#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.

The Great Indian Debate Killer – “Where Were You When…..”!!!

Invariably, this statement comes at least once in almost every “so-called” debate you see in Indian media – both television and social. Be it firecracker ban, mob lynching, morning azaan issue or Gauri Lankesh murder – “where were you…” rocked – diluting the importance of the issue and making it yet another opportunity to take political and religious potshots.

But why is it such a lame thing to do in a debate?

The degree to which people are using this word, not just diverts the entire debates from the core issue but also gets the conversation into a filthy territory where judging people becomes the central idea. The ones who use this statement will often raise the flag of “exposing the hypocrisy” but essentially it is just another way of saying “What I am supporting is bad but you did not oppose the same bad a zillion years ago so this bad is good”. That argument undermines the idea of tipping point when a person says “enough is enough” – which clearly doesn’t mean that whatever happened in the past is acceptable.

Secondly, and probably the most important one, it shifts the focus of the debate from the topic in hand to the participants itself. And that happens when the participants don’t have anything constructive to offer on the topic. An ideal debate is fought on facts and focuses on the validity of the issue raised with possible solutions, if valid. It requires a good amount of research, a strong understanding of realities on the ground and having facts/figures on hand. That enables someone to make strong points supporting a stance. When people do not research and are not aware of ground realities, they resort to personal attacks and digging up the past instead of convincing the other party on why they are wrong.

Also, the phrase undermines the evolution of opinions as people gain more information, experience and perspective about an issue. While it cannot be denied that many people would find the compulsion to cling on to their beliefs in spite of seeing the truth in front of them, just because they feel the need to be faithful to one side, it may not be the case always. People evolve and so does the thought process. The everyday experiences and the stories that we hear, add to our perceptions and how we think about a particular issue. People even change opinions mid-way the debate – if you don’t believe, see “12 Angry Men”.

“Where were you when……” is perhaps just one such example of what’s wrong with the “argumentative” Indians. It is more difficult than it seems – to be rational all the time, especially when you have the prejudices and personal biases growing like a tree in your mind. It is up to us on how much we are not just able to control it but quash it before they damage our interactions with others around us.

Bhakts, AAPtards and Khangressis

If you are an Indian and follow politics, there wouldn’t be a single day when you wouldn’t hear/read one of these words. And these are not the only ones. There is “presstitutes”, sickular” and much more. The dictionary of Indian media, which is not just restricted to professionals but more and more citizen journalists, has seen a parallel vocabulary in the last few years to refer to different group of people – or if I may say, classify people into different groups.
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A few years back, it wasn’t like this. And when I try to deconstruct the entire scenario, couple of things comes to my mind.

The inherent culture humans adopted since centuries world over to follow individuals, not ideas
I have always believed that people follow ideas and not individuals. At least, that’s what rational minds do or everyone would do, if provided freedom. Of course, it is arguable and there would be a grey area to it. People who seem to follow an individual are not following an individual per se, but the ideas of that individual. So, ideally, the loyalty should be with ideas and not individuals.
However, ideas don’t have a face, individuals do. Ideas are abstract, individuals are physical. So, it’s easy to worship the latter than the former. And hence, perhaps, we have people essentially trying to find someone who can impersonate these ideas. That’s how religions built or chose characters that were representative of all the good ideologies and asked others to worship them instead of these ideas. Even outside religions, groups were created with a face representing those ideas and people were asked to worship these faces. Hence, ideas took a backseat while individuals were given the driver seat. However, this essentially means three drawbacks.

1. One cannot differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual 
Unfortunately, these days, any criticism of an idea is also taken as a criticism on an individual. Of course, political parties have vested interests in doing that but even the citizens get carried away in that. This sets a dangerous trend where meaningful discussions lose importance and the conversations are focused on defending and attacking individuals instead of talking about the rightfulness and wrongfulness of the topic in hand. It happened in the recent Anupam Kher video that went viral.

2. Following an idea is confused with following an individual 
Secondly, it also builds an assumption that everyone who supports an individual, will continue to support her/him irrespective of the situation, which might not be the case. I remember a classic line from the movie “12 Angry Men” where the second last juror says ‘I don’t believe I have to be loyal to one side or the other” when he is confronted by the second juror for changing his vote. The second juror somehow assumed that the individuals were taking sides instead of taking rational decisions.
People can confront an individual on a given issue and support the same individual in another one. It is always possible!! It also helps in removing biases during debates/discussions when you know that the other person can get convinced if your point is stronger and, at the same time, you can change a stand at any time based on what facts you have on your plate at that time.

