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Dignity of labour

Last updated: 10 September, 2009
By A N Suryanarayanan

Gandhiji believed a lot in dignity of labour, both in word and deed.


Dignity of labour means that one respects all jobs/positions equally and does not consider one superior to another. Gandhiji believed a lot in it, both in word (“Mine is the life of joy in the midst of incessant work”) and deed. Once when Gokhale visited South Africa, Gandhiji was ironing his favourite scarf. Gokhale had doubted his capability, but after seeing the end result, gave him a certificate as an expert dhobi! Gandhiji had made a pair of sandals for General Smuts, when in a South African jail! Once he had cut his own hair too!

In 1963, as Adjutant, I had a recruit-clerk in my office: Bhat, an old classmate! His rich but profligate hotelier-father lost everything and Bhat couldn’t continue his studies. Later he cleared SSLC and had worked for a while in civil. His typing skill was incredible; so when I suggested why not a better-paying job in civil, he said: “I feel happy and dignified in what I am doing”. That was my first lesson in dignity of labour.

During my morning walks, as I enter CMR Road, I notice a well dressed, corpulent woman with a mobile hanging from her hip, parking her Scooty; slipping on her ‘Swachha Bengaluru’ green jacket; picking up a long-handed besom and trolley; and getting on to sweeping the road. I find ‘dignity’ in her attitude to her work.


Seventy-year-old Krishnappa polishes all my footwear once a week. Taking pride in his work, he would challenge me to ‘inspect’ for any faults! If I do find any occasionally, he will polish with renewed vigour and present it again for inspection! Once, when I asked him as to why he should work, with three earning members at home, he said he wished to earn his meal in a dignified manner!

How can I miss out Kantharaj, my barber, who is college-educated, well dressed and speaks almost flawless English. When I asked him if he considered doing a better job, his riposte made me bow my head in salutation: “Sir, what is wrong with what I do?”
The dignity I had for 35 years in uniform and have for the past 14 years outside because of it, I cannot find elsewhere!

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