Redefine jobs and work

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Redefine jobs and work

Monday, 18 March 2019 | Vinayshil Gautam

It’s time that the Indian economy and its assumptions were rooted in the ethos and the reality of the Indian way

Several topics gain prominence in the media out of nowhere and again get lost in the cacophony of other unrelated issues, ranging from which UPA schemes were repackaged by the NDA or how many were killed where. Or worse, asking for a job count when there is a significant shift not only in the meaning of what constitutes work or indeed a job.

It is nearly impossible to be interested in a media story beyond a few days — if even that — and keep track of what happened subsequently to the initial news report. Tracking a theme has to be done through independent sourcing of information. Under such circumstances, commentary becomes an important media — for both  print and electronic — function.

However, one needs to refer to one of the rare enduring topics in the media, namely “multiplication of jobs or otherwise.” It is plausible to argue that one cannot talk of “jobs” unless one is clear on the changing nature of “work.” The textual meaning of work is activity and when activity becomes remunerative, it becomes a job. The popular meaning of a job has a context which connotes employment through the ability of rendering services or producing goods which people want. It is, therefore, a pity that for many there is a disconnect in the usage of the word “job” or “work.”

A leading public figure, not so long ago, talked of earning through making pakoras instantaneously. A given set of people, who are now clearly identifiable, ridiculed it. It is possible to argue that there is nothing dishonourable about making pakoras. Given the concept of dignity of work, any meaningful effort is respectable. It is another matter that after an orchestrated ridicule of making pakoras, reference to that activity was quietly dropped.

At another plane altogether, frying pakoras is not such a unique activity. Frying (or cooking) food of one variety or another, from poori to samosa or anything else for that matter, is a legitimate economic/livelihood endeavour. We should have the ability to see the dignity of self-reliance which makes one gainfully employed or engaged. Linking livelihoods to “wage employment” alone is a dis-service to human enterprise.

It needs to be flagged that this country, like all countries, has a unique, contextually-oriented economy. In India self-employment is the backbone of gainful livelihood. The pavement book seller, peddler of monkey nuts, tea seller, person who pushes the cart, the blacksmith, cobbler, carpenter, plumber, the barber beneath the banyan tree and so many others are following occupations which entitle them to hold their head high. They have done it for decades, if not centuries, and have given a productive flavour and meaning to the Indian economic way of life.

The popular psyche has not woken up to this truth. The elitists find it abhorrent. They believe in adopting what the West has defined as livelihood and a way of life. The Western-educated intelligentsia has a very different concept of work and a job. Their eschewed perspective is their prerogative but it is necessary to insulate state economic policy from this queered pitch. No state policy on these matters can succeed or take root unless it is in some kind of symbiotic linkage with the living socio-economic heritage of the land of its practice.

The tribals, on the other hand, have a knack of minding their own business, living life their own way. They are immune to the banality of this debate. They can collect their forest produce like amla, jamun, tamarind, custard apple and many more — the list can be long and varied from one tribal region to another — try to earn their living and maintain their families. The list of vegetables from the tribal areas includes many favourites of the non-tribal folks but then the tribal way of life is integrated with the environment in many ways which are neither recognised nor duly factored into the “larger national economic thought.” Kundroo, jimicand, bottle gourd, cowpea are but a few in the list of what is produced and consumed, bringing the tribal produce to the non-tribal palate. Among the fruits, aonla, muskmelon, jackfruit and papaya are but a few which serve  this purpose.

The problem is not the differentiation between a tribal and a non-tribal but a simple understanding of what is a job, what constitutes employment and thus, the way of life. The simple definition of work is any activity which makes one independent economically and carry on without poaching on another person’s effort. It’s time that the Indian economy and its assumptions were rooted in the ethos and the reality of the Indian way. With a little bit of conscious advocacy, it will happen in a more scientific manner on a larger bandwidth.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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