Why government jobs aren’t the solution

Warning … this video is not for those with a weak stomach. But it does seem to be an authentic day-in-the-life video of a dalit woman in India.

The dalits (aka Untouchables) are at the bottom of the caste ladder in India. Many people describe the caste system in India as an apartheid or slavery system (see my recent book review on Slavery by Mahatma Phule) … at least as powerfully entrenched as historically in South Africa and the USA respectively.

I asked a friend … why do the local people continue to defecate on the street when there is a free nearby toilet? He said that they do this because it is a way of showing their superiority knowing that this woman will clean up for them. The caste system is not just about the high caste abusing the lowest castes, but every level of caste abusing those lower in the hierarchy.

So, this woman has a job. She earns 3,000 rupees per month or about $2/day. She has an outstanding debt (most likely from a money lender) of 10,000 rupees (about $200) for which she pays 1/3 of her income for interest only (10% per month interest!) … and no principle. She likely had a family medical emergency/tragedy/wedding which forced her into debt and now she is basically a slave to this debt seemingly indefinitely.

You can tell this woman to simply quit her government job, but unless she has some other method of earning income, she will be even worse off. She appears on statistics as “employed”, but I don’t think many of us would consider this viable (and certainly not sustainable) employment.

My friend said … “this is why India so critically needs more microfinance.” Microfinance would provide this women with a small loan to use her industrious spirit to earn more take-home money and allow her a path out of her debt enslavement and likely death from the hazards of her government job. Maybe providing better government jobs would help some people, but that seems like an insufficient response.

I agree with him. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Why government jobs aren’t the solution

  1. Dave, Great blog as always, and this is a powerful and sobering piece. But based on your friend’s explanation, isn’t the issue as much about the defecators’ distorted worldview? Microfinance could lift many of the street cleaners into better jobs, but I don’t know how you solve the other side of the problem.


  2. Hi NickJim here (aka Daves friend)- I am looking forward to seeing you in Seattle.The mindset/worldview issue you raise is central to the problem. That worldview in India is generated by the Hindu Brahministic caste system.Lower caste people are told and treated as if they are less than human, consequently they dont expect as much from themselves as they might in other worldviews systems. Fixing someones worldview or view of themself is pretty daunting work. Even with money it doesnt mean you will succeed, thus the saying you can take people out of the ghetto but you cant take the ghetto out of people.Strategies like microfinance help “build” peoples personal view by providing them self respect and dignity and a small feeling of success which tends to engender hope and cause more anticipation of success.I have aligned with Sunil Sardar in his quest to Stop Caste Now since I think this ancient system is at the root of all the other issues. here is a video you can watch if you are interested http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVJ8ICsm6wM and continue


  3. It is somewhat sobering to think that Gandhi was talking about this issue more than 60 years ago, yet little has changed. The question is what would happen if you were able to give this lady a microfinance option. Does she have the education or options to make a different lifestyle choice? Would she, in fact, be in a worse situation with reference to her community if she was seen to be trying to improve herself?Of course, this is not to say that something should be done. Of course the caste system is disgusting and should be broken. But we should beware of apparently simple solutions.I’d also suggest that there is a kind of global caste system – whereby the rich get richer and the poor suffer – which is far more odious. It is not just Indians holding other castes in poverty, but all of us.


  4. Yes it is a rotten job but it must be done. Otherwise you need to deal with the disease that is caused by the manure. Rs3000 is nothing to sneeze at by Indian standards.Not great but could be worse. I suppose the job should be unionized like western nations in sanitation departments. Even westerners deal with feacal matter. The pay can increase. Caste system must be broken. True


  5. I agree with Joe that this caste system actually is a (global) worldview. In the book ‘Natural history of rape’, the authors claim that rape is an evolutionary adaptation, a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human ‘evolutionary’ heritage – the survival of the fittest. Darwinism is not just a scientific theory but also the basis of a worldview – and it has implications for the way we define human nature, morality and even poverty.


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