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Agriculture, IT and Rise of Tamil Nationalism
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periyar 2019

 

Ka Varathan

There are many misconceptions around IT organizations in Tamil Nadu mostly induced by mainstream cinema and the rise of regressive Tamil nationalism, even after three decades of industry boom. In recent times every other Tamil film has a scene where a mass hero lectures a corporate employee on the importance of agriculture with clichéd dialogues asking them to take up farming. It is important to address these misconceptions not because IT is above them but it derails the upward mobility of Dalit-Bahujans. The constant demonization of IT or corporate industries and glorification of agriculture without critiquing the ingrained feudalism in it will push back the Dravidian kids trying to break free.

periyar 2019

First is to assume IT employees are elitists and disassociate themselves from public discourse. The fact is, IT is not an attractive place for elite children anymore at entry level. Even if they join, it is only to gain experience certificates. Many fly away for higher studies. In reality, IT is filled with middle class, first-gen graduates. The job levels correlate with caste hierarchy and most juniors are OBCs. People who migrate from towns and tier two cities. Which is why they are bound by home loans and use credit cards as a financial management tool. So instead of creating fuzz about how our ancestors (munnors) were not in the clutches of credit card and EMIs, let us accept they did not have financial access, banks were out of their reach. We pawned lands and jewels to dominant castes for unreasonable terms and lost them along with our freedom.

Next, we believe employees are treated like slaves in IT, contrary to that it is one of the better industries in India to work for. Employee welfare, benefits, working conditions, and compensation are better than most traditional industries. IT is probably one of the few sectors with stringent policies against Harassment even before Vishakha guidelines. IT has empowered a lot of us from the feudal clutches, even the simple fact that you can call anyone by their first name exemplifies this.

Having said that, there are exploitation and abuse in the industry which need to be critiqued. We need to understand, who feel powerless here, what is the state of those who don’t have assertive English. We need to find how many of them are first generation Dalit-Bahujan graduates and hence what is the role of caste in it.

But the problem here is, no one talks about caste in IT. How caste is converted as networks, knowledge, practices considered formal and professional within this industry. Rather we are focused on demonizing the whole corporate world and want to build Utopian self-sustaining agrarian society, which is basically a different version of feudal, hierarchical, caste-ridden Indian society.

The next misconception is, IT employees live in constant fear of losing their jobs and are scared to speak up for their rights. Contrary to this, most people in IT would have their resumes handy and are constantly looking for a job change or promotion every 2-3 years. People with experience and decent interview cracking skills can find a job relatively easier than in other sectors. Most large companies see a spike in attrition rate post their appraisal cycles.

Having said that, lack of trade unions and employee forums (organizations like FITE are still in a nascent stage) has paved ways for modern-day exploitation in the form of spot firing, unreasonable expectations, extended notice period and so on. With automation and next wave of disruption around the corner, more and more people will lose jobs and will be seen as a liability. Which makes it important for us as a society to discuss how to protect those employees, what social and legal cushion can be provided for them. How to force Government and political organizations to act as pressure points to keep the decision-makers in check.

But somehow we are still stuck in offering motivations like follow your dream, travel more, read books and so on. Every now and then we present an unreasonable, impractical alternative to problems of corporate employment ranging from fetishizing photography, short film making to startups. Post Jallikattu protest in 2017, it is the romanticizing of dairy farming and agriculture. We fail to understand these are not viable solutions or even short term remedy for employee dissatisfaction in a mass recruiting industry or the dangers in undermining the empowerment due to social justice movements in Tamil Nadu.

We are also constantly talking about how everyone is taking up engineering and working in IT and why no one is talking up arts and liberal courses like gender studies, literature, journalism and so on. One of the positive things about IT is how the knowledge is democratized here. How easy it is for an outsider to get skilled, up-skilled and re-skilled in computer programming–a far-fetched reality even for many modern industries, forget about traditional ones where knowledge is transferred only within the caste.

Two years ago in a women’s study conference, this lady (must be someone famous) announced, you should not take up women/gender studies with a job as a motive and she might not be far away from ground reality. The question is who can afford any education without scope for a job and earning opportunities in hindsight? Or who are you trying to exclude here? As liberal courses and the sectors associated creates very minimal jobs they are still in the hands of Savarnas. Unless the caste network in traditional sectors are broken, unless we question the agencies of Savarna reservations in the form of networks and referrals, what is the motive for us to take up liberal courses?

Finally, the appeal I make to Dalits, Bahujans of Tamil Nadu is to Educate yourself as Babasaheb said, learn English as Periyar said, take up IT and corporate jobs if you feel so. Do not fall prey to the glorification of Tamil and sudden patronage of farmers, as it will only benefit your oppressor.

PS: Gender and IT needs a separate and focused discussion in itself, so leaving it out in this article.

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Ka is a Periyarist working in IT with interest in anti-caste, feminist literature and movies.

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