Economic progress, we are told, is about moving from primary sector jobs to manufacturing and services. And so the livelihoods that keep all of us alive – farming, forestry, pastoralism, fisheries, and related crafts – are considered backward. In India, this marginalizes 700 million-800 million people, two-thirds of its population. In India, economic development and modernity are wiping out millennia-old livelihoods that were ways of life with no sharp division between work and leisure, and replacing them with dreary assembly line jobs where we wait desperately for weekends and holidays. The results? Horrendous ones like thousands of farmers’ suicides in the last decade; or the displacement by so-called ‘development projects’ of 60 million people from their farms, forests, and coasts. Less visible is the pauperization of many others deprived of the natural resources they depend on, as their lands and waters get taken away for industry, infrastructure and cities. Entire new forms of poverty are being created by development.
Let’s assume that this is inevitable and desirable. As the narrative goes, who wants to continue the ‘drudgery’ of farming and fishing? But what are we replacing these with? For the poor, either no employment at all, or insecure, exploitative and unsafe jobs at construction sites, mines, industries, dhabas, and other places that can hardly be called less drudgery. A staggering 93% of Indian jobs are in the informal sector, an increasing number of these in exploitative conditions.
And are the ‘middle classes’ better off? In terms of remuneration, they are much better off – a recent study shows 1% of Indians owning over 50% of its private wealth (built on the backs of severely underpaid labor).
But what about the quality of work? The vast majority of those in modern sectors of work, such as the IT industry, are mechanical cogs in a vast assembly line stretching across the globe. Early morning to late night, slouched on a computer terminal, or providing rote responses at call centers, or desperately seeking news to feed the incessantly hungry 24×7 news channels, or staring at stock market numbers – who can honestly say that these are not deadlihoods, suppressing our independence and innate creativity? If this is not the case, why do we wait so restlessly for the workday to end, or for the weekend to come?
We grow up undervaluing producers. The horrendously low prices that farmers get for their produce is a symptom of a society with warped priorities; we do not want to pay adequately to someone who keeps us alive, but we are willing to pay through our noses for branded shoes and gadgets. And in relation to the latter, we don’t even care what the actual factory worker gets.
Imagine if as youngsters we were encouraged to be self-reliant, inquisitive, respectful of diversity, and a responsible part of the community of life. Imagine if we redefined work to include enjoyment and pleasure?
Taken from an article by Ashish Kothari, a founding member of the environmental group Kalpavriksh. Full article here.
THE WORLD FOR THE WORKERS!
The World Socialist Party (India): 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,