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Deceptive Identities

White Collar Jobs

Debasish Paul

It is a legacy of the British Raj in India to create a social class to work as a catalytic agent to percolate, consolidate and sustain British business and colonial rule in India—a class socio-politically called Comprador. They are a product of Western University System of Education introduced by the British in India to create a social class being benefited by British rule in India who would be obliged to them as Macaulay defined this parasitic class as black in colour but British in mind.

Over time when rule of Queen Victoria was established, Indians were admitted to the then most elite job domain of Indian Civil Service. Subsequently down the line, in order to monitor and control manual workers employed in private sector commerce and industry as well to run government administration directed from capital city to logistic activities in constituent regions conquered and acquired by British colonial prowess.

Virtually white collar job flourished in British period creating a class which is benefited by British existence in India. Here is the origin of Indian middle class who was groomed by British education under the universities they established initially in their first capital city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) followed by Universities of Madras (now Chennai), Delhi and Bombay (now Mumbai). Becoming a graduate was a ticket to enter the White Collar job. The elementary job content being mental created a class becoming superior over the manual job burdened working class largely dependent on agriculture subject to vagaries of nature.

As a constituent of nouveu middle class, a hybrid community was born popularly labeled as Anglo-Indians who felt more proximity to British people than aboriginal Indians. A distinguished nature of Anglo-Indians is that both male and female members of this hybrid community joined office services in British & Indian corporate sectors.

The basic characteristics of most urban employment is that it is not directly affected as said by vagaries of nature and hence was superior than agrarian jobs. The Anglo-Indians could get easy white collar employment being conversant in English, in British merchant firms who preferred them as the crown's loyal citizens. They had never joined any nationalist movement of any genre to oust British for obvious reasons. Between British and Indians, they were ideal white collar workers in British interest in India. They were a sizable component of white collar professionals in nascent stage of growth of modern economy of India. After Indian independence in 1947 most of the Anglo-lndians had flown away to Australia which was and still ruled by whites. Meanwhile native Indians mainly members of Hindu community cashed in on early bird advantage to learn not only English language but also entered in new age professional education in particular Law, Engineering and Western Medicine.

While Muslim community members stayed away from English and Western Education, prompted at large by the tragedy that British conquered India at a time when the Mughal (Muslim) reign was there though on the wane still it was vanquished and hurt the Muslim sentiment to stay away from Western ruler. British with their infamous Divide & Rule took it to their best advantage till their last day in India upto 14th August 1947 midnight stoking communal violence by Partition of India on basis of the great divide of Hindu and Muslim communities creating Pakistan as a religious Muslim state in British death wish to keep the subcontinent bleeding after their unwilling exit after two hundred years of colonial exploitation.

While traditional economy i.e. agriculture and industry continue to have sizable manual labour component despite scientific developments, in sharp contrast to growth and development of industry and service sectors who have provided increased opportunity of white collar employment.

Admittedly, technological changes in agriculture which is itself becoming a new age industry, could enhance white collar job potential in India but it is a too slow progress in India. In advanced economies agriculture has become one type of industry because of far and wide application of technology from land preparation by power tillers/tractors ,seed planting by machine by broadcasting method, irrigation by pumping water either from subsoil deposit or rainwater collection or river water whichever is/are accessible and economic, as well harvest of crop, processing of crop also for value addition, cold chain for flower and fresh vegetable farming and transportation to ultimate buyers.

In industry stunning rate of technological change has improved productivity but in same token has reduced employment opportunity for B-grade freshers coming out of private Engineering colleges which has in same token created a nouveau rich upper middle class, among A-grade freshers coming out from Govt. Engineering Colleges, -which is repository of a special breed of white collar job. It is a kind of enclave development of Indian industries which is accused of zero employment in recent high-technology industrial growth.

Impact of IITs & IIMs on the Indian white collar job market is marginalized by mass exodus of the grads coming out of these world famous institutions. Those who could not eat the big apple in the first opportunity, are absorbed by BPO sector of industry which are by proxy enriching and sustaining the competitive advantage of industries that are having roots in the most advanced industrialized economies of the West by reducing their labour charges while American/European labour is nearly 20 times costlier than Indian. One may call it a hidden brain drain. Hence white collar jobs are in a self defeating situation.

In the open globalized Indian economy of today, just like India's colonial past when the West benefited itself by importing or better say draining away natural e.g. agricultural and mineral resources, now they are draining away intellectual talents, making things worse as white collar job opening in outsourced IT sector ends in loss in comparative cost advantage of India on price of skilled labour and thus lowering long term potential of Indian economic growth in high technology sector in an open economy situation. The lure of a relative higher salary package in homeland despite the same being 1/20th of relative salary of job outsourcing advanced countries of West is villain of the piece.

