There are biases and prejudices against the poor. Bhaskar takes two interesting case studies, in Patna, Bihar, and Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, and analyses the cause and effects of poverty, upward mobility or the downward slide of the future generations, with the eye of an economist and social scientist. He cites another example where research scholars, instead of professors, are found teaching PG classes and an electrician on the rolls does not work as per his job description but carries out supervisory functions in a premier research institute, in Allahabad. Here’s his tongue in cheek analyses, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
I have been listening since last many years that there is politics of poverty. That the poor like to live in poverty. They are lazy and so on. In parallel, I also hear that the poor people can get elevated if they raise their productivity by hard labour, open a bank account, save and so on. So I tried to test the hypotheses at two locations – the city of Patna, in the state of Bihar, and the city of Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh – both million-plus population cities, taking some case studies. The size of population matters for finding a job market within the unorganised sector.
The Case of Patna: It was an income-poor family of parents and two sons and a daughter in a slum-like settlement near Birla Institute of Technology. I sent my MA level students of Development Studies of the Central University of Bihar to get first-hand ideas of the livelihood conditions of such families and their need. They came back with the following story. That the elder son of the family with tenth standard education has been sitting idle at home, and the younger one, illiterate, is engaged in rag picking and is earning Rs. 150/- to Rs. 200/- per day. The illiterate parents argued against the wasted education and argued in favour of early entry into the job market! By the way, for the income-poor families in slums achieving a tenth standard education is the highest achievable goal for the present generation.
The Case of Allahabad: An illiterate worker employed on ad hoc basis as a sweeper in a premier social science research institute since past ten years have been doing the same work with no hope to get engaged on a regular basis, anywhere. He told he did not have advantage money to pay to get engaged in the organised sector, as a sweeper or get a parallel job. He somehow could save some money and has a bank account. His son, semi-literate, got a roadside space to sell vegetables. Soon his son will get married to reproduce future sweeper or vegetable vendors.
One may go for collecting such non-quantified data in social science. What do they convey?
At first glance, the Allahabad episode seems to be a little bit promising from the viewpoint of the ad hoc sweeper in the sense that the second generation moving up to the level of a vegetable vendor may lead to third generation owner of a small grocery shop. But if the number of grocery shops (preferably in his known location/city) is such as to crowd him out then the third generation remains in vegetable vending or comes down to first generation sweeper’s job. Caste division of labour may reinforce the outcome over generations. Three generations mean at least sixty years are gone for this household in caged poverty.
If the promising case, as in Allahabad, may not be so promising at the end, the case of despair as I found in Patna may take many more years to come out of poverty. The Patna case has discarded education as a trajectory of economic elevation, remaining trapped in child labour. The child becomes an adult in the process of rag picking to reproduce future child labourers. The tenth educated frustrated may search for ways to come out of frustration through socio-culturally unwelcome means. The poverty of culture and the culture of poverty go hand in hand.
The above is a short story – not for the satisfaction of the economists, who will definitely question the sample size!
I have of late decided to minimise the magnitude of my surprise in public institutional life when I am in Uttar Pradesh. After all, UP is not causing any harm to me. I am living here peacefully so far.
I invented troubles sometimes instead. While I was the administrative officer (AO is a designation accepted de facto as higher than that of the Head of the Institute for higher nuisance value), I asked the person appointed as electrician to do some specified work, which he declined. The consequence followed that I decline to narrate here for public interest. But subsequently I was made to understand that he was appointed as an electrician – not for performing the works of an electrician but to supervise other ad hoc or contractual electrician’s works in the research institute where I am engaged as a research worker (though that was forgotten by almost all when I was AO and I had to remind them my academic status once!). I hardly understood the labour market as most of the economists hardly understand it. Pragmatic approach is not to go de jure but to go de facto. So now that electrician is happily determining the fate of the canteen/mess/guest house of the institute. Ultimately what matters is not the academic degree but the relative competence. If one does not have any competence, he is free to stand under any non-national flag. But he has to first detoxify his brain to understand that he does not fit in the frame.
But coming back to the core point. At Allahabad, I used to be surprised that the research scholars, instead of professors, were sent to the PG level classes for teaching. Now, I am satisfied that it was not unwarranted for many of the teachers were sick, absentee, or engaged in other occupations perhaps. I am in a position to narrate two cases where one who got Chancellor’s medal, went up the ladder to do her D. Phil and IES and posted at the highest layer of the services of the Government of India. The other student of the same reputed University at Allahabad, who got Chancellor’s medal is engaged as an assistant in UP Government. My purpose is not to compare the outcome by value addition in services by potentiality or utilisation of capacity but to re-think what goes right or what goes wrong in education. Or does higher education at all matter in some major regions in India? One needs to explore the state of affairs in such regions why or how proxy teaching, or how the absentee student throughout the year gets the graduation degree and so on. Please don’t ask me to be shocked if you are psychologically sensitive. I shall not opine Gresham’s Law is in operation here openly but of course, it is working like the Saraswati River, flowing silent, flowing deep, hidden from the public eye.
©Prof. Bhaskar Majumder
Photo from the internet.
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Prof. Bhaskar Majumder, an eminent economist, is the Professor of Economics at GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He was the Professor and Head of the Centre for Development Studies, Central University of Bihar, Patna. He has published nine books, 69 research papers, 32 chapters,15 review articles and was invited to lectures at premier institutes and universities over 50 times. He has 85 papers published in various seminars and conferences.
He also worked in research projects for Planning Commission (India), World Bank, ICSSR (GoI), NTPC, etc. A meritorious student, Bhaskar was the Visiting Scholar in MSH, Paris under Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme. He loves speed, football and radical ideology.