by Sailendra Pattnayak
For the migrant laborers, it seems, the time has come to slip away and disappear from the pages of newspapers and TV screens. With stories of miseries of being stuck up helplessly in faraway places from home, how long could it be holding our attention!
Migrant Laborers! Of What Number?
On 1st May or the May Day of 2020 India woke up to the plight of the migrant laborers. For the first time since 1st May had come to the recognition of history in 1886 ( when in USA more than three hundred thousands of workers from across the country had walked out of their work-places against exploitative measures of their employers) the May Day 2020 in India shall be remembered for its uniqueness of being totally silent about it. For on this day, i.e. May Day of 2020, no Trade Unions or Labor Organizations, neither the state Governments nor the Government of India were even able to determine the number of migrant labors, whether five or ten or twenty crores!
Yet it was only three years ago, in 2016-17, the whole of India was covered under the Economic Survey at the behest of the then Economic Advisor Dr. Arvind Subramanyam. The number of migrant laborers was enumerated to be around ten crores and they were hailed as the ‘symbols of progress’, their movement crisscrossing the entire length and breadth of the country as ‘India on the Move’, the economy generated by them was proudly compared to the progress and economic growth of China. The same survey had revealed that not less than four crore migrant laborers were being engaged in construction work alone. Meaning, they were being strewn across every city and town, each nook and corner, the forest, the desert, the mountain, the valley, everywhere and unto their own doings, unto the compassion and mercy of their respective employers, unto their fate.
China as the Model of Economic Progress
During last thirty years, exactly after the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre of 4th June 1989, China slowly, imperceptibly but surely, was becoming the enviable model of economic progress for all the developing and under-developed countries of Asia and Africa. And the prosperous countries of the continents of America, Europe and Australia have become trade dependents without question. The current trade war between USA and China is known to all. Today, in the world under the shadow of Covid-19, all the leaders of the developed countries find themselves bogged down with the question of how to deal with the utter dependency on China for various consumables, including food stuffs, clothing, and medicines.
Do We Have Any Understanding of Human Labor!
Paradoxically at the root of all this is the modern consideration and dealing with human labor. While China could mobilize and amass cheap labor for mass production and cheap marketing, the developed countries of prosperous West found themselves in a time to do away with unnecessary labor and enjoy leisure, as many modes of entertainment and sports and adventure. If we look a little deeper we can easily trace back both, the Chinese exploitation of cheap labor and prosperous Western outlook of excessive leisure to the same single source: the Post-Enlightenment world view or the Age of Reason and its linear logic of endless growth and the blinkered vision considering the organized exploitation of nature or natural resources as an endless affair.
It seems we have comfortably forgotten that without colonization and slave trade and slave labor, there could not have been the European and American industrialization and capitalism. When Karl Marx was writing, the middle and later period of 19th century, capitalism was in its zenith. Looking at the terrible exploitative measures of capitalism Marx could easily prophesize that capitalism because of its own qualities would inevitably divide the society into two separate classes – the capitalist and the proletariat. And this division obviously increases the tension which would reach its extreme critical point and by ‘a last revolution it would burst asunder’ and after a brief period of ‘dictatorship of proletariat necessary for rooting out of last remains of capitalism the final millennium of socialist society would arrive’.
Enter the Great Grand Wisdom of Consumerist Life
But as we all know capitalism did not ‘burst asunder’ and neither the revolution in Russia could bring and establish ‘the dictatorship of the proletariats’. Capitalism in Europe and America took a new shape and with the powerful presence and interventions of the Trade Unions and Labor Organisation’s decent life-styles of the workers could be affected. The Welfare States emerged with democratically elected governments bringing and maintaining a greater balance between the rich and the poor through taxation systems. And slowly capitalism could make itself and the majority convinced that it could make everyone richer through mass production and making things available cheap.
So, the great grand road was created for the triumphant march of Free-Market Economy and the glory of Global Free-Trade and the new identity of humanity as proud consumers. And, all the countries of the world irrespective of political and ideological backgrounds now were concerned of only one thing, products to arrive their markets cheap, and more and more consumers buy so that tax is collected and reach the government coffers and the activities of the governments whether infrastructure or defense or policing continues.
And China was ready to produce and supply anything, from defense materials to beef, from fruits to fish, imitation jewelry to communication gadgets, and medicines for the entire human population, and a time had come for China to be everywhere. Because, it had made itself capable of taking any stance while amassing cheap labor it is communist, while ruling over the mass it is totalitarian, in order to deal with corporate houses of developed capitalist countries it could even create ‘proletariat millionaires’.
Pandemic of Covid-19 as an Eye-opener!
Epidemics, humanity had seen many of it. Exactly one hundred years ago the pandemic of Spanish flu had killed more than five crores of people in less than two years. But with Covid-19 something strange was happening. There was a great confusion of its origin and even symptoms. The very integrity of an institution of the stature of World Health Organization came under questioning. And after months of Lockdowns the realization dawned unto us that it has disrupted our economic bases and probably it was meant for that. All the heads of the states of the world found themselves in a situation where they were compelled to go back to the very basics of the economy of their respective countries i.e. the modes and methods of production and distribution, the very meaning of market!
Probably we are compelled to ask that question which we had comfortably forgotten during last fifty years or more: was it possible that products and means and methods of production could ever be moral-free?
“Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan!’’
Prime Minister Modi realizing the impending economic crisis has given the timely call to us for “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”. Probably it still is possible with Indians after such a great mass of them being used to accepting rice for one rupee since decades without it hurting their self-esteem! But for us, probably, ever increasing industrialization is our ideal of self-reliant India. To think of a time when every Indian shall be self-reliant is such an utopia that it was to be discarded from the very outset, the way Sarvodaya or ‘Rise of All’ was discarded soon after the independence of India. Nevertheless we may take pains to recollect a couple of sayings of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in this regard:
“God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million (as India was in 1928) took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” And, to “make India like England and America is to find some other races and places of earth for exploitation.” (Young India, 20-12-1928 & 7-10-1926). This ironic proclamation of almost a century ago how is being proven true with the dealings of China with most of the small countries of Asia and Australia and Africa today!
Khadi and village industries and small farming “ .…in terms of the millions of villages until such time, if ever, when a better system of supplying work and adequate wages for every able-bodied person above the age of sixteen, male or female, is found for his field, cottage or even factory in every one of the villages of India; or till sufficient cities are built up to displace the villages so as to give the villagers the necessary comforts and amenities that well-regulated life demands and is entitled to.” (CW. MKG, Vol.63.) And the Hopeful Indians!
With our Prime Minister declaring the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’, we today are rightfully hopeful again that our villages shall become self-reliant not only materially but also intellectually and spiritually, and our cities free of their dark under-sides which every day sucks into it thousands of young men and women from the villages in search of false glimmers.
(The author is a Poet, Spiritualist & Development Personnel. Views expressed are Personal)