India must change its thinking on work and worker

The cultural determinism of the caste does not allow an individual to choose the work he or she wants because everyone is born to a caste which can never be changed. But the Human Rights Declaration says something diametrically opposite.

India must change its thinking on work and worker

By Joe Palathunkal

(May 1: International Worker’s Day and Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker)
“…the general situation of man in the modern world… calls for the discovery of the new meanings of human work.” These words of Pope John Paul II have special significance in the Indian context where the thinking on work and worker is a vitiated one controlled and captivated by the age-old caste system.

Because of caste philosophy there is no individual worker but a caste which is bound to its caste duty by birth for which the doer does not deserve any payment or has he she got the right to claim wages. But Jesus says, “…the labourer deserves to be paid” (Luke 10: 7).

That is what we have to think about as Indians in 21st century and as the pope asked us we have to discover ‘the new meanings of human work’ in the light of UN Declarations and international conventions and covenants related to work. For, work is the most basic for a human being to earn bread for self and the family.

If you keep on saying that a caste is only doing its duty as enjoined by some divinity, then the worker cannot demand for better payment and working conditions. It goes against the Christian understanding of work that says man must work and earn his bread with the sweat of his brow for himself and the family. Here man is an individual, not a group as envisaged by the caste system.

The cultural determinism of the caste does not allow an individual to choose the work he or she wants because everyone is born to a caste which can never be changed. But the Human Rights Declaration says something diametrically opposite. Article 23 (1): “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Caste system violates all the four aspects mentioned here. No right to work because work is imposed as a duty, obviously no free choice as each caste has its own determined duty, and in such a situation just or favourable atmosphere can never be expected because in caste thinking no right to demand. Also note the term ‘Everyone’ which means individual, not a group.

The same Article further speaks about ‘equal pay for equal work’ which is not possible in caste thinking because caste system is hierarchical and is based on purity-pollution theory which labels certain works as impure and low.

It is in this context we need to see Saint Joseph the Worker whose feast is on May 1st, the humble carpenter from Nazareth who elevated an ordinary work by earning bread through it for his son Jesus who did not consider any human labour as demeaning. Think of the famous Malayalam film song: ‘Vaniley varoli tharakalethryum…’ Even the son of God who scattered the stars on the sky, did not consider it demeaning to do work when he became a human being.

May Day

Like the May Flower it is red.
Red flags, red symbols, red dress
A march of red everywhere
Shouting slogans
To make conscience listen
That this Day did not dawn in history
For a decoration with red
But to give a message
That this red is the blood
That turned into sweat
For a morsel of bread
To change into the blood of life
For the millions
Lost in the desert of injustice.
They know if they march with one voice
They have nothing to lose but their chains.

But the black chain
Put on by the black hands
Keep on shouting
At the marchers of the May Day-
“Work is the worker
And so the Pharaoh has the power over his whips.”

But the red keeps on telling –
“Worker is work
See, the human seal over it;
Walk through the Garden of the Genesis
The Greatest Worker’s greatest work is His Image
Who turns his and her blood into the pearls on the brow.
Don’t throw before him or her
The crumbs of Lazarus Or
The silver coins of Aceldama
At the end of the Day.”
Hearken, the holders of Pharaoh’s whips
This is the message of May Day.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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