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A race to the bottom

The craze for a government job kills creativity and ensures conformity.

Fitting in structures is the Indian way of growing up. Structures that are defined and regulated by societal norms but more so by our need to keep them intact. Anything beyond structures is believed fruitless.

All Indian parental categories from the upper class to a daily wage earner seek social security and standing in society accompanied by a sense of power that comes with a government job for their children. Its blinding charm has killed many a dream and persuaded students to give up their passions because no other profession or skill or art will ever garner the same respect as the vaunted government job.

The government service is the essence of Indian existence, and the preparation for recruitment exams is nothing less than venom for the creative mind. Direction-less and lost students from myriad cultural, socio-economic backgrounds gather in areas such as Mukherjee Nagar and Karol Bagh burning the midnight oil and cramming up data, figures and dates all day, the antithesis of independent thinking and of challenging structures.

The meals they used to have at home have suddenly transformed into luxuries. Dal tadka is now the infamous name for mildly spiced yellow water. Caffeine dependence through endless cups of tea and coffee has become the ultimate ingredient for rote learning. Smoking is the ominous topic that divides friends, peers and study buddies. They survive, imbibe and tolerate these life- and behaviour-altering habits just to get that one thing that society holds dear, a permanent job, leaving behind what they truly were and the hopes of what they wanted to become.

There is nothing wrong in aiming and aspiring to be that charming public servant or officer and catering to the needs of the people, but it is the herd behaviour that is ending dreams on a much larger scale. Not everyone is meant to conform. Not everyone is good at learning numbers. Not everyone works comfortably in hierarchical set-ups. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” goes a famous saying. Aren’t we just reinforcing this calamitous structural conformity of how “all should climb” and swimming or flying or simply walking is either just too mundane or outrageously out of the structure?

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when India followed the grand vision of Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist economic policies, we gave the state the paramount power. A power that would soon mirror itself in all government employees. From top-notch bureaucrats to the simple clerk, these were the people who controlled everything in the country. Setting up industries, opening bank accounts, securing a phone connection or something as simple as purchasing cement required permits or licences. These permits were tightly controlled by the state or in plain words, the government servants. This is where the power circle was sealed.

The current crop of parents is a product of a time where the state and its employees had limitless power. Pre-1991, good jobs were available mostly in the government sector. Those times have changed. But have they really?

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his “Pareeksha Pe Charcha” address, said that “marks are not life anymore”. But when we leave children out in the battlefield of competition right after Class 12, marks do matter. More than 12 lakh people apply for 11,800 vacancies in the Bihar police. Marks matter for these 12 lakh applicants; more so, because of the treasured government job. The question is not why, the question is why still?

We lack a system that provides that same admiration and recognition to other professions. Most important, we fail in the manner and method in which we teach children, both as teachers and as parents. No amount of poetry writing and recitation, art exhibition, painting competition and sports will yield results if they are only approved as hobbies or extracurricular activities, having no part to play in their future careers but only as a way of passing time. This belief that we ingrain in their impressionable young minds costs them creativity, an open mind and a fearless voice.

In such a scenario, these are the questions that conflict me, Why is the sales pitch for a government job so much more attractive than a job or a career that sustains the creativity within you and hones your passion? Why does that package get more numbers? Why shouldn’t other professions that boost your creativity get those numbers? Why is there no thirst to become a creative genius? Are we knowingly or unknowingly creating an atmosphere of security within the parameters of government services only? Are we being biased towards social power more than creative independence or freedom? Are we pushing our future generations to fail in an environment where there is no equilibrium between the two professions? Why one profession always get more respect and attention? Why have we failed in providing the same stately grandeur to other professions? Why is there no appreciation for impressive work in the realms of private jobs? Are we fortifying the argument of the state’s control and influence over our disenchanted lives when we relentlessly seek a government job?

As the world’s largest democracy, we are still stuck in a place where all means in life lead to one singular end: a government job. We may never truly know how many Picassos, Nerudas, Einsteins and Mary Shellys have we killed in this rat race. But if we realise now and teach our coming generations to believe in their journeys of learning rather than competing for a post that may not be their calling, we can still save a few. Or to identify, guide and not be part of a herd but always a leader. We can still change the face of this nation because as Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.”

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 11:51:55 PM |

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