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Norms and Standards contd …

February 1st, 2008

The other day, I was writing about a meeting with an organization that works with construction labourers. One of the persons from the organization was talking about how the home state workers can be lazy while the migrant workers are hardworking. This person also spoke of how Kerela has no industry and the government simply taps into the remittances made by Malayalis from Gulf countries.

I was thinking about this meeting all of next day. I was visiting some of the periphery areas around Bangalore that are now being integrated into the city. We spoke to a migrant construction labourer in one of the areas. This person mentioned how if he was educated, he would be sitting in front of a computer, and not languishing around. He spoke of how he had made a choice of not working on a farm but coming to the city and working on a construction site. “Farming requires a lot of money. You have to have money to purchase seeds, fertilizers, implements and then you also have to put your own labour into the process. Here, we have a few implements and lo and behold! we are ready to work and there is a daily wage waiting for you.”

We often speak of how in today’s times, we have become consumerist and how this is an age of shopping malls and multiplex cinema halls that are redefining our experiences. But I have been thinking of how this is an age where things are just the same – we still attach value to a person who is working against someone who is not working. Someone who is educated is of a higher standard as against someone who is not educated. What is happening now is that technologies are being utilized in order to mark people and ensure that they are conforming/adhering to the standards and norms. So according to the person from the organization making databases of construction workers, the database and issuance of an identity card will make the person work harder.

This moment is also bandied by some as the time where we can exercise our freedom and choices by choosing between products available in the market. That is what the free marketeers seem to be tom-toming. I wonder whether our freedom gets actualized simply by choosing between maggi, top ramen, chings and xxx noodles. How have we come to ascribe freedom to choosing between products?

I somehow felt quite happy when the worker we spoke to mentioned that he decided not to go to work that day. He said very frankly that by not going to work, he was also aware of not getting wages. “Morzi” (will) he emphasized emphatically and matter of factly explaining why did not go to work that day.

So I had started out by wondering whether this is an era where our experiences and notions are being redefined. I now believe that these values and standards and norms have always been there and are still there in today’s time. These are becoming more strongly attached/ascribed in this day and age. We seem to attribute this era to freedom – some freedoms have been created; some freedoms are simply non-freedoms.

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Norms, Standards

January 31st, 2008

Yesterday we visited an organization that registers construction workers. It creates a database of the workers. It is a mediating agency that puts the construction workers on jobs with companies/projects requiring workers specific skills. The organization acts as a mediator. It  registers construction workers, provides them with accident and family insurance, and organizes some skill trainings for them. It does some amount of dispute settlement. i.e., if there is a problem between the workers and the builders or the other way round, it tries to pacify the parties.

What was interesting was the approach of the organization. It has so far found it difficult to register migrant workers because migrant workers are least likely to have address proof. The workers themselves are reluctant to get themselves registered, particularly the women workers. So the organization approaches the builders, telling the builders that it will provide Provident Fund (PF) facilities. Hence, the builder “must get” his workers registered with them. I found this irritatingly fascinating. Here is a NGO that claims to work in the interests of the workers but because the workers are uninterested, for legitimate reasons (including not wanting to be on a database lest they come in the eyes of the state for all the possible alleged reasons), to get themselves registered, it invariably ends up using force. Is control so inherent?

Then we are told that construction workers in certain states in India are politically powerful and also these workers don’t work as hard as the migrant workers do. This organization believes that migrant workers suffer at the expense of the politically established, “lazy”, home state workers. Creating an identity card for the construction workers and a nation-wide database with call center facilities will enable the workers to get work in whichever part of the country they may move to, the workers will work “hard”. Then we are told how a state like Kerela has made a choice not to have industry and to benefit from the remittances of those working in the Middle East and Gulf States. By not having industry, the Kerela state government is doing something very wrong! And we asked, what is wrong if you choose not to have industrialization? Who defines that development must be carried out only in one way? Who decides and defines what constitutes development? What if people are not interested in working? Does that automatically mean that people are lazy? Can’t people choose consciously that they don’t want to work and there is nothing wrong in not wanting to work? Is work the only way in which we can categorize people as hard-working, lazy, unintelligent, etc.?

I came out of the meeting asking myself whether control is inherent in us? Like this organization, that believes it is working for construction workers’ interests and is inherently controlling?

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