Why Indian PhD and BTech holders love lowly government jobs

  • Narayanan Madhavan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 03, 2016 20:11 IST
For most Indians with graduate degrees, government jobs offer three benefits: long-term job security, comfortable working hours, a recurring income with little link to performance or productivity and a chance to make that extra buck from bribes – though few would admit it. (Vipin Kumar/HT File Photo)

Last December, the Uttar Pradesh government issued orders to appoint some 35,700 employees on contract for cleaning jobs in municipalities, with an aim to finish hiring in 50 days. Among those who applied were MBAs, BTechs and PhDs.

In January, the Punjab government held examinations to appoint “patwaris” (a clerical job in which land records are maintained in villages). Those who sought this job included LLBs, PhDs, MBAs and BTechs.

In UP again, for the job of a peon, the government received 2.3 million applications, 255 of which were from PhD scholars. About 222,000 were from graduates and post-graduates of various hues, including BTechs and MScs.

You may wonder why, but there is a logic behind all this. The more visible – or talked about – logic is simple: In India, unemployment is so high that highly educated people seek low-level jobs.

That may be partially true, but how does this explain a computer science major seeking a cleaner’s job when the Googles and the Wipros of the world are constantly recruiting in campuses?

“There is no shame in cleaning gutters and roads. At least the job would guarantee me a monthly salary. And it will save me from being ridiculed for being jobless,” Catch News quotes Abhishek Yadav, a B.Tech in computer science as saying – adding he has been looking for a job since 2011.

Really? How could he not have tried at PayTm, InMobi, Flipkart or those gee-whiz startups? Five years without employment for a B.Tech sounds improbable in the current job market.

That brings us to the second explanation: Indian degrees are often useless as they are just pieces of paper, and the people holding them are often unemployable. The less politically correct explanation is that people get into institutes based on nepotism, caste quotas or donations and no employer in his right sense would hire them.

That too is plausible. And likely in many cases.

But a less visible explanation may be in deep economics – something not ordinarily discussed. This has something to do with government jobs.

The Tribune quotes Navneet , an LLB graduate, Gurmeet Singh, an MTech, and Dinesh, a PhD, with all saying their aim was to get a government job while applying for a patwari’s job.

Here’s why. For most Indians with graduate degrees, government jobs offer three benefits: long-term job security, comfortable working hours, a recurring income with little link to performance or productivity and a chance to make that extra buck from bribes – though few would admit it. Anecdotes on Quora.com offers juicy details.

All of that enables Indians to indulge in the core adult pastime – raising a family. It is common to see matrimonial ads in India advertising the seeker’s “permanent job.”

Many of us use Western/modern yardsticks of careers – work that is related to qualifications, mental satisfaction and recognition. For the average Indian graduate, the aim is to have a “permanent job” that guarantees a lot – a good bride (often with a dowry), social respect, and chances to get loans.

In common discourse in urban, especially small-town India, when a person has a permanent job with little chance of being sacked, and a resultant bride/groom, it qualifies for those magic three words: “Life ban gayi” (Life is made).

For an average/below PhD, unless he/she is from the top-notch universities, “Life Ban Gayi” is not a Nobel prize but a “confirmation letter” of a long-term job.

We can call this a recurring revenue proposition, in economic parlance. This is a lot like a bank that is happy to lend you a big chunk (Let us say, Rs 20 lakh) because the EMI (equated monthly instalment) it would receive from you for 15 or 20 years is a steady income for the bank.

Now, consider the plight of a research fellow in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the government body that runs dozens of research bodies. CSIR offers a consolidated stipend of Rs 20,000 per month for junior research fellows, and after two years of what might be back-breaking work, if confirmed as seniors, the stipend rises to Rs 28,000 per month. (http://www.csirhrdg.res.in/jrfsrfra2.htm). (On top of this, there have been complaints that these grants have not been paid regularly in an administrative mess).

Now, consider the fact that according to the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission, the revised minimum pay for a central government employee (usually applicable for an errand boy peon) is R 18,000 per month. That is only a tad less than junior research fellow’s grant – and no tough National Eligibility Test. And it is a long-term recurring income.

A research report by Livemint showed that only one-third of graduates or above in India have jobs that have regular salaries.

A job seeker is a lot like a loan seeker. Just as many would settle for a higher interest rate loan that might have a lower EMI and give continuous comfort, many Indians may prefer a hassle-free long-term employment prospect with a lower pay.

It is standard practice for trade unions in India to seek “regularization” of contract workers – as it often involves extra benefits and security. Even when farmers lose their lands for an industry, a highway or a dam, the compensation discussed often veers towards long-term employment.

Margaret Makepeace, a senior archivist in the India Records Office of the British Library talks about the “working class aristocracy” (teachers and clerks - the then equivalent of PhDs) in the colonial age applying to be menial workers with the East India Company probably lured by “security of employment.” (http://tinyurl.com/EIC1857 ).

It is culturally a natural quest for a “long-term relationship” that makes PhDs and B.Techs go for peon jobs. Recognition and self-fulfillment are secondary needs. Income and stability are primary.

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