"Unemployment a natural outcome of our economic model"
“Unemployment is multidimensional problem. You need policy action on various fronts. This is essentially economic aspect, but it has lot of social, political dimensions as well,” said Prof. Arun Kumar
“Unemployment is a multidimensional problem. You need policy action on various fronts. This is essentially an economic aspect, but it has a lot of social and political dimensions as well,” said former JNU professor Arun Kumar.
Kumar was speaking at a seminar organised by the Sunil Memorial Trust on “Being Unemployed in Today's India”. The seminar had in attendance Dr Amit Basole, who is an Associate Professor of Economics at Azim Premji University, Manindra Thakur, a professor at the Centre for Political Studies in JNU, and Anupam, founder and national president of Yuva Halla Bol as panelists.
Basole highlighted how unemployment is an “educated people” problem in India. A huge chunk of people in India cannot afford to be unemployed, and resort to working in the informal sector. He added that most people who are unemployed in India are under the age of 30, out of whom a huge number are women.
“The Indian workforce has remarkably become more educated in the last 20 years, which is why unemployment is a huge issue today. A better-educated workforce is in search of better work opportunities,” said Basole.
He also emphasised how employment opportunities are limited for women because of several patriarchal and societal norms. He stated that only 1 in 5 women are employed in India, and this number hasn’t increased over several years, and has in fact decreased in rural areas. There are multiple reasons for this- dropping out of the workforce after marriage, women requiring a workplace closer to home, flexible hours, permission to work, public safety, transportation, etc. When all these parameters come in, the options narrow down more.
However, Basole pointed out that employment is not the only problem, the problem is well-paid and dignified employment, which India’s private sector is not capable of producing for a population this big. Basole thinks to conquer the unemployment issue we need to question if an industrial revolution can happen in our capitalist society. He believes that industrialisation on the model of socialist countries is impossible to replicate in India because for that “the state will have to perpetrate violence on its people, which a democratic country like ours wouldn't and shouldn't do.”
Anupam agreed with Basole’s point that we need to question what kind of future, politics and model of development we want in our country if we want to solve the unemployment issue. But for that, he strongly believes we first need discussions, debates and acknowledgment on the national level that unemployment is a national disaster right now. He said, “We don’t have data anymore about anything because this government has destroyed the data measurement of our country too. But I remember statistics from NCRB that 3 people died by suicide every hour due to unemployment in 2018.”.
Anupam said, “In a country whose whole political rhetoric is about youth being the future, there's not as much conversation about unemployment as there should be. It's a model of development debate, what is our definition of progress?”
Noting that over 90% of our country’s population works in the informal sector, with aspirations to have a steady income, Anupam says that it is the public’s frustration with the public sector that takes violent turns during protests against paper leaks and schemes like Agnipath. “The stress of the whole economy is manifested through protests,” said he.
For a huge chunk of our population, public sector jobs are the only mode for any upward mobility in life. But when there are paper leaks and irregularities in railway exams, when buses are burnt due to anger against Agnipath, and when SSC qualified students are not posted on any jobs even after 3 years and resort to violence, only then the mainstream media gives them any attention, said Anupam.
Anupam also put blame on the Centre for using police machinery to curb protests instead of holding dialogue with the protestors with a solution-oriented approach, and for doing propaganda against those protesting. He warned that all this anger might manifest itself in the form of a youth movement that’s rooted in UP, Bihar and Purvanchal.
Manindra Thakur drew on experiences from his field surveys in Bihar and Delhi University and made a few points. Noting how teachers have been ad-hocs in DU for the last 8-10 years, he pointed out that today, teachers and students both are uncertain about the future. He added that depression and drug addiction has increased in students manifold due to unemployment and uncertainity, and so many of them have internalised their anger that families are falling apart due to this.
What Thakur concluded from this is that the current unemployment situation is either raw material for violence, or raw material for identity politics. He said, “Maybe we ignored a lot of signs, but if there is no serious political intervention soon, the situation will go out of our hands. This is fuel for anarchy.”
Thakur also talked about how unemployment might be a smaller problem to unemployability in states like Bihar. Said he, “There are a lot of colleges in Bihar where only admissions and exams happen, but no teaching. The students have no skills to be employed, no political knowledge.”
Thakur also criticised the freebie schemes that the government brought in, saying. “ The schemes that give money transfers, food, etc is not poverty alleviation because it doesn't give any skills or employability to people. In this sense, MGNREGA worked because people gained employability skills and then got ration as well.”