The reason why most Indians aren’t politically active
If you work in the organized sector in India, and if you workplace is like most that I know of — then any small errand means you need to take a half day. I myself save some half days for going to the bank. We know how people had to juggle with work when demonitization struck like a tragedy- they had to use up their working hours to deposit the money, while this made them lose their hourly wages. A sad paradox indeed. And the government did not bother telling workplaces to relax their work hour norms to help people out.
If you look at the work structure, Indians are overworked. In the organized sector, hours and only the hours you put in count. Very few places value creativity. Office politics, lack of autonomy, lack of creativity, and undying allegiance to meaningless hierarchies are leading to burnout, absenteeism, presenteesim, and lack of productivity across offices in India. The attrition rates are quite high too. HR departments only exist to hire and fire people and for the occasional sexual harassment complaint. Improving quality of work and quality of employee life is hardly a concern, unless you work for one of the elite MNCs. There, too, crazy hours are the norm, even if they are set off with the perks of a high salary and other benefits.
Of course, this has an impact on how much the person participates in doing things at home, and this affects the health and relationships of the person. But at the national level, this also affects political participation.
When you need to put in a half day leave just to get a couple of things done at the bank or at the doctors’ clinic, would you use up your precious leaves to go to a rally?
Because there is no unemployment benefit or social security or healthcare, Indians are literally dying to make ends meet and provide a livable life for themselves and their children.
To encourage political participation, one would need free time and the government’s support to grow a politically active population. The reason this does not happen is that the status quo suits everyone: companies get conformists who will not miss work and governments get to get away with insane policies. Sit in any bus or train and you will see most people discussing potholes, crimes and elections. But this idle talk never turns to action because they simply don’t have the time.
The result is that political rallies become the playground of university students and political leaders. However, students may have the energy but they do not have the agency to keep the fire going. They are largely dependent. And as we saw, governments can strike on universities to ensure that no raging fires are started by forward thinking students.
The net result is that those who are affected the most by torturous legislation and policies — get the least opportunity to speak about it. Simply because their government does not care enough about them to give them a basic livelihood and healthcare. All we have is a really questionable universal education policy — which most middle class and above citizens would not use anyway.
Most people are thus caught on their heels by the claws of capitalism, and a ruthless government is quite willing to let these duels continue — as long as it gets to carry out partisan policies.
As we approach Independence day, we need to ask — are we really free? Are we free to be politically active and create the kind of country we want?