#MeinBhiChowkidar Movement and Dignity of Labor

In April 2015, when our PM Modi visited Canada and addressed the NRIs over there, he spoke about the dignity of labor (the lack of it) in India. From what I read, he has talked about this topic earlier as well but this was the first time I heard about it from him. I ended up writing an article about that at that time as well.

Fast forward to 2019, when I heard about the #MeinBhiChokidar campaign, that speech of his replayed in my mind and this topic was one of the earliest thoughts that occurred to me. A campaign that started as a response to the filthy sloganeering by the Congress Naamdaar, led by the PM himself and seconded by pretty much all of his ministers, received a resounding response from the general public too. It may or may not have been intended as one, but for me, it was a great experiment on the dignity of labor and the change in the mindset of the Indians. They (public) didn’t do it consciously but it was a step in the direction of establishing dignity of labor in the Indian psyche. It was one of those occasions, when a title, that is normally associated with a seemingly low-quality job in the traditional Indian mindset, was adopted by thousands (perhaps millions) of Indian as a part of their identities. People were not hesitant to call themselves a watchman, English equivalent of the word, in its spirit and embraced it wholeheartedly.

While the prime minister clarified that the term “chowkidar” is in the essence of the duty of the security personnel in general, which is that of guarding whatever piece of the entity that they are responsible for, in his case, it was the whole nation. The fact that it was embraced by many was a good example of how, we as a nation, is opening up to the idea of giving respect do any kind of work that is done honestly.

A few years ago, there was a good debate on the “pakodas” where the Prime Minister said that the person selling snacks on the road in an honest manner is equally entitled to the level of respect any other person doing a corporate job is. We, as a nation, should respect the honesty of the person and it’s work irrespective of what that work is as long as it is not harming anybody. This is a very important idea that needs to be included in the mindsets of Indians who generally have inhibitions on a certain type of work based on their own understanding of their identities, mainly social.

The dignity of work is something which I witnessed more in the Western countries (at least compared to India). It was a part of Indian civilization when the society was divided into “varnas” and everybody was free to choose whatever skill they want to acquire and contribute to society. This was before the whole society was divided into classes and castes and races by the Britishers in order to rule India more conveniently using the policy of “Divide and Rule”.

I remember the first glimpse of the dignity of labor when I landed in the US for the first time and was standing in the immigration queue. On the screens placed right above the counters, they were explaining the whole process of immigration and what things people need to take care of during the process. They were also proudly explaining the importance of an immigration officer in ensuring the security of the nation and how they are the first line of defense to ensure that the unwanted people do not enter the country. It was such an important idea, something that doesn’t occur so naturally unless mentioned explicitly. The amount of respect, in daily lives, all these people who made the community safe, clean, and beautiful receive is commendable.

For example, the Indian police which is often at the receiving and of many complaints, we forget that they are the first line of defense whenever any kind of attack happens in the country are any other kind of law and order situation arises. In the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Mumbai Police was the first one to respond to the situation and in fact, a brave constable, Tukaram Omble, lost his life while managing to capture the lone live terrorist in the police operation. We take certain things for granted and do not realize and its importance unless it is not there. People who help us in our daily lives like the security guards, people who pick up the garbage, the sanity workers, the firefighters, the traffic police and many more. These unsung heroes who make our lives easy and safe on a daily basis really should get the recognition they deserve. In the western world, some of the critical services like the firefighting, the paramedics, and the police I known as first responders.

Unfortunately, a part of the culprit is also the terminologies used for these people. For example, the person who picks up garbage every day from our houses, we call him or her kachrawala/wali instead of safaaiwala/wali, which is more correct because we are actually throwing the garbage and they are cleaning it up.

Two years ago, on one of the Facebook groups, I came across a post by a lady who shared the summer activity of her two kids who made some money by starting their business in the neighborhood. What was the business? They charged some dollars for picking up the trash from the neighborhood and putting it out in the common bin. It was really amazing to read. This household was not poor. The kids did not really have to do the job that they were doing. However, it was their mother’s way to make them start earning money rather than just having it from the parents. It also inculcated a sense of respect in the kids’ minds for the people who do similar kind of work an understand how hard working these people are who clean up the entire community. In a way, such activity imbibes the dignity of labor in kids.

I guess that’s where it should start. I hope this idea of the dignity of labor spreads well across India and Indians.

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Perspective

A few days ago I watched the Veer Das Netflix special “Losing It”. While he is probably the best when it comes to stand-up comedy (the reason Netflix is going for the second special with him, of all the artists), there was a part where he couldn’t stop whining about the beef ban that’s in place in the majority of the states in India. Now, he’s not the first person to do that. In fact, many left-wing so-called intellectuals have been doing that and ironically the same people also diligently share photos or post tweets about how they are enjoying beef in India (which essentially contradicts what they are saying).

Now, I do agree with the whole freedom of eating part and to a very large extent, I support it. I’m saying “very large extent” and not “completely” because we should be cognizant of the fact that with every freedom, comes the responsibility as well. While we can surely enjoy the freedom we want, freedom is never (or shouldn’t be) absolute. A driving license gives you the freedom to drive but it also holds you responsible to drive safely. A voting right gives you the freedom to vote but also holds you responsible to choose the best of all candidates fighting the election since the country’s/state’s future depends on your decision. A job gives you financial freedom but also holds you responsible to manage your expenses. And all the debates I’ve seen so far about the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of eating – talk only about freedom and conveniently forgets the responsibility.

Theoretically, I should be able to eat pork right outside a mosque or in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. I should also able to eat out in open during Ramadan in the same area – I have the freedom to do it.

Can I do it? – Yes.

Should I do it? – No.

And not because of the backlash I might receive or worse, I can get killed. Even without those fears, I should not be doing it. If my freedom is making someone uncomfortable, I would try to think of ways to get some solution that will not hurt that person and also doesn’t make me compromise a whole lot.

Essentially, at some point, we should also think about what kind of a person we want to become.

And, to take it to the next level, what kind of a nation we want to build. India is one nation that has always been accommodative to a multitude of cultures. When Parsis were getting converted or executed by Islamists in Iran, they made India their home. India is the only country where Jews found safe heaven and never got discriminated. This is the country where countless faiths have been able to live peacefully. And a part of the reason why this has worked is because of mutual respect extended by most of the other religions as well who haven’t been infected with the disease of evangelism, forceful conversion, and disrespect for other faiths.

Secondly, we also need to take time to understand the history behind why cows are considered holy in India. It’s not surprising that the animal that has been the second most important source of livelihood for millions after agriculture, is worshipped. And it’s not just the milk. Cow dung was used for flooring as well as on walls in the houses as a mode of insulation from the scorching heat outside. It was also used as a source of heat for cooking besides the wood. Cow urine was used for therapeutic purposes in ancient Indian medicine. And of course, the cow has reproductive capabilities. With one animal playing a very important part in the daily life of Indians, cow essentially reached a motherly status and one doesn’t kill a mother to eat her flesh.

To a large extent, the emotions people in the western countries have with dogs, Indians have with a cow. But while protesting against Yulin festival, that doesn’t even happen in the US but all the way to the other side of the world, is cool, protesting against beef is not because it doesn’t have a western endorsement.