It refers to the famous Marxian proposition that price can break Chinese Wall when mass produced consumer products could win over the colonial markets destroying their home grown products churned out of backward technology based artisan units in absence of so called Industrial Revolution churning out cheaper mass produced goods. Now outsourcing is a Neo Colonial strategy that deprives third world of its advantage of relative lower price of labour in advanced state-of-art technology sector.

Thus offer of higher price of white collar jobs in IT sector by enclave development is defeating nationalist inclination of Yuppies i.e. young upwardly mobile generation. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, famous Bengali novelist and a leading intellectual of his time once commented that Indian educated class found closer affinity with its Western counterpart over its own countrymen specially who are in the blue collared jobs,- the farmers, farm labourers and vast population of uneducated Indians in thousands of villages, suburban and even urban poverty zones.

The tremendous surge of consumerism is sweeping over Indian sub continent and eroding the self dignity of highest paid community of white collar professionals working in IT sector thriving on outsourced BPO jobs further stoked by too easily available Personal Loans and Credit Cards which prompt impulsive buying. Now people see head over heels of depression ridden Western economies who believed that swelling greed of consumers can only act as prime movers of effective demand and its boosting to offer a sustained growth of market at high stake was justified to serve the interest of producers but ultimately it exceeded line of control. Now where is the Invisible Hand that equilibrates the market economy! Consumer the king has become a pauper. Thus white collar can be blue quite often than not!

In depicting the dilemma of the middle class celebrated film director Hrishikesh Mukherjee in his film 'Namak Haram' made in 70's tells that the middle class is most vulnerable in terms of its socio-political identity. While they are educated and skilled, they have opportunity to be upwardly mobile but in a situation of conflict or strife quite often they have tied up their knots with the poorest of the poor and revolt against the capitalist system. All the leaders of Communist movement in India came from the middle class who gave leadership to the toiling people.

If one says that the chameleon character of the middle class is changing for the overexposure to material comfort and resultant consumerism then it can be pointed out as a counter argument that from middle class Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Mahasweta Debi to new generation of filmmakers like Ananda Pattabardhan and in more recant time film director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury in his much acclaimed film 'Antaheen', all have exposed the draconian face of Capitalist system which annihilates the working class be they are in agriculture (Nandigram and Singur as live example) or in infrastructure sector exposing sharks in the role of Promoters indulging in anti-people activities having no hesitation to murder a leading Bengali News Channel lady journalist who dared to take people's side, the dislocated slum dwellers and so sacrificed her life in a concocted road accident.

When the state has declared war against deprived aboriginals (Adibasis) in Jangolmahal or in MP where Narmada riverine people are dislocated for building big projects like dam and hydel power station which caters to urban elites' need for more electricity to enjoy air-conditioned comfort in home, office and shopping malls but offers no benefit to local people for whom loss of land is loss of livelihood, protests are led by middle class.

Massive requirement of electricity is there in supporting state of art computer based software services which is latest profile of white collar jobs offering tax free billons to the entrepreneurs and millions as salary to the employees mostly who are middle class offspring software engineers and other Information Technology specialists.

In Behavioral Science it is an accepted notion that personal consciousness of a man is product of his role in existing mode of production in evolution to his/her genetic factors and current environment. Every person with adequate purchasing power is a consumer as also a productive unit of human being for earning livelihood a producer of goods and services. In awareness or even in unawareness, the changing consumer preference and the enormous diversity of consumer goods keeps his/her obsessed with earning more in order to support his/her increasing greed turned into need, the white collar workers today are an individualistic mutation/metamorphosis of its predecessors.

Impact of easy access to diverse consumer goods under one roof in a shopping mall has been aggravating an insatiable thrust for novae lifestyle products not considering conspicuous consumption as luxury but absolute need. Late Satyajit Ray in his famous film 'Simabaddha' has shown how easy access to a luxurious flat provided as perks by an MNC employer to an aspiring senior executive made him compromising with time honored human values to keep an affectionate care of own old parents under one roof in order to keep constant vigil on their age related vulnerability. Nobel Laureate Rabindra-nath Tagore in his inimitable song pointed out in asking, Where is the end of the road of so much desire and greed? (the Bengali lyric 'Pather sesh kothai, sesh kothai, ki acihey seshey, eto kamona eto basona kothay meshey?'). As a profound creative thinker, Tagore being much familiar with Western Consumerism, his question has its obvious answer within it, the destruction of socio-economic fabric as now devastating America and Europe shattering the myth that stoking the fire of desire is the engine of growth.

