In spite of the economic progress that India has made since 1991, the majority of our people are still poor. As a country, we have more people and less assets. Which means India should make the fullest use of its assets. But we do not. The organized sector of those employed, work, on the average, some 56 per cent of its potential working days. The off days would begin with Saturday/ Sunday, festival/national holidays plus privilege, casual and medical leave. On the average, a working day would equal say eight hours and the remaining 16 hours are spent in other activities including sleep and rest. It must be remembered that every holiday may be fun for the employed but a wage denial for the daily wager and the casual worker.
More so because there are so many holidays. In fact, it is cruel for them. For some reason, they have not protested and no one has helped to voice their grievances. On the other hand, millions in India are unemployed or have very little to do which earns an income. In the bargain the society, by giving itself so many holidays, impoverishes its members in large numbers. The intention here is not to whip people into working harder. The plea is that society as a whole should be enabled to work as hard as possible. For long years, factories have been known to work on a 24-hour basis, admittedly split into three shifts. Why cannot all or most vocations attempt to work on a similar basis? Wherever practicable, the State should encourage establishments to work roundthe- clock.
Perhaps, to begin with work extended hours, say 12, 16, 18 hours and so on. To make such extended hours possible, the State must ensure zeroexception law and order. Efficient policing would be only the beginning. Also, there could be a wider range of available jobs, as a lot of job openings are solely intended at workers open to shift work. If one starts taking them into account, the pool of jobs available naturally widens. Deterrence or in simple terms fear of the law is more important. In the endeavour to achieving such fear, the judiciary must play an active role. Encounters taking place with the police are at times the alternatives to easy going, if not also slow and influenced, criminal courts.
Quick justice is essential. Continual vigilance by police vehicles seen to be patrolling should be effective in arousing confidence among the citizens, women as well as men, willing to go to work even at night. In north and eastern India, out of fear of crime, weddings are conducted at night to avoid abductions during the day. In the east, the barats traditionally were confined to very few close male relatives so that the ceremony could be performed behind locked doors. The custom had little to do with religion; in south and western regions, weddings are held during daytime for there was evidently less fear of abduction or attack. If law and order is guaranteed, time of day or night would be chosen as per need or convenience and not out of fear. Just think of the Scandinavian countries like Norway, the land of the midnight sun.
Half the year there is more light than darkness and the other half more night than day. Regardless of the time of year, work and rest go on as usual. We in India should also get over a mind-set that day is for work whereas the night is more or less for rest. This essential change would come about if workplaces like offices, shops, law courts, et al are seen at work overnight albeit with different sets of working people. Courts should make the beginning because there are lakhs of pending cases at every level from the Small Causes courts to the Supreme Court. Nor is there a dearth of lawyers looking for more work. The objective of this suggestion is that eventually there would be two or three sessions or shifts of work wherever there is scope.
The same assets like buildings would be utilized for more hours, there would be employment for more people and, in turn, they would help to expand the economy or GDP. Now, coming to the climatic conditions, India is overall a warm country. True, the hills are cool and cold. So are the plains of north India during the winter. Nevertheless, we looked forward to the winter in preference to the other months. Whereas the whole of Europe yearns for the spring and summer; the ‘winter of our woes’ is an old phrase often used by western writers. In many parts of Europe, often the nights are unbearably cold while on the plains of north India days in the summer can be scorching hot.
An example is, during almost every month of May, Churu in Rajasthan touches 50º centigrade. Incidentally, as a generalization, in India the difference between day and night temperatures averages 10 to 15º centigrade. With the earth warming, it is not impossible that temperature levels would rise further across the country. If that were to happen, willy nilly, we in all warm countries would have to look for the night to work and the day to rest. In a number of countries in West Asia like say UAE, at the height of summer, offices and other work places start early, close at 12 noon and reopen at 4 p.m. Then they carry on working until 8 p.m. However, the mindset of day for work has kept them away from thinking of work at night when it is cooler.
The writer recalls a trade union leader in Kolkata years ago saying that in our hot climate few workers can actually work for more than three to four hours a day. This was said in the context of someone mentioning that in Germany during the post World War II years, people worked for twelve hours a day to achieve their economic miracle. It is quite possible that our ancient sages might have thought of warm climates requiring night-time working and day time rest. Unfortunately, in those times there was no electricity. Now the situation is different. When Mr Piyush Goyal was Power Minister, in the first Modi government, he had declared that India was power surplus.
The obstacle now is the deficiency in the distribution network. Air-conditioning is not only expensive but also generates heat and is therefore undesirable in a climate of global warning. In any case, the submission here is of gradually moving towards 24- hour, two or three shift working. We need to occupy and employ double to treble the number of people. Cricket is a useful example of how night can partly or fully replace day. The first step was to attract more spectators. The next was to persuade the stadia to install the lighting. The colour of the ball from red to white to pink was the least of the problems. Nevertheless, cricket took a long time to convert; the practice of late evening games was prevalent in football for long years.
The likely provocation was that football in England was a winter sport; which meant the 100- minute game had to finish by 4 p.m. and there were many clubs as well as matches. Cricket, involving much more time, should have caught on to the football idea earlier. The mindset might have been the problem. Additionally in England, the working class mostly did not patronize the game. Football was their favourite.
(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)