3. Contradicts the notion that no person is perfect
And this is more for people who feel an obligation to defend an individual, they support, all the time. A lot of times we hear, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. Following an individual, instead of ideas and principles, makes you obligated to defend the individual even when he/she is wrong. And that’s when the whole argument moves away from “for and against the issue” to “for and against the person”. There would be some notions which would not make any sense at a given point of time and would perfectly fit in, later on.

We have moved from the time when a BJP veteran supported a hard core Congresswomen when she did the right thing and she asked him to represent India in an important UN conference in spite of him being an opposition leader because he was the best man for the job.

The rate at which the quality of debates is deteriorating and people are pitted against each other, soon we might see a day when we will only be talking about individuals and who said what but not the real issues.

Three Shades of Grey

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Off late, my Facebook feeds have largely seen some or the other article vilifying either Arvind Kejriwal or Narendra Modi. Some of the fierce supporters on either side have been spending a huge part of the day on enlightening the other users on how disastrous it would be to vote for one person and how the other person, he/she supports, is an OBVIOUS choice. Unfortunately, in democracy, be it of any country, there are no OBVIOUS choices. There is a choice of which party is the best to govern the country in the next five years. “Best” need not be pristine or 100% right and it also need not be a unanimous choice. It cannot be – since political parties are made up of human beings and human beings by itself are never 100% right or wrong.  If we look at everyone around us, we will come across some good qualities about them and some not good. Even professionally, we evaluate people with their strength areas and, at the same time, there are areas of improvement. The degrees will vary and but there won’t be anybody with all strengths and no areas of improvement or no strengths and all areas of improvements.

Few weeks back I came across an article “Politics and its many shades of grey” by Chetan Bhagat that spoke about how the selection is always between less right and more right. Sadly, the writer ended up supporting one party after starting off with a balanced view. Sometimes people can’t gauge where to STOP. But taking the initial part of the article, which had been in my mind since long when I stopped wasting my energies on Facebook for political reasons and instead do something productive, it is important to understand how the system works.

The current social media fabric doesn’t allow colors other than black or white. If you say something in favor of somebody, you are automatically assumed to be against everyone else. One group among my friends has been rigorously campaigning against Narendra Modi – BJP’s PM Candidate – on how catastrophic it would be to vote for a mass murderer, liar of highest degree  and brazenly corrupt and communal. There is another group who is leaving no stone unturned in demonstrating on Arvind Kejriwal’s – AAP leader and strongest opposition to Narendra Modi – U-turns, selective targeting, symbolism, self-righteousness and double standards. Since December, Rahul Gandhi is out of fashion.

However, the crux of the matter is, if you want to support someone, you can do that. If you want to bash the same person, you won’t be short of material there as well. It depends on the choice you make, if you have decided to be in a 100% white zone and put everything else as 100% black. But there are a number of people who might not want to join either Allies or Axis. They are detached from “individual” politics. They might not look at things in monochrome. They see what is the most necessary for the country at a given point of time and choose one at that given time and move on for a better option later. The views will differ among individuals and there will always be requirement for acceptance of differences.

To put a bottom line, India’s foundation is not vulnerable that one person or one party can destroy it. This nation has faced thousands of attacks ever since human race came to existence. India has stood the most ferocious test of time and will continue to do so. This nation has also made mistakes and has learnt from it. But more often than not, it has taken the best decisions in the human history.

Few days back, I came across an anecdote that tried to explain the situation in the current Indian polity and the dilemma of our selection.

Let’s say you have a car and you hire a driver.

The driver is new but with decent driving skills. However, when the car is not in use, he used it for his personal purposes and also for carrying passengers to earn some extra bucks. He was also not good in maintaining the car properly. You come to know about this and you fire him.

You hire another driver. This second driver has excellent driving skills with a proven track record. He also maintains the car well. However, like the first driver, he also uses the car for his personal purposes and carrying passengers to earn some extra bucks. You again come to know about this and you fire him as well.

You hire a third driver. This third driver is very honest and hardworking. He never uses the car for any other purpose but for yours. However, he is a novice with poor driving skills and often bangs your car while driving. He also doesn’t know much about car maintenance, so often there are breakdowns because of which the car is not available.

You don’t know how to drive a car and there are only these three drivers available in the market. What will you do?