When I go to Delhi, from the airport to the inner city, the cabs take me via Munirka. Almost no house in Munirka that I pass by has a chowkidar at the gate. The semi-slum looks like a place that supplies chowkidars to the rich people of Delhi. As one reaches the Greater Kailash area, however, every house has a chowkidar at the gate, even in hot summer or in the bitter cold, standing in a small box.
In Hyderabad, the city where I live, nearly every house in Jubilee Hills has a chowkidar but all the poor bastis supply the chowkidar labour so cheap that not a single chowkidar can be seen with a pot belly. Two meals a day, just enough to help the family survive, seems to be difficult for them. It is a similar situation all over urban India, particularly in the metropolitan cities. The smart city concept, under the BJP regime, enhances the economic gap between chowkidars and sahukars (well-heeled). Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming that he is a chowkidar and the PM and BJP president, Amit Shah, starting a party campaign “Main Bhi Chowkidar”, gives us scope to look at the chowkidar system of India and its caste-class character.
The new malls and shops that sell gold and posh clothes all over the country have chowkidars at the gates. When we travel across the country, no farmer’s house has a chowkidar at the gate. But you go to any industrial complex, and every industrial house has several chowkidars. If you look at the industrial and big business houses, they employ several chowkidars at home, in the factories, in the business houses and so on.
The chowkidar is a protector of the rich man/woman’s wealth and life but the rich never allow any chowkidar to become rich. Did Modi, in any way, transform this system and ensure that some rich industrialists became chowkidars and some chowkidars became industrialists, over a few years, after he became “Chowkidar PM? The evidence shows that many farmers in India have become chowkidars of the urban rich but no industrialist has become a chowkidar.
In the last election, Modi claimed he was a chaiwalla. When a chaiwalla becomes a prime minister, all chaiwallas expect that their economic and educational status would change. At least a few chaiwallas of the street should have become restaurant owners over a period of time. On the contrary, their lives became even more miserable after demonetisation.
However, when he claimed in the last election that he was a chaiwalla, and that too an Other Backward Class (OBC) chaiwalla, one would think that that designation has had a transformative effect on the Indian political discourse. After all, when Congress intellectuals like Mani Shankar Aiyar publicly insulted Modi with that jibe, he became a hero.
The difference between the title of “chaiwalla” and “chowkidar” is that the chaiwalla has self-respect even on the street. But the chowkidar has no respect, no dignity. The rich who employ him not only do not pay well but do not even treat him as a human being.
Did the Indian economy show any signs of change during the last five years? In what way did the OBC-chaiwalla’s status change after Modi became the prime minister? How many sons and daughters of chaiwallas and chowkidars could get dignified higher status employment in Indian industries during Modi’s regime?
When Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, as the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, introduced the total college and university fee reimbursement scheme in 2004, hundreds of children of chowkidars and chaiwallas became engineers and got high-end jobs in industries. Where are such schemes for the poor in the Modi government? In fact, many of those youth are losing jobs because of retrenchment by those industries? No government jobs have been created by the Central government. Instead, both Modi and Shah are telling the educated youth from the chowkidar and chaiwalla families that they should do “pakoda selling” jobs.
What is significant in the chowkidar economy is that a large number of chowkidars come from the lower castes — mostly Dalit, OBC, Adivasi and gurkha or Nepalis, who are again from the lower castes in that country. No upper caste person would like to serve as a chowkidar in India. During the Modi-Shah rule, the chowkidar economy suffered so much that quality school and college education, particularly in the English medium, has become a distant commodity for them. Quality education has moved into air-conditioned private schools, colleges and universities owned by the masters of the chowkidars.
Children of chowkidars, who are hoping to avail of higher education, are being robbed of that hope. Hindi or other regional language school education in dilapidated schools to the chowkidars’ children and air-conditioned English-medium school education to the sons and daughters of the sahukars, has become the new normal of Arun Jaitley’s economy.
The chowkidar everyday watches the difference between his children’s lives and those of his master’s children, as he stands at the gate of the master’s house. This is not just heart burning, it is burning his belly as well.
The best government institutions are slowly being killed and private schools, colleges and universities which charge high fee for under-graduate arts courses are coming up all over the country. All the masters’ children are studying in those institutions whereas the chowkidars’ children are being shown the pakoda selling market. Where does this economy take India?
It is in this background that I find the “Main Bhi Chowkidar” campaign of the prime minister reprehensible. No self-respecting chowkidar would like to be in that job in India. If the RSS wants this campaign to continue, it should first employ its members as chowkidars at the gates of industrialists and businessmen. Otherwise it has no right to give moral speeches to chowkidars.
I do not want to be a chowkidar as it does not allow any scope for human dignity and self-respect. It is a job that needs to be abolished, as it is spiritually, socially, morally and economically antithetical to humane employment. Let us all shout “We do not want to be chowkidars”.
The writer is a political theorist, social activist and author.