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food for thought

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  27 Feb 2016 12:00 AM GMT

It is easy to put a label to a person but hard to take it off. Mental laziness is the reason why nickmes and stereotypes stick, mostly if these are insulting. Railways minister Suresh Prabhu wants to put an end to porters being called ‘coolies’. In his budget, he has proposed the term ‘sahayak’, keeping in mind their work as luggage helpers. The me change may seem cosmetic, but such initiatives from the top are needed to help change mindsets. The mentality of looking down at menial work has to go. British colonialists once called Indians ‘tives’ or worse; they took indentured laborers from here to slave away as ‘coolies’ at faraway plantations, mines and construction sites. This is how this derogatory word was introduced in the Assamese lexicon, as adivasi workers were brought from the Chhota gpur belt to work in tea plantations here. When Congress stalwart late Devakanta Baruah once spoke of his party’s secure vote-bank to consist of ‘Ali, Coolie and Nepali’, he left no one in doubt which communities he meant. The tea community in Assam is yet to get the respect and developmental fruits it deserves, despite contributing to the State’s economy for over 150 years. It is still exploited by planters as a de-facto captive workforce and by politicians as a voting bloc that can be kept satisfied with blankets, mosquito nets, cheap liquor and the occasiol cash handout. The Railways minister now plans to end the practice of heaping baggage on to porters’ head and arms — by giving them trolleys. Smart new uniforms and training in soft skills for porters are in the offing. Their uniforms may also carry advertisements to help the Railways earn some extra revenue. There is a welcome realization that if the Indian Railways wants to go for an image makeover, it cannot leave the porters trapped in a shameful colonial legacy. If it is followed up with social security, insurance, health and other benefits, so much the better. The country’s abundant human resources can be effectively harnessed only if their labor is appreciated and rewarded.

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