Aversion to blue-collar work

Regarding The Washington Post feature article that ran in The Japan Times April 8 under the headline “India students’ aspirations, job market don’t match“: The writer has perhaps made a sincere attempt at bringing up a serious problem. But how novel is this problem? Many graduates are known to have gone for management studies after they complete engineering, and this article would have made sense even decades ago.

Swami Vivekananda wrote about Indians in 1893: “And what are you doing now? … promenading the seashores with books in your hands — repeating undigested stray bits of European brain work, and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer — the height of young India’s ambition — and every student with a whole brood of hungry children cackling at his heels and asking for bread! Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all?”

Today we can replace the word “clerks” with several other professions, and we can raise the 30 rupees of those days to its current value.

I do agree with the author of The Washington Post article that there is a greater need for civil engineers than information technology experts.

India desperately needs infrastructure, but I am not so sure about other sectors that basically provide cheap labor to cater to the needs of multinationals so that they can prosper and that the “beautiful people” in developed countries do not suffer. That is not to say those jobs do not benefit anyone. They provide employment to a large pool of people who might otherwise have remained unemployed and hence unproductive.

I have seen a few Western-educated Indians who just sit at home after going back to India because the jobs available do not fit their qualifications. I have also seen my friend in school being forced to study engineering by his parents. He was well-read and was good at writing plays and dreamed of a career in drama and acting. But he had to study civil engineering, and then management, and now has a stable job in an IT company and a happy family.

Why did society not give him a chance to pursue his dreams and have a job and family at the same time?

India needs overall development and revamping of the education system. Jayant Narlikar, one of India’s top-class astrophysicists, has written along similar lines about Indian science in his highly readable book, “The Scientific Edge.”

Foreigners from developed countries tend to either praise India or denounce it. Articles like the above could attract a lot of readership in such countries. A wide foreign readership is good for spreading awareness, but readers are not always prudent enough to deduce the entire situation on their own.

For example, in Japan, it is generally believed that Indians are very intelligent and born for the IT industry because they are said to be good at doing multiplication mentally. Any mathematician will tell you that this is just one basic skill that has nothing to do with being good at higher mathematics. As Narlikar has explained, it would be more prudent to use a calculator for multiplication.

Rather than look at superficial attributes, we need to analyze, for instance, why there is an aversion to being a blue-collar employee, etc. What kind of society/education systems should we aim for to overcome that?

Actually there is a lot of material already available on this due to the efforts of researchers including social scientists. Hope The Japan Times brings up such issues as well.

rajdeep seth
kure, hiroshima

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.