The modern generation claims a change of classical general model of motivation like prominent one of Maslow when need of job security has been replaced by reed for earning more money at higher stake and less security. The ideal is now improving self-employability towards a better organization by job hopping continuously since the motto is, life is a journey, enjoy it. Even employers implicitly encourage this merry-go-round. It reduces problem of industrial relations among white collar workers' community if practiced judiciously by employers, strategically in the same token averting the seize within i.e. industrial strife. In not very distant past the progressive (in favour of the lower depth of the working class) element of white collar job community joined hands with the blue collar job community, gave them leadership sacrificing their own career. Those were days of social proximity intellectually termed as 'Declassed' from higher to lower class e.g. lower income groups for committed politics promising to usher a social change in favour of the oppressed .But reactionary political force does not remain onlooker and uses state power to contain the dynamics of social change. This state is no exception because according to Political Science, state is an instrument of oppression by the ruling class in the existing mode of production whether it is Monarchy or Democracy.

This social proximity has decreased over time in the country due to a strategic education policy of the ruling class under strong infusion of capitalist/individualist idea; even though socialistic government by declaration. In West Bengal, the withdrawal of English learning as a subject from government owned or sponsored primary education has compelled relatively affluent parents to send their wards to English medium/Convent schools which are much more expensive than traditional native language medium schools either privately run or under state sponsorship. It is only the poor parents whose wards languished under education in local language which is Bengali in West Bengal. So by design or default, from childhood the social difference between different income groups has been poignantly aggravated under the process of education euphemistically called human capital formation but in reality causing deformation of young minds, though it is supposed to enlighten the society and that also implemented by a left front government which is by words, not by works pro-people definitely in this case. Upward social mobility being so restrained dream of joining white collar workforce of larger segment of middle class and all lower income groups is shattered in this state paving the way to decline of Left Front rule after thirty five years, partly for frustration of the alienated middle class who formed their biggest Vote Bank in its initial decades. Hence to be or not to be a White Collar Worker is a serious social contradiction brewing in lower rungs of income groups.

The most notable phenomena in Indian subcontinent is recent mushrooming of shopping malls across the country which after covering metro and urban centres have ventured into sub-urban and nearby rural areas. These retailers having direct purchase from the producers in agriculture and industry are raking in the area enjoying a broad market margin otherwise earmarked for traditional market intermediaries namely in agriculture Fariah, Arhatdar, transport dealer, wholesaler & finally Distributor; in industry middlemen like sole selling Agent, Dealer, Wholesaler, Distributor in both cases paving way to ultimate user or consumer at retail end coming to Kinara/local retail shops in localities or local markets.

The people employed here are white collar incumbent the aspiring gullible local youth sometimes even with low brand business degrees such as spurious MBAs from the mushrooming management institutes assuring hundred per cent campus placement, though Big Bazars are not big pay-masters. The catchword is that 'earn some job experience for getting cushy job appropriate to your educational status'.

In order to bar their access to Labour Tribunals, these mere salespersons standing on their legs daily for twelve hours, are designated as Sales Managers/executives. While knowing or not knowing incumbents are also allured by big posts in very first job.

When they are fired without notice period or compensation in lieu thereof, they get no labour union support as local politicians are in the pay roll of politically influential mall-owners often born in big industrial houses. The owners buy out newspapers opinion in their tacit support by generous spreads/spots of multicolored advertisements in newspapers and other audio-visual medias who once served society as conscience keepers but now taking their pounds of flesh.

White collar jobs are denominated by money and social ranking .While sixth finance commission has elevated the pay scales of faculty members to a much higher level over the past, now the academic profession is one of the best career options in India.

So one finds amidst the white collar community, there are several layers of status indicated by emoluments and authority. But that is true and universal for any country and economy whether it is developed, developing or underdeveloped.

Even within the same white collared job, there are several distinguishable diversity of status (a composite indicator of income and authority). An Engineer who is in core area like Civil, Mechanical or Electrical Engineering draws a much lower emolument as compared to Information Technology sector, employee Engineer. It has caused a havoc misdistribution of talents across the same profession of Engineering.

In a number of cases, the freshly graduated Civil Engineer has joined IT sector in lure of higher salary in a competitive environment. But when the IT sector was sinking, there is a downsizing of organization, the square nut in a round hole i.e. the Civil Engineer in IT sector on losing job, cannot go back to his own core sector due to mismatch of qualification and experience. Employers also like employees whose career is properly focused. Thus one sees super specialized white collar professions are equally rewarding and vulnerable.

