No job is menial: Calls for change in mindset to tackle unemployment

Taking the road less traveled: Toyi Swuro with his team in Phek town.
Taking the road less traveled: Toyi Swuro with his team in Phek town.

Atono Tsükrü Kense 
Kohima | August 12

‘Dignity of labour’ has become a catchphrase in daily conversations, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic as jobs in the informal and unorganised sectors have been left vacant following the relocation of migrant labourers to their respective states.

In an earlier interaction with journalists, Nagaland Chief Secretary, Temjen Toy said, “COVID-19 has taught us many things, and it has shown us how dependent we are on the outsiders” referring to the workforce engaged in menial jobs like stone masonry, carpentry, construction works, shoe repairing, hair cutting etc. He opined that “these are works which our people can do provided with their willingness to work.”

While the job crunch in Nagaland resulted in many Naga youths going outside the state for employment and economic opportunities,  with the outbreak of the pandemic, many of them have come back to the state. 

As per the registry maintained by the High Powered Committee, Nagaland for COVID-19, a total of 15,699 such returnees have been registered.

Their job descriptions were categorised in various sectors among which 17.56% comprised of ‘No job or blank’; 0.12% from construction and 38.43% were listed under ‘miscellaneous.’

Amidst the pandemic, now, the biggest challenge is creation of employment avenues for the youths.

Opportunities in the menial sector have emerged; however, the question remains if Naga people are willing to take up jobs in these sectors. For far too long ‘white-collar’ jobs have been glamourised to a point where many consider menial jobs as ‘low and cheap’ while ‘outsiders’ have captured these sectors.

‘We are looked at differently’ 
Of late, there have been a handful of Naga youths engaged as cobblers, barbers, carpenters, construction workers, etc., treading the ‘unexplored areas’ and living by the quote “no job is too small, no job is too menial and not job is too insignificant when you have the mindset to make a positive impact in the world.”

However, it is not like they are not without any challenges, as 26-year old David (name changed) who has opened up a hair salon in Dimapur said, “though they don’t say directly, many people think of my profession as low and tend to look down on me.”

Toyi Swuro, a cobbler from Phek town said there have been instances where people see him and those engaged in ‘menial works’ differently. “In spite of your degree and experiences why have you opted for shoe repairing as your profession and calling your customers as sir and madam?” they ask him.

“I am not in the least bit ashamed to be a cobbler,” asserted Swuro who has been in this profession for several years. He is a graduate with additional qualification in the hospitality sector, a dancer and martial artist. During the lockdown, has also being providing free training to students who want to learn the craft of shoe repairing.

Why are people not coming forward?
Putting across their views on why people are not coming forward to take up these jobs, David viewed, “people are embarrassed to take up these jobs as they consider it as low or a cheap job” and are apprehensive that people will look down on them.

He further opined that since jobs like cobbler, barber and construction workers are being mostly done by non-locals, “we feel ashamed of doing such works and feel that those are way beyond our status.”

“Although everyone talks about that Nagas should start opting for these jobs, no one actually wants to put into practice,” added David.

According to Swuro, “it is a failure on the part of our parents for spoon feeding us at young age with comfortable hope of getting government jobs after graduation through political affiliation or relatives.”

“And once we attain that age and fail to get the job, we are not ready to take menial jobs,” Swuro observed.

Taking up these jobs as a profession is all about humility, said Swuro who is trying to teach his trainees the same. He however observed that “it is not easy and will take time to sink in.”

Societal mentality discouraging youth
During an interaction with several local youth engaged in various menial jobs, it was found that the mentality of the society towards those working in these sectors is the main reason why Naga youth are reluctant to take up these jobs as a profession.

Employment trends in advanced countries like America, Canada, Middle East to name a few, reveal that manual jobs are held in highly value. As a result, millions of people from developing countries immigrate to these countries to take up such works.

To this end, both David and Swuro encouraged local youths to venture out in these unexplored prospective areas of work and to take advantage of the opportunities that the pandemic has offered for everyone to be ‘self-reliant.’