More equal than others

Moa Jamir

A recent article raised the pertinent question of why Naga elders only congratulate those who get government jobs. If unions, parents, and relatives, the author argued, want to congratulate people, they should do so regardless of whether they work in the government or private sector. He further contended that by encouraging, acknowledging, and applauding only government jobs, a "dependent" society is created, instead of a progressive and "independent" one.

These concerns are not unfounded. If one browses through any local newspapers, you will usually find a section dedicated to congratulatory notes from unions, associations, and organisations. Seldom one comes across felicitations for someone who gets a job in the private sector or any other field. This courtesy is reserved for only a select few. Incidentally, job promotions, which are a normal occurrence in the government sector, also make up a large portion of these compliments.

This is not to say that these achievements are not worth celebrating. However, it does raise the question of why there are two sets of standards for the same type of employment. The obvious answer is monetary, and by extension, long-term prospects. 

The popular George Orwell quote, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," is particularly apt in the field of teaching, which is perhaps the most comparable profession in Nagaland. For example, one will hardly come across a congratulatory note for someone who gets a job as an assistant professor, the entry-level position for teaching higher education, in a private institution. The same is true for those who teach at high school or higher secondary level in private schools. However, if it is in a government institution, the congratulatory messages runneth over. 

Does this mean that those who teach at private institutions are less qualified and do not deserve recognition? Not at all. In fact, if one compares the performance of government and private institutions at all levels of education, the latter consistently outperforms the former and deserves more recognition.

The only plausible explanation, aside from the fact that it is "owner's pride, neighbour’s envy," is the remuneration associated with government sector employment.

Take the case of post-graduate teachers or assistant professors. The starting salary for both positions is over Rs 60,000 in the government sector, an amount that most experienced teachers in private institutions do not reach. In Nagaland, most assistant professors' salaries at the entry level range from Rs 18,000 to Rs 25,000, with no job security or other benefits during the so-called probation or observation period, but with more responsibility and workload.

It is no wonder that attrition rates are high in most colleges. The management can also be faulted at times for taking advantage of the "employer's market" and dictating the recruitment process as well as the employment period. This also reflects the lack of opportunities in Nagaland that are commensurate with one's qualifications.

While the pay gap is not as huge as in teaching, the medical sector is another comparable profession. When was the last time you saw a doctor being congratulated for getting a job at a private clinic or hospital? Even within the government sector itself, many contractual, fixed-pay, and work-charge employees, toil for years only to retire without any benefits. They will never be felicitated.

Accordingly, it is the "associative benefits" associated with government sector employment that most aspirants aspire to, and what every organisation looks forward to, that explains the rush to cheer those who get these jobs. 

All jobs, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector, however, are valuable and equal credence should be accorded those who work hard and contribute to society. Devoid of this, a culture of dependency is perpetuated while discouraging people from pursuing their own entrepreneurial ambitions.

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