#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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Two Wrongs Make One Right

It is said that two wrongs don’t make it right. To some extent it is not completely true. At least, from what I have seen in the last couple of days. When two wrongs meet each other, the larger wrong make the smaller wrong look right.

To begin with the tweet that triggered the entire issue, disagreeing to something is fine but when you spell out negative adjectives for someone who believes in that thing, you’re not just disagreeing but also making it personal. And when you already know that the person you are abusing will not respond but you still chose to go ahead with the abuse, the intentions are obvious. You get respect when you project it. When you project disrespect, you get disrespect in return. The quantum of disrespect you will get in return will depend on the person you are disrespecting.

Nobody, including PM, ever claimed that #selfiewithdaughters will bring about revolution. It is not a game changing idea either. And surely, there will be people who will post selfies just to up the count of likes, retweets and comments on their pics. Nobody can control that. But there is no harm in doing it either if it helps in spreading even a teeny-tiny bit of awareness. And if Shruti Seth has a better idea, please suggest (“Try Reform” is not an idea). Talking about ground level initiatives/reforms Modi has made, a 10 minute google search will give you all the answers. Having said that, it should also be noted that all these initiatives/reforms were well supported by people at the ground because of which they were successful.

Unfortunately, there was a larger set of idiots who marshalled a counter attack in the worst possible manner. When you respond to personal abuses with personal abuses, what remains is only personal abuses while the core topic vanishes in thin air. And that’s what happened when the entire episode moved from individual to the entire women community – to some extent rightfully as the abuses were far more than disrespectful and showed the 18th century mentality of the people who responded. In a way, in a country where it is very easy to portray personal criticism as a community/gender/religious criticism, these idiots provided the much needed ammunition.

India is a democracy and everybody has the right to disagree. But when you are disrespectful to the people around and are expecting respect in return, just because you are woman, it’s “unfair”. Respect should be gender neutral.

When You Don’t Respect Your Mean Machine

A couple of days back I read about this gruesome accident on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway where three members in a four member family were killed in a car crash. Preliminary investigation revealed that the driver couldn’t control the car speed around a turn as the machine was above 140 kmph which is certainly not the speed at which you can take a turn.

I recalled the amazing piece of advice, one of my colleague friend gave me when I purchased my car. He said,

“Treat your car like a wife/girlfriend, not like a prostitute”.

Lot of times, I wonder, why people become so careless about one thing that keep their lives on the move. In the rapid pace world, your automobile is your best friend that will never ditch you when you are in trouble, if you take care of it properly. If you don’t believe it, just imagine the amount of safety you will feel when you are in your car/bike in a dark deserted road compared to if you were on the feet. Just recall yourself driving in an A/C car in a scorching heat but you don’t feel a thing inside. Recall yourself driving a bike through the traffic jam like a snake through the grass. Today, millions rely on their own vehicles to reach anywhere.

However, not many show even a hint of respect to the automobile they own. If you’re doing any of the following, you’re among them.

1. Over speeding

Just like the guy who had no respect for the car to drive it at a decent speed and be careful around the turns, a lot of us enjoy the thrill of high speed rides. However, not many really care about the load it puts on the engine and the tyres when you are speeding your machine at 130-140+.

How many people know that you have to have less than ideal air in your tyres when you are driving on highways to avoid tyre bursts? How many do a basic sanity check of their oils, coolants and air pressure before long journeys? How many drivers understand the meaning and reasoning behind doing wheel balancing and alignment?

Unfortunate are the cars, whose drivers don’t even bother to get the tyres and the engine checked with the mechanic after hours of such torture when it takes less than an hour to get the things checked.

2. Laziness with Gears

Many people without a professional training on driving in India have this habit of screwing up their engines due to laziness of changing gears. Changing gears is something, a lot of people hate, especially when they have to slow down the car while driving. So, the compensation is made by keeping the clutch pressed till they have to keep the car slow and then applying more acceleration when they have to speed up again.

Those who understand the concept of torque, should read “The Transmission” section in this link, to understand why it is important to have car in the right gear at all times.

One of the basic concepts about driving that I learnt was that you always have to keep one hand on the steering and another on the gears. This helps in better control of the car in case you need to apply your breaks and shift the gears down. It prevents your car from stopping. These days, power steering is a norm that makes steering very easy to maneuver with just one hand.

3. Car etiquette – seat belt, cleanliness

Along with the driving lessons, it would make more sense to have some basic car etiquettes lessons as well. For many Indians, seat belts and helmets are obstacles to amazing driving experience rather than protective gears. Also, basic cleanliness of the car and maintaining the car well is something not so much embedded in the minds.

A filthy car is a direct result of a filthy owner.

Many Indians love Jason Statham and the Transporter series. Perhaps they should take this piece more seriously than just the car chases and the stunts.

4. Parking with tyres not straight

One of the things that personally irritate me when I see it is a car parked with tyres not straight. Aesthetically, it looks pathetic to any car in this world. Apart from that, when you are backing up, it increases the risk of banging into some other car parked nearby due to reduced predictability of the car movement. It also shows how serious the driver is about parking the car in the right manner.

Parking with tyres not straight will have minimal effect on your car’s mechanics and electrics. However, it shows how you treat your car.

5. Not Taking the Driving Lessons Seriously – Biting Point and Parallel Parking

Unfortunately, India is a country where ensuring proper driving habits is not a culture. A lot of Indians are pathetic when it comes to driving. However, they end up getting license through hook or crook as India’s RTO agencies leave many loopholes. One of the reports said that Mumbai’s two of the three RTOs had zero rejection rate. This means anyone and everyone who applied for a driver’s license, received it. As ridiculous and impractical it sounds, the truth stands that it will be the story across the country if it is so in the largest metropolitan of the country. So, when you get access to something (driving) so easily, you don’t value it. Add to it, the lenient traffic control system where you can get away with anything and everything.

The two most important things, at which most of the Indians struggle when it comes to driving, are the biting point and parallel parking. With biting point being a challenging task, lot of Indians avoid it. So, on the road, it results in far higher reliance on the accelerator and the breaking, resulting in either inefficient engine performance or a traffic jam. Parallel parking, seemingly difficult, is not a rocket science. However, not many Indian drivers understand it perfectly and struggle with it.

Ultimately, how your car treats you, depends on how you treat your car. You screw it up, it will screw you up.