(HT file)
(HT file)

Opinion | How the country’s many flaws and evils create jobs

India’s many flaws taken together are a giant employment generation mechanism

Three malnourished men in paramilitary costumes check the car as it enters the hotel. One security guard has an under-vehicle search mirror that looks more expensive than he. The second man gestures the driver to open the boot. The third man looks into the boot, and no one in the world knows what he is looking for. Across the nation, outside every hotel and mall, the man who peers into the boot and into the car will ignore huge suitcases and bags, probably even corpses. His job is just to look and wave you through. These men were once farmers, scholars of the land, and now earn more doing such jobs in the city. Maybe their real job is not to deter a terror attack but to be the first to take the bullets so that richer people inside can be warned by the sound.

At the entrance of any given Indian airport, another man in a legally-sanctioned paramilitary outfit stands for hours and checks flight tickets and identity cards of all passengers, even though he would not be able to spot a fabricated flight ticket or ID. Inside, in the toilets, there may be that little dark defeated man staring at you as you urinate, waiting to hand out a tissue paper which would have been easier to pick from a non-human tissue paper holder. And, across all glitzy public spaces, one see couples trailed by a pale Jharkhand maid, in cheaper clothes, who carries their baby. In millions of Indian homes, there are two maids, some of whom peel pine nuts for hours. India is a vast play with bad costumes.

And, there is the Indian Railways, which still has “pointsmen", who could be women too, whose job is to stand near a track to hand over a small object called a “token" to the engine driver as the train hurtles past at about 100 kmph. The token is an official communication to the driver that he can pass, a job that an electronic signal performs better. The railways is primarily an employment scheme that also runs trains.

Many powerful men in the past have declared that they will privatise the railways, but eventually never found the courage to do it. Indians make fun of the government for being overstaffed with underemployed people, but the fact is that every Indian home is exactly that—serviced by drivers and “chhotus", who spend hours idling, playing cards and watching porn beneath trees everyday.

India’s many flaws, taken together, are a giant employment-generation mechanism. The laziness of its rich, the uselessness in housework of pampered men retarded by their mothers, the failed provinces that churn out millions of cheap labourers, the social pettiness of the lucky who require the reassurance of being feudal lords to other humans, the foolishness of nominal security, the inefficiencies, incompetence and disrespect for the time of the poor have created millions of jobs that provide livelihood to hundreds of millions who are otherwise not required.

The most maligned Indian flaw, that of our society deeming some jobs fit only for the low castes, too, provides employment. Not just that, it also gives the poor a monopoly over some professions. For instance, in skinning dead cattle, Dalits do not face competition from more influential communities that could have otherwise stolen their livelihood. Some intellectuals claim that Dalits are “entrapped" by such professions. The Dalits themselves do not see their circumstances this way. The fact is that the castes that intellectuals hail from dictate their professions in a more inescapable way. Isn’t a Brahmin, after all, fated to be in software, surgery, finance and academics? The elite of India is entrapped in a sophisticated version of cow-skinning.

Such these jobs of the highly educated and the rich do not necessarily have more meaning than other jobs. In fact, many things that the poor are forced to do for employment have greater meaning than many “white-collar" jobs.

What do some “big people" do? Serious men go in cars thinking of ways to make people drink sugared water, or buy a type of useless insurance, or a condom that has dots on it, or to merely gamble with other people’s money. Some even write columns about how most jobs have no meaning.

There was a time when scholars thought that the unproductive poor Indian was a serious problem. Even now, there are scholars who think that, but it is because they are not scholarly enough. I sense a diminishing scorn for superfluous lowly jobs because most reputable jobs themselves are under threat from computers.

Tech billionaires are telling us that most highly educated people will become “useless" in the future. That would include most analysts, bankers, doctors, lawyers, journalists and even code writers. Already, in India, it is easier for talented carpenters to find work than it is for a small-town postgraduate in arts who was fooled into higher education.

In the future, these billionaires convey, only a small elite will be required to run the world. But I know that people will ensure that such an efficient world will not come to be. Such an automated world will have no meaning, unless there is war. What will machines produce if not many humans can buy those goods?

India, through all its flaws, has always demonstrated that employment is not only about efficiency, requirement and common sense but also about crowding our times with other humans who deserve the reasonable joys of purpose and feeling useful.

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