Forty-four-year-old Seema Mary espouses women’s empowerment in more ways than one—a young widow and single mother of two, one of them a college-going daughter, overcoming her broken dreams of joining the police force due to her inability to pay a bribe, but thriving in an otherwise male-dominated profession. Mary has been a security guard for over a decade. “I have always loved uniforms. It makes everyone wearing it equal," says Mary.
In her small, dimly-lit two-room house in a predominantly Tamil-speaking locality in one of the by-lanes just off the busy Richmond Road in Bengaluru, Mary’s eyes light up when she talks about her job. She has been fondly referred to as veerangani, or brave girl, since her childhood, but like most patriarchal households, her father says she was the son he never had.
Dressed in her navy blue uniform and cap, Mary appears to have done well for herself. But she still has to depend on the local church to educate her children. She laments her low take-home pay, after the security agency she is employed with takes its share. Besides, like most security guards, she does not have benefits such as social security, provident fund, pension, insurance or maternity leave.
Higher level of skills have not guaranteed employment in India. The slow pace of employment generation, especially in the backdrop of allegations that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union government’s proposed amendments could further dilute labour laws in favour of companies, hasn’t helped either, says P.P. Appanna, a trade union activist.
The opposition is hoping that lack of jobs and deepening agrarian distress, which is forcing rural youth to migrate to cities seeking blue-collar jobs, could become its biggest campaign cry to bring down the incumbent in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Though it appears there is a job spurt due to rapid urbanization, technological interventions and massive infrastructure projects, the quality of employment remains a matter of concern.
The demand for security personnel has increased, considering government jobs are often hard to get due to nepotism and disproportionately large number of aspirants. Job-seekers are often exploited, but Mary is happy that she has a job to fulfil her only aim in life. “I want to help my children settle down and then go back to my village to spend time with my mother."