The Freedom To Work And The Dignity Of It

Posted on September 14, 2011 in Specials

By Ateendriya:

Great men have often equated work with worship. In our own country Mahatma Gandhi stressed, not merely by words but by actions, on the importance of dignity of work irrespective of the nature of it. However, surprisingly, at this point of time, our country- although opening up to many modern and liberal thoughts- still fails to acknowledge all work as equally respectable. An incident some months ago me realize the extent to which this system of work hierarchy is ossified in our society.

As a college student in India, most students live on their parents’ money or educations loans to some extent, as the case may be. As such, being adults, there are many who would want to earn a part of their allowance on their own rather than literally freeloading at their parent’s place and being entirely dependent on their money. Last summer, with this thought in mind, I decided to check out the food chains and other such outlets near my place that would take on a part-timer. To my amazement, all of the 5 places I tired rejected me outright. While some of them denied having vacant spots at all, others just gave a quizzical look and shook their heads as if I had said something extremely disturbing. As a last resort, I talked to a friend’s uncle who’s also a manager in an eatery, but he too just laughed and asked me why I wanted to be a on the sales side of the counter when I looked like I could easily be on the other side.

This, unfortunately, is not just my case study. This is the story almost everywhere in India. After talking to a couple of friends I realized that in India, for a person from a “respectable family” to want to do such “menial job” is a disgrace. And the obstacles are not just one, but many. For starters, no place would hire an “educated” youngster in school or college as a counter salesperson or a waiter: now whether that is for the sake of their image or because they just find it really fishy that any student should want to work for them, I honestly do not know. People might argue that employment of students in these fields would be a case of overqualified employees, thus depriving people who actually need the positions. This argument is certainly valid, but in reality, most of the times students are denied the post even without there being any other contender.

Now let us, for the sake of argument, assume that there are some few places daring enough to go against the social norms and agree to hire students as employees. The next big problem is, more often than not, objections from the parents themselves. I have heard a fair few friends complain about how, even if they decided to get a part time and did succeed in getting one, their parents would not be comfortable with it. Many parents would in fact offer to shell out extra just to keep their children from taking up “lowly jobs”. One of my friend got told off by her mother for wanting to take up a part time job, “What do you need it for? Don’t we give you enough money?” It would seem that people in our society fail to see the significance of work beyond money; that a part time is not just about money but about independence and work experience is a concept that most Indians are still grappling to understand.

Besides, even if one were to overcome all of such obstacles, it is only too easy to imagine the way customers would behave around these “high class” employees. Chances are the level of awkwardness would end up losing the place its customers. A lot of people would argue that there are many more “dignified” jobs or paid internships that students could avail, but there again comes up this controversial concept of stratification of work. Are we to be brought up in a society that tells us that we are clearly above some jobs? What happens then, to the concept of human equality?

Also in light of this social restraint, it is a wonder that people call Indian youth independent and self-sufficient, when in fact, want it or not, they are helpless without their parents support.

The youth in our country is regarded as the future force of the nation. But at a time when the youngsters are tied in the binding norms of society that, besides undermining entirely every idea of equality, hardly lets them explore their own independence or realize the importance of shouldering responsibility, are we really letting the youth reach their full potential? Or are we merely creating a sense of superficiality both in the concepts of independence and equality?