A recent survey concluded that Indians are the most vacation-deprived people. We can see how much most people are struggling to meet their two ends meet. This is true both about the working class, executives, government servants, daily-wage labourers, traders or farmers. And one of the most overlooked activity is the household work done by most women.
The home makers have neither a weekly off nor do they have any paid or unpaid leave. They don’t have even the luxury of retirement.
Even a typical Indian vacation is characterised by rushing from place to place, hurriedly ticking off the list of things to do, so that one doesn’t miss out any of the things that our neighbour or friend had uploaded on Facebook. The lazy, reflective vacation of the foreigners who laze out in the beaches of Goa or Kerala with a paperback is anathema to Indians.
We are proud that we belong to the land of Buddha and Shankara. We are supposed to be ‘the spiritual people’. We gave yoga and various techniques of meditation to the world. We talk about a 5,000 or more years of spiritual tradition.
There is no dearth of literature, both ancient and modern, which talks about how to achieve happiness. Yet, why are we so wound up all the time? To test the veracity of the above statement, please stand on the pavement and observe the passers-by. I am assuming there will be some pavement left for you to stand in your vicinity after whatever the local authority has dug up, after whatever space some vendor has occupied and after leaving out the space occupied by all those illegally parked vehicles.
Everyone seems to be in a tearing hurry. The cars honk incessantly, jay walkers weave through the tiny gap between the bumper-to-bumper traffic, dodging two-wheelers, hand carts and bicycles coming from all the possible directions. Only the cows that lay on the middle of the road seem to be stoic.
Sometimes even walking or driving in an Indian street resembles a high-energy video game, where one must dodge all sorts of things—vehicles, pedestrians, vendors, cows, street dogs with the only difference being the number of lives one is granted in this game. The roads are full of the battle cries of honks and abuses. By the time the commute is completed, and one reaches the work desk, one is exhausted and angry.
The working environment in the offices are more stressful. The stress isn’t created because the work done is of utmost importance to the future of humanity or the nation. The work may be often mundane and routine. In many offices, showing that one is working hard is more important than the work or even the results. Staying in the office after the designated working hours or working on weekly off days is a way for many to get into the good books of their superiors. The superiors take pleasure in disturbing any subordinate after the office hours or on holidays.
The employees are expected to be available 24x7 at the beck and call of their superiors. Even a mild rebellion is often detrimental to one’s career. If this is the situation in the organised sector, the condition in the unorganised sector is inhumane. The salesgirls of a big apparel chain in Kerala had to fight a protracted legal battle in the high court for the right to sit when they were not serving the customer during their 12-hour working shift.
The working conditions of the watchmen, drivers, maids etc are pathetic to the say the least. Even those who cry about the excessive workload in the office don’t bother to give a weekly holiday to their maid servants. In the unorganised farm sector, the condition of the workers is only slightly better than slaves.
A deeply embedded hierarchal system is adding to our daily stress. This is visible in all walks of life. Indians have always been uncomfortable with the concept of equality. In a country conditioned by thousands of years of hierarchal caste system which works on the ‘suck up, kick down’ principle, sycophancy is not only the norm, but also is demanded and practiced without any qualms.
Everyone is an oppressor and everyone is an oppressed too, except those at the very top and at the very bottom.
All these make us one of the unhappiest people in the world. In the world happiness report, India ranks an abysmal 140, much lower than Pakistan or even many sub-Saharan countries. India may have produced great philosophers and spiritual leaders, yet happiness in life is elusive to an average Indian.
Who can be happy when every moment is a struggle?
Many developed countries are moving towards four-day weeks, while majority of Indian corporates work on a six-day week concept, with a few having five-day week. There are stringent laws in many countries banning the offices from contacting the employees after office hours or during off days and vacation days. Annual vacation is a social norm and an employee’s right too. All these have resulted only in better economic prosperity and happier and healthier people. Unfortunately, we live in a time where the dominant thought is about diluting our already weak labour laws in the name of becoming business-friendly.
It is another matter that such skewed business friendliness would only help a few crony capitalists at the cost of the general happiness and prosperity of the people. Stringent applications of labour laws, Minimum Wages Act etc may cause short-term discomfort, but it would only add to our progress in the long run. By giving more leisure time, by ensuring enough compensation for the work done and changing the hierarchal mentality of the society etc are the few requisites for the giant leap forward of our country. The labour laws are not to be diluted but made more stringent in theory and application.
Author, columnist, speaker