ‘higher skill’ and ‘thinking’ jobs.
So, where are we in India headed? The less advanced economies (developing, under-developed or what have you!), which are home to the larger part of the world’s population, are in various stages of transition – from the medieval non – industrialized to various levels of industrialization. With our huge and young work force, we probably epitomize the most polar extremes – the highest level of mental work on supercomputers and what have you to the manual scavengers who still clean night soil for a living. Added to this is the baggage of caste, which has been addressed legally rather than socially, and in fact been encouraged politically. And traditionally, the social structure has never really appreciated the ‘dignity of labor’.
Rajdeep Sardesai has expressed his appreciation for Mr Pillai, who was a graduate, worked as a doorman at the Crossroads book shop in Mumbai and expressed a desire to read his book. This would not be uncommon in our country, if only we would only engage more with the people around us at a human one-to-one level. My visiting Dutch niece broke the strap of her slipper. She would have trashed the pair in her own country – but here, asked me if it could be repaired. ‘Of course’ I said – and took it with us as we went out for lunch. On our return, I got my driver to make a sudden halt as I spied a ‘mochi’ on the pavement.
He promptly got to work with his glue and chisel etc. He was a young man in his early twenties, and while we waited for the glue to dry I learnt that he was a migrant from Samastipur, in Eastern Bihar. He has moved a year ago, has passed 12th class and saw no hope for getting a job around his home – Rs 2-3 lacs to bribe your way to a Government job and complete lack of any other kind!! ‘How did you pick Gurgaon?’ I asked? He was not so forthcoming on that one, but admitted that he made Rs 400-500 a day, of which he spent Rs50-100 on materials. The premises are free and the police do not hassle them he said. Then I asked him very tentatively ‘Is this your family trade’ – would have been embarrassed to ask him if he was a chamar!! He said no, and was not very forthcoming on that either. But he was polite, and charged us Rs 20/ for the job!
So, folks will do whatever it takes to make a living. I would not like to take this as an indicator that the caste prejudices are dissolving since I am sure our young friend would not have ventured to earnhis living as as ‘chamar’ in and around his home town. However, he felt no hesitation earn to work as a ‘cobbler’ in distant Gurgaon!! So, maybe ‘dignity of labor’ comes with dignity of earning a living and we should salute the thousands of young people who are struggling to do that !!