note demonetisation

TimesNow’s Remonetise India campaign is as ill-conceived as demonetisation itself

The channel is asking viewers to give their domestic workers a day off to open bank accounts. Instead, it should urge them to pay fair wages.

The prime minister has told us that any suffering caused by demonetisation – the sudden withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8 – was suffering for the national good. He also said that economists – the vast majority of whom have said demonetisation would not do what the government expected it to do: eradicate black money – simply did not understand how demonetisation worked.

Now, TV channel TimesNow, in support of the prime minister’s cause, has taken this spin to a new level. Last month, the channel launched an initiative – Remonetise India – to help direct the gains of demonetisation.

Participants at the launch of this campaign in Delhi on January 5 included Union minister Piyush Goyal and the owner of PayTM Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Ten days later, the channel broadcast a two-hour long programme on the campaign whose participants included Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nirmala Sitharaman, Niti Aayog Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant and Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, among others.

Those participating in the campaign take a pledge to “rise and protect the world’s fastest growing economy. To stop doubting and start acting. To spend now to revive demand, and India’s markets. To help workers keep their jobs, farmers sell their produce. To teach and bring those around us into digitization. To help fellow citizens participate in our new economy. To use less cash…”

‘Help your help’

TimesNow has not reported on the impact of its campaign so far, but recently offered its audience the chance to contribute towards remonetising the nation themselves. According to the channel, all people need to do is to give their house help one day off. That’s right, one day off.

The channel is running an advertisement that has a little girl asking her mother why she has given their maid, Shanta didi, a day off. The mother explains that she wanted didi to open a bank account because “it is very important”. Shanta didi opens her bank account, returns to work, and declares “ab life ban gayi easy [Now life has become easy].” The advertisement ends with the slogan: “Help your help, so no Indian gets left behind when the nation moves ahead.”

All but the entirely deluded will be left asking: how?

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But this is not about Shanta didi and how having a bank account will impact her life. It’s about her smiling employer doing her bit for the nation by making the supreme sacrifice of functioning without her domestic worker for a day.

In an email sent out on Wednesday in which the launch of the second phase of the Remonetise India campaign was announced, a public relations executive for the channel laid out the thinking behind TimesNow’s Help your Help advertisement thus:

“Deriving from the insight that there’s a common understanding that the little things we do for our help, maids, drivers, watchmen etc. are enough to keep them happy & content. Just providing them with clothes, food or anything else gives us a feeling of pride, satisfaction and assurance of contributing to the society. However, what we fail to realize is that we need to make them self-reliant and include them into the progress path.”

If indeed people feel “pride, satisfaction and assurance of contributing to society” by “giving food and clothes or anything else to people who work for them”, then we may have an explanation for why India’s rich live so comfortably with the massive social and economic disparities that scar our nation.

It would mean that they, or at least the people who watch TimesNow, don’t have a problem with vast unbridgeable disparities because they believe the poor are “happy and content” with their occasional charity.

TimesNow’s campaign is totally in tune with the “common understanding” that drives this view. The child’s tone in the advertisement, which should make all right-thinking parents cringe, suggests that giving the domestic worker a day off is not the usual practice. Her mother’s explanation that she has given the worker a day off because “it is important” only re-emphasises this perception.

There is, of course, no mention of that dirty word “money”, as in money in the bank. There’s no awkward moment when the cute kid says: “Mom, how much money will Shanta didi get to put in her new bank account?”

Fair wages

Self-reliance, paths to progress and not getting left behind when the nation moves ahead do not depend on the existence of bank accounts. They depend on fair wages and decent working conditions. People who receive a fair wage usually find a way to open a bank account. They also usually have time off work to do so – one day a week and at least two weeks a year. This is the law of the land.

Domestic workers are among the most exploited and vulnerable workers in our country. However, no government, either central or state, knows how many people are employed full-time or part-time in people’s homes, what wages they receive or what conditions they work under. In response to questions in Parliament, the central government has quoted survey figures for domestic workers (see here and here) that vary by lakhs.

Domestic workers, a large number of whom are women and girls, are subject to the caprice of their employers and have little protection from any law since the homes in which they work are private and not subject to the kinds of inspections that shops and establishments face under the provisions of the Shops and Establishments Act. This Act regulates the wages, hours of work, leave and other work conditions of those employed in commercial establishments. Even in states where domestic work has been brought under the purview of some laws such as minimum wage legislation (Rajasthan) or manual work laws (Tamil Nadu) it is impossible to enforce the law, for just these reasons.

The Union government has failed to sign the International Labour Organisation convention on decent work for domestic workers because its India’s laws are not in conformity with its provisions. The government is, however, in the process of drafting a “National Policy on Domestic Workers”. The glacial progress on that front indicates that the issue is not a priority for the government.

If it was a priority, the government would have started a campaign to explain to the child and her mother in the “Help your Help” advertisement that Shanta didi was entitled to her days off and to a fair wage.

It could have got TimesNow to campaign on its behalf and have its audience pledge: “To rise and protect the world’s fastest growing economy by not exploiting those who work for us, and by paying them a fair wage. To help our employees earn enough to spend in order to help revive demand. To help our fellow citizens participate in our new fairer economy.”

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