When I spoke of my plans to return home after I finished university- even though my visa had four months left on it- the general reaction was, “India, of course! That is where the jobs are.”
Or so it seems. What with outsourcing and the widespread presence of Indians on onsite deputations, it appears that we have swamped the technology industry with our willingness to provide cheap labour at a fraction of the original cost. There is the occasional furore, such as the RBS case where the bank went through a hugely embarrassing few months after a delay in the detection of problems in a batch job, and the mistake was widely pinned on Hyderabad. More than ever, though, such publicity cements India’s reputation as the land of milk and honey, atleast when it comes to well-paying jobs.
Going unnoticed are the side-effects of the situation within the country. The influx of new money has helped create a strong, consumerist upper-class that prides itself on its lifestyle. Exceptions exist, of course, but it is often the IT and MBA graduates who get the plush jobs and often fat pay packets; real estate prices and rents go up as a result, contributing to the existing income disparities. So when I look for a job outside of software, I have no choice but to ask for a competitive salary- and this, when I don’t even have a lavish lifestyle. But how else would I pay rent in a city like Bangalore, which is already bursting at its seams and is still promoted as an investment destination, with foreign delegations regularly invited to succumb to its business-friendly charms?
How practical would it be to consider an unpaid internship or a volunteering opportunity in a country which does not have a social service system of the kind in developed countries? We do not have access to well-stocked free libraries or healthcare or unemployment benefits (hardly feasible in a country of a billion people). Cheap accommodation comprises narrow, dark, shared rooms in shady alleys, uncomfortably reminiscent of red-light districts in movies. Add to it the constant need to remain alert to avoid groping hands and lecherous glances: a woman simply has to know how to take care of herself, whether in a hut or in a swanky flat.
A few weeks ago I attended a job interview, but was unhappy with the salary offered. When I mentioned it, the woman in charge asked if I had any siblings- when I replied in the negative, she said that it shouldn’t be a problem then, implying that I should sponge off my parents. So much for all our talk of modernity. As Justice Katju said, being modern isn’t about wearing a suit or a skirt. I fear that we have generally come to accept the knowledge of English and a predilection for jeans as an indication of how “advanced” we are- never mind getting rid of our nonchalant attitude towards things, and realising there is much more to life than dressing up to go to work and a movie at the multiplex over the weekend.
There are the government jobs, of course, a source of stability and security. But the thought of reservation puts me off. Now with a bill proposing caste-based reservation even in promotions, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll put merit over birth anytime soon. Generations of people have reaped the benefits of caste-based reservation- I personally know quite a few- but apparently the wrongs haven’t been righted: which, then, seems to defeat the very purpose of the system. Politics? We’re ticking the right boxes.
I don’t have a degree that will be appreciated by the public. I have an MA, and it misses the crucial B of Business. This means that I’ll have several zeroes lopped off my paycheques, because it is my fault that subjects like politics, history and literature interest me. I will always have people asking why on earth I gave up a job in IT to study something as nondescript as International Relations (whatever that is). At the same time, I’m not prepared to be considered a novice because my three years of work have been in a field different from IR: surely, the general rules are the same? I can’t be written off just because I have chosen to switch careers. It is a sign that I’m ready to go out and do something I’m entirely new to, and do it well.
The reality is that India is a glorious place to be in if you have a keen interest in all things software and business. If you’re trying to do something else (and are a commoner), you struggle, just like people in pretty much the rest of the world today.