Dignity of Labour

Dr. Asangba Tzüdir

Looking back at the history of human civilization, the disparagement of blue-collar labour has been a long, sad, captivating story. A community of people cannot survive, let alone prosper, without the manual labour of farmers, industrial employees, construction workers, miners and innumerable other men and women who toil to make everyone’s day-to-day life possible. Sadly, a deeply entrenched prejudice against manual labour persists.

Culture and communities across the world and throughout history have entwined a complex social, cultural, religious, and legal webs to create and perpetuate a manual class of people that performs menial, difficult, and hazardous work. The perpetuators of these webs which include the intellectual, political, and elites have benefitted from the fruits of their labour, sweat and toil. These elites however, have undervalued manual labour, but nurturing a prejudice which manifest in visible social realities. It is no mere coincidence that the manual class, providing socially indispensable physical labour, frequently ends up deprived on income, status, social respect, and even human dignity. Manual labour is inherently worthwhile and that its dignity ought to be recognised. A re-thinking of the very concept of ‘dignity of labour’ is paramount.

‘Dignity of labour’ is a philosophy which means that all kinds of job or work are respected equally, and no occupation is considered superior and none of the jobs should be discriminated on any basis. In context, within the spirit and understanding of ‘dignity of labour’, the different kinds of job are not given equal treatment or respect which is relative depending on the nature of job one is engaged. Rather, a misplaced ‘dignity of labour’ is poorly portrayed and provoked mostly during events like social work, and worse still, is the understanding that ‘dignity of labour’ is about doing ‘untouchable’ labour and which is denigrated.

Certain insights can be drawn from M.K. Gandhi’s Sarvodaya wherein he stressed on employing ‘dignity of labour’ in order to create a self-supporting network towards the ‘uplift of all.’ The idea was to produce and earn through honest work and live a life of dignity. Thus, ‘dignity of labour’ cannot be exemplified through events but rather it should be understood and applied as a ‘way of life.’

Naga society is a classic case that has somehow failed to see the essence of dignity of labour. More than the labour, human dignity finds its origin here. The dignity of the person is lived out in the individual as well as in the society by the fulfilment of personal responsibilities. Work or job or any kind of profession is such an essential responsibility which shapes and fulfils human dignity by providing for the needs of oneself, family and the society at large.

In context, where an ‘alien’ culture of growing laziness which is a by-product of forgetting or not doing one’s own work, is largely manifested, ‘dignity of labour’ should imbibe the sense that dignity comes with being comfortable in doing one’s own work, duty and responsibilities and not having others do one’s work. Only through such understanding, the denigration towards labour can be erased, so also implant a sense of respect towards any kind of labour.

(Dr. Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to asangtz@gmail.com.)