Who told you I am poor?

This piece is about internal dissonance – about problems that I create in my mind, inadvertently. And, when they come to life, I don’t know how to address them, other than write a blog.

All sectors suffer from stereotypes – clichés about customer behavior, demand, what would work and what wouldn’t. We too work in a market – the unorganized labour market and we too have our stereotypes – the migrant worker, our target group, the poor is clean and vulnerable. He doesn’t cheat; instead he often gets cheated. Or if he cheats, there is a reason…just the way an Amitabh Bachhan movie always has a reason for why he acted villainous. I know I’m exaggerating, but, if someone was to rip off all the so-called nuanced take on the subject, this is what it essentially boils down to – labour is the most compromised and he is the one being exploited in the unregulated labour market.

Some experiences, however, are disconcerting. Recently, in one of the quintessential Delhi experiences I ran into an unruly Autowallah from UP, charging me 3 times the rate. Losing my cool I lashed out at him – aapko sharm nahin aati, garib hoon yeh kah kar sabka gala kaat te ho… The guy turned around and said – Aapse kisne kaha main gareeb hoon… [Who told you I’m poor]…he continued…. mere paas char char auto hain [I have four autos in my name]…

The man in front was nowhere close to my imagery of the community I worked for. I stood still – a victim of my own stereotyping…habit of boxing people and their behavior.

Take two…

In our day today work, we come across several cases where the worker is as guilty as the employer. Workers also go back on commitments and breach contracts brazenly. We’ve also had experiences where workers have tried exploiting us for access to government schemes, when they are not eligible, and manipulated their way out, when we denied being an accomplice. Howsoever, hard I try to explain things to myself all of this does lead to a sense of betrayal. The poor, they say, are the spiritual reservoir of the world….Are they? The ones that I find around me are as calculating…as real…as contemporary. Do they really need us and why should we be working for them at all?

But, how reasonable am I in my expectation. There is a history of betrayal and exploitation behind such a behavior. They have been cheated umpteen times. Shouldn’t I be sensitive and more understanding? Why in all my formulations, does the burden of goodness lie on the poor?

Caught in this enigma, I wonder what our role is then. What does an organisation caught in this muddle do? Is there ever a win-win possible or are we on a downward spiral, where both parties keep getting back at each other, keep breaching each other’s trust, ceaselessly.

Last week, a respected development professional visited us. His take on our work was rather revealing for me. He said that unorganized labour market has come to Nash equilibrium, where both the worker and the employer were locked into lose-lose game. Immediate benefits of reneging on a contract were high for both parties and thus the situation. It was important to bring the focus on the contract and ensure that the parties adhere to it. It was a possible way to break the Nash equilibrium, and move towards a win-win scenario. He said, for any long term impact on the labour market, it was important for organisations such as us to ensure the sanctity of the contract between the labour and the employer, and address the all pervasive trust deficit.

The idea holds potential. I do not know how it would pan out, but it does silence the ghost in my head and gives me something positive to mull over.

– Amrita Sharma, Aajeevika Bureau

This entry was posted in Migration Musings. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who told you I am poor?

  1. Pingback: reading other blogs | Ghumne Chalo

  2. Jaya says:

    Am reading Aman Sethis ‘A free man’ and trying to understand Ashraf and his friends and their motivations through the narratives…The para on striking the fine balance between ‘azadi’ and kamai’ hit me hard…isn’t that what we all strive for, and as Aman laments, so few of us attain…

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