This distinguishes them from white collar employees who have three or five years' degree in general line i.e. the popular term referring age old Science, (Arts) Humanities and Commerce streams. General line degree holders who are abused of being dropouts of the celebrated Joint Entrance Examinations, are trained by their employers where they join like mostly in Banks, Insurance, railways, post, telecommunication (boosted by Cell phone craze) or different govt. departments under heterogeneous ministries. India’s ‘socialistic pattern of government’ formally does not downsize workforce since most of their activities are directly linked to infrastructure and welfare of the people, which are yet to grow much more in order to cover the Indian community, the larger component of who are villagers.

Here one gets the happiest section of white collar Indian workers euphemistically called 'Sarkari Babu' who have no accountability to organization, having secured safety net of large political party affiliation. So less the work more they earn by strategic delaying. The 'Sarkari Babus' work only when they are bribed which is an icing sugar on cake (bribe plus high salary). Hence 'Transparency International' has declared India in most years ranking lowest less one from last in honesty by nature of Govt. service rendered by staff to top officials. It is no surprise that monopolistic utility service concern in Kolkata providing electricity also has white collar 'Babus' who are activated by 'Speed Money', the nickname of bribe.

The colonial legacy of Indian White Collar Babu culture has profound role to play in India's distinguished deplorable high degree and wide expanse of corruption making India infamous worldwide. Gunner Myrdal in his celebrated book 'Asian Drama' explained in his inimitable language the 'Economics of Bribe' and its dense network across the Indian economy and the labyrinth of bribe when both Indian & multinational organization had to make budget for bribe in a compulsive mode in order to move files through the concerned ministry officials to reach upto Minister through 'proper' channel for approval in the License Raj economy.

The advanced mode of production reduces physical work transforming them into cyber age computer-controlled mental work .Thus many blue collar jobs metamorphose into white collar jobs. By advancement of technology like Robotics ,semi or fully automated computer control such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Artificial Intelligence.

But since white collar jobs are higher paid when it evolves qualitatively, it manifests within itself a quantitative self-reducing trend, in order to make business more profitable by further reduction of salary bill eg. cost of most expensive human resource.

Hence operation strategy moves in two directions :
—   More capital intensive computerization in order to reduce white collar job further.
—   Outsource production of goods and services to other  regions or other countries where same white collar job is available but at a much lower cost.

While colonial capital has mystified into Multinational Corporation (MNC), once who exploited material resources of the third world, are now exploiting its mental resources by outsourcing for underpayment on skilled labour. It is a time tested ploy in order to regain international comparative cost advantage of first vis a vis third world. Big is cheating small in their own coin in white collar expertise without relocation of white collar labourer. Thus outsourcing is an advanced version of Brain Drain in global business with higher rate of exploitation.

White colour job naturally creates an elite cadre of favoured workers who are distancing themselves from the blue collar toiling mass of motherland who now a days suffer from a jobless growth of high tech production economy being placed just at polar opposite position by vicious circle of high technology by digital divide as poor being deprived of higher education becomes poorer by onslaught of MNCs armed with most advanced technology for mass production.

But in same token, it creates a self contradiction of increase of mass consumption commodities but decrease in effective demand for mass products for stagnating and/or even further reducing industrial employment opportunity of blue collar jobs. Thus 77 percent of urban Indian labour works in Informal sector with very low purchasing power and hence mass poverty takes its own toll on mass product demand which takes in turn cause loss of white collar jobs and/or worsening terms of employment in pay and perks like contract or permanently casual appointment for the erstwhile elite employees.

In a democratic state, the compulsion of electoral politics, insists on the ruling political party to intervene in open market contradiction of capitalist economy, by series of incentives and concessions to capitalists and welfare measures for the working class.

In a way white collar jobs are a historical evolution of capitalist production and employment which cannot avert the nemesis of business cycles. For discerning observer, it is an interesting episode where the capitalist lobby is always declaring the non-essentiality of state power to intervene into Leisez Faire or independent state of market as a sacred place having own 'Invisible Hand' with a magic wand for ensuring equilibrium, succumbing the government to provide taxpayers' resources to refill their coffers on the plea of labour welfare for reducing unemployment. 'Head I win, Tail you lose' is the funny logic amidst massive human tragedy. So white collar job has come to stay.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 49, Jun 12 - 18, 2016