Musings on “Dignity of Labour”


Musings of a Veteran By Vikram Karve


Theoretically — I knew the meaning of “Dignity of Labour”.

But — for the first time — I actually saw “Dignity of Labour” during my visits to New Zealand (and later during our visit to Europe).

(Our daughter lived for a few years in Auckland, New Zealand — and we visited her a few times)

During her stay in New Zealand — our daughter lived in what they call an “Accommodation”.

(Being of an independent nature — rather than share a flat with others — though it was more expensive — she preferred to live in an excellent accommodation complex for professionals in Epsom — a “posh” locality of Auckland. The well-appointed “accommodation” had decent single rooms and family suites for all residents and all the necessary facilities for comfortable living — well-equipped laundry, cafeterias, kitchen, cooking and dining facility, entertainment complex, gym, Library, Internet Café, WiFi, spacious gardens and lawns, ample car parking and a safe, secure and beautiful environment — a really nice place to stay — well-connected to the City Central Business District (CBD) and close to shopping centers, supermarkets, hospitals, educational institutions etc. — and — like I said — located near Mount Eden in Epsom — one of the best areas in Auckland)

During one of our longish visits — we — my wife and I — we lived in a guest suite in the accommodation complex — so that we could be close to our daughter.

During the day — our daughter would drive off to work — and we would tour Auckland — see the various attractions — walk around town — do shopping — and — in the evening — after our daughter came back from work — we could spend “quality time” with her.

On the day we arrived on our first visit — our daughter brought someone to meet us.

His name was Jack.

And — true to his name — he was a “Jack of all Trades” — he was the “handyman” of the accommodation — who could repair anything and everything.

Jack had served as an Electrician in the Navy.

In Indian Navy parlance — he had retired as an LEMP (Leading Electrical Mechanic Power) — the rank of Leading Seaman.

After leaving the Navy — he had started off as an electrician in a construction company — learnt all other jobs on the way — and soon — had become a “handyman”.

He had retired from the construction company at the age of 65 — and taken up the job of “handyman” in the accommodation complex — one of the perks was rent-free accommodation.

Being a widower — with his two sons well-settled in life — one in Australia — and the other in Christchurch — he was quite comfortable living all alone in the accommodation — doing various repair work — at which he was an expert.

When we met Jack — he was 75 years old — but extremely agile — and would attend maintenance calls 24/7 — he knew everything — from Electrical Equipment and Gadgets — to Laundry Equipment — to Plumbing and Toilet Repairs — to Kitchen and Refrigeration Equipment — to Electronic Gadgets — to Masonry — to Gym Equipment — you name it — and — he could do it — and would do it with a smile.

Though Jack was a “Handyman” (Electrician-cum-Plumber) — he enjoyed equal status with all the residents of the accommodation — he lived with them — he dined with them — and — he even drank with them.

Yes — one evening when we were sitting in a good Pub — we saw Jack enter — and when he saw us — he walked over and joined us — he even bought me a beer — and talked of his Navy days.

In a nutshell — though he was a “handyman” — Jack enjoyed the same “dignity” as everyone else — many of whom were in “high falutin” professions.

In fact — because he did his job so well — though he was a mere “blue-collar” handyman — Jack enjoyed a higher “dignity” than many others who were in so-called “status” professions and jobs.

Dear Reader — tell me — is this possible in the class-conscious and status-conscious society of India…?

In our “feudal” system — some jobs are looked down upon — while others are given great honour and respect.

Here — the title of your job matters — not how well you perform your job.

An incompetent officer enjoys more respect than a competent subordinate.

Your rank defines your “dignity” — not your competence.

“Position Power” rules the roost — not “Expert Power”.

The concept of “dignity of labour” seems absent in our class-based, status-conscious culture.

In contrast — the concept of “dignity of labour” is very much visible in modern countries (and hopefully in our modern cosmopolitan metros too).

“Dignity of Labour” means that all types of jobs are respected equally — no occupation is considered superior — and no job is considered “inferior”.

You don’t “look down” upon any profession.

People are judged by how well they perform their job — not by what job they do.

In the words of Swami Vivekananda — “Every Duty is Holy”.

Let me paraphrase extracts of quotes from Swami Vivekananda on “duty”:

“Duty of any kind is not to be slighted… a man should not be judged by the nature of his duties, but by the manner in which he does them.

His manner of doing them and his power to do them are indeed the test of a man.

A shoemaker who can turn out a strong, nice pair of shoes in the shortest possible time is a better man, according to his profession and his work, than a professor who talks nonsense every day of his life….”

This quote succinctly exemplifies the concept of “dignity of labour”.

Dignity of Labour is visible in egalitarian progressive societies — and absent in old-fashioned hierarchy-based class-conscious feudal cultures.

Among the three rank-conscious defence services — where your rank defines your “dignity” — at least to some extent — the concept of “dignity of labour” is visible in the Navy — where professionalism and expertise are valued the most — especially with the advent of modern technology.

In “Civvy Street” — things seem slightly better — though we still have a long way to go — to reach the “dignity of labour” standards of developed countries.

In order to achieve “dignity of labour” — obsession with “status” and class-consciousness will have to disappear from society.

A person should be judged by how well he does his job — not by the “title” or nature of his job.

“Expert Power” should be valued more than mere “Position Power”.

Only then will “Dignity of Labour” become a reality in our context.



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All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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A creative person with a zest for life, alumnus IIT Delhi, Lawrence School Lovedale, Vikram Karve is a retired Navy Officer turned full time Writer and Blogger