Why does this idea of writing on HRTalks– a space created for all human resource professionals – on this Independence Day remind me of an article from The Atlantic Monthly which was published in 1959?The article was titled “India’s Masses: The Public that Can’t be Reached” and was a first-hand account by the author Arthur Bonner of his stay in India during the ‘50s. It starts with a revealing episode:
“I first began thinking about India’s communication difficulties three years ago… I stopped at a post office and saw, in a corner, a short spear with two little bells attached to the shaft near the head. I recognized it, from descriptions in books, as a spear carried by dak (mail) runners. I thought it was a relic of the days when the mail was delivered by runners who needed the spear to protect themselves from robbers and wild animals… as they jogged along jungle trails. But the postmaster assured me that he still delivered some of his mail by runners who took three days going out along one route and three days coming back by another. “
He went on to describe the mammoth efforts that went into reaching out to India’s masses, and connecting and uniting them around a common identity of a newly-formed nation– a nation
where in many villages people still – 10 years after independence - did not know that British no longer ruled India
which had no common language which everyone understood (and still doesn’t have)
which was a sort of patch-work collage of the “India” + 562 princely states - each with its own law, norms and even currency!
which had a circulation of only 3mn newspapers for 400mn people (in any case, only 15% people could read)
which had installed 40 thousand “Community Radios” in villages to connect India (but there were 500,000 villages!)… and so on.The efforts to reach and connect the public were important to keep India together, to create the identity of an “Indian” – and negate the prediction of General Claude Auchinlek (the Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army at the time of Independence), who scorned the “the idea that India is a country, whereas it is a subcontinent as varied as Europe… The British tried to consolidate it but achieved nothing permanent. No one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations.”
62years into freedom, India is intact, and even though we may have differences, we “know” that we are all Indians… clearly, the efforts of that era to “reach the public that can’t be reached” succeeded
So why did I recall this article?
… perhaps because, Independence Day is not just a time to remember those who made it possible, but to also ask the same questions which they must have asked themselves… I mean, whether one is building a nation or an organization, the critical questions remain the same across time - but every era has to find its own unique answers and pointers…
And so, as a human resource professional, I asked the question:
How do we reach the public that can’t be reached?
…what, for instance, would have this 15th August – the Independence Day – meant, as a day-to-day living experience, for:
for the vendors and hawkers of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, snack-foods and a myriad of non-perishable items ranging from locks and keys, soaps and detergents, clothing, vessels to books…
for the owners of those numerous stalls and kiosks selling various things and services… the road-side cobblers, barbers, tailors, book-binders, cycle mechanics… the garbage collectors, rag-pickers… construction workers… landless labours
for the head-loaders, cart-pullers, camel/bullock/horse-cart drivers ferrying goods/passengers to other places… and of course, the rickshaw and auto rickshaw drivers… the truck drivers…
for those who work in/own small workshops that repair bicycles and motorcycles, recycle scrap metal, make furniture and metal parts, tan leather and stitch shoes, weave, dye, and print cloth, polish diamonds and other gems, make and embroider garments, sort and sell cloth, paper, and metal waste… and more.
for the ones who remain “invisible” and produce and sell from their homes/shanties (mostly women) as garment makers, embroiderers, incense stick rollers, bidi-rollers, paper bag makers, kite makers, hair band makers, pickle and papad-makers, and others.
for the maids, domestic servants, chauffeurs, gardeners… the person who comes to wash the car, to deliver newspaper, milk,…
Do we, as HR professionals, need to redefine the boundaries “human resources” and reach out, considering that this segment also accounts for:
60% of Net Domestic Product
68% of National Income
60% of National Savings
31% of Agricultural Exports
41% of Manufactured Exports, and
92-93% of total employmentAny thoughts?!…
HR profession, Uncategorized, nation building, unorganised sector