This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Karl Friedrich. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Working In The Welfare Department, I Often Question Whose Welfare I’m Working For

I came here hoping that my role would be emancipatory, but soon I realised that I was here to maintain the status quo. Maybe I’m in the wrong place with a utopian hope. I don’t want to pretend that coming into this space would be a whole new experience that I was not aware of. But I must say that the scepticism about it was very general.

Yet, I knew that the day I was appointed, I was expected to be part of the status quo. My head is now to be surrendered. It is to be (mis/under)used to safeguard the interest of the “system”. I now have to utilise my brain to appreciate the government or anything that has nationalistic vibes like “free vaccination to all” or “congratulations team India”.

volunteer social worker
Representative Image.

But I never knew that my lived experience would be such that every night I would want to share my distressful story in a WhatsApp status, that too in an ambiguous way so that I don’t get called up the next morning by my “superiors” who would label me disgraceful.

Sometimes I do share, and thankfully very few get the essence of it. But some of my friends crack the code and that is a problem because some of their suggestions are too radical for me, like “leave the job and start pursuing your dream in academia”. Anyone I would intentionally complain to would suggest that I leave this job, and that if I do continue, I must comply with its needs and stop complaining.

The State Machinery Vs. The Working Class

I think no one, at the same time, everyone knows the reason I’m here. No one knows that I got myself here because I wanted to practice an emancipatory role for the working class, which I have realised within a few months to be delusional, ironical and quite anti-Marxist at the same time.

It’s ironical because the state machinery can never play an emancipatory role whatsoever and anti-Marxist because Marx called for the emancipation of the working class by organising amongst themselves, by overthrowing the bourgeoisie state, which a state machinery is not capable of.

The fact is that everyone knows I am here because it’s wise for a person from a middle-class family to get hold of a job at an early age rather than gambling one’s career doing a PhD in market-driven academia.

The lived experience is worse than I can express in a paper. My experience in this ecosystem is the story of my encounter with the greedy, corrupt and deeply embedded hierarchical system which most people are obsessed with.

Though greed and corruption are quintessential qualities that can be pointed out without much effort, these are omnipresent. But identifying hierarchy needs consciousness.

Some may argue that a hierarchical system is essential to administer. But the problem lies in the fact that hierarchy is not something of an isolated system. It is accompanied by a deep sense of “unequal others” who can never be on the same platform. In other words, hierarchy is internalised.

Let me dare to share an instance of my workplace. Once, an LDC (Junior Assistant) was scolded by a superior officer because he ventured to sit in front of him without seeking permission and during the entire conversation he was not allowed to sit.

In another instance, I was the one at the receiving end. I dared to write a formal letter to my superior seeking leave without maintaining the so-called “decorum”. I was reminded of my inferiority, saying that I should have mentioned the phrase “I have the honour to inform you”.

There are several such instances that kill my dream of achieving a socialistic way of life in the workplace.

woman brick work
Representative Image.

How The Exploitation Of Labour Ties Into It

Greed is not something unusual for sapiens. It is a way of life of the “civilised”. But the greed for something that one does not deserves is what seems a little problematic.

Greed for money is not what I’m interested in discussing here; I’m more concerned about the greed for the product which the labour-power produces, which I have experienced living in this climate (because it has existed in more or less the same manner for more than 30 years now).

I have come across superiors who are insanely greedy for the commodity the labourers produce without sparing a little time to introspect how they contribute to alienating the labour from their product. The officials getting highly paid and not being alienated from themselves can’t even justify their greed by terming it as compensatory consumerism.

Corruption is an umbrella term that involves all dishonest practices. But the “way of doing” (phrase borrowed from Michele De Certeau) corruption in this atmosphere is unique. The officials won’t be involved in any dishonest practices directly. They are very sincere and self-aware in this aspect (now that is why Foucault may have found docile bodies productive).

They will put a scapegoat on the pitch to do all the fielding. The life expectancy of the scapegoat is till the time the citizen becomes aware. Then, when the citizens start whispering about the dishonest fielding, the scapegoat meets its ideal end.

There is a very thin line of difference between greed and corruption. The former is the sense of wanting more than is required and the latter is the execution for it. I have seen officials who with their immense dedication and tactics triumphed to blur this thin line of difference.

I could not help but imagine the cheapness of their (mis)deeds. I must appreciate officials who are committed to their needless needs and travel many miles just to extort oil/money in the name of inspection.

I sometimes try to fit all these in a greater framework of power relations. I could come with only one conclusion, i.e. these officials are “institutional oppressors” who are not committed to the welfare of either class.

Besides getting paid with all the taxpayer’s money, they also extort money from “other sources”.

women work
Representative Image.

Why I Believe We Serve The Status Quo

My account does not aim to provide any kind of deep secret of the state machinery and institutions. Anyone fostered in a relatively progressive and enlightening atmosphere knows the true nature of the state. But my account is aimed at those who come with an aspiration to serve society.

They are living in a fool’s paradise. They need to get away from this false notion of serving society. They will be serving the powerful elite. They will and can be nothing more than the status quo as long as they are in the service. Hence, they are likely to internalise all the narratives and biases that the state carries along with them.

Although I knew that the state machinery is ideological, I never expected a person holding a position of public service to be casteist and sexist. The state’s legitimisation of upper caste/patriarchal narratives enables these public servants to speak freely, prejudicing a particular section, daring to undo all the affirmative efforts the constitution has guaranteed.

Now, coming to the very beginning of my piece, I want you to know why my role is not emancipatory in nature. With all the three “superweapons” of hierarchy, greed and corruption in use, my role gets diminished.

Let me make it more simple. When a superior officer saturated with a narcissistic self-regard for their position puts full effort in extorting to satisfy their needless need from the party that is vested with the responsibility of facilitating everything the proletariat needs, with what morality can I carry out my enforcement duty and how can I enforce any law?

I am stripped of all the powers which have been vested upon me by the law to emancipate the working class. Instead of enforcing compliance, I become a mute spectator who complies with the status quo and is left with only one option: to write ambiguously.

It is not that I don’t try to enforce, but my enforcement is met only with a fate of dismissal and advice from the superior to be more lenient. Needless to say, the state’s sponsorship in maintaining the caste and gender status quo reverses every effort towards emancipation.

Yes, I work in the welfare department, but I am highly confused whose welfare I’m working for.

I don’t see things getting better till the working class unite and emancipate themselves, thereby proving Marx to be as relevant as ever. “They have nothing to lose but their chain.”

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons
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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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