Published: 08th May 2021
Welcome to Reason: In the regime of COVID, is labour the king?
This rural development work, which is meant to provide some gainful employment to less educated or uneducated rural labourers, is now attracting PhDs and other postgraduates
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world
— Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa
This topic is provoked by media headlines about people with PhDs among those enrolling for MGNREGA work. For the uninitiated, a few lines behind these abbreviations: National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, later renamed as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), is labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’. It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
According to media reports, COVID-19 has made many degree-holders, including PhD scholars, unemployed and who now work under the MGNREGA banner. There are many postgraduate degree holders who are rushing to be employed under this banner. This rural development work, which is meant to provide some gainful employment to less educated or uneducated rural labourers, is now attracting PhDs and other postgraduates. The work involves hard physical labour like digging percolation pits and construction of soak pits.
This news drove me to high-sounding quotations with which I normally start my topic-essays.
Here are some:
If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people
- Chinese Proverb
Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself - Chinese Proverb
An investment in knowledge pays the best interest - Benjamin Franklin
Despite Franklin’s promise of best interest, the current COVID-induced situation has let down postgraduates, including PhD students, and driven them to doing hard manual work to keep the fire burning in their homes. The alternative is starving themselves and those who depend on them to provide a decent standard of living.
That takes me back to my school days, 70 years ago, and I quote from memory: “Education is the preparation to meet life’s situations.”