Watchman apparently is a euphemistic city-bred term often used to describe a lowly Chowkidar’s job, which no skilled or literate person wants to do, but as a last resort.
A recent tweet by a popular media-house that highlighted the poor plight of a man, working as a watchman in Mumbai, who once was a small-time Bollywood actor, rightly vindicates the above view.
However, of late, in politics the term Chowkidar has earned a special place of political pride and abuse simultaneously. For, while one party calls Chowkidar a ‘chor’ (thief), the other one uses the term as an honourable title before their names. And the social media is running amuck with endless number of hilarious memes and abusive trolls on this meaningless ‘tu-tu main-main’ over the use of this lowly label in election time political discourses.
But how do the real chowkidars feel?
In our housing complex in Chandigarh we have three Chowkidars to man our entry point 24x7.
As if they don’t have any names we generally call each of them as watchman only.
One of them, aged 21, is named Ajay. However he too responds faster on being called a watchman than by his real name. He works only for the evening eight-hour slot, with no time-off. During his turn he, like other two, records names, mobile and vehicle numbers of every outsider and guides them to their respective destinations.
Only god knows how many times, during his shift, he has to pull a heavy iron-barrier up and down, each time a vehicle enters or exits our campus. And the caravan of vehicles seems to be never ending.
And many perhaps would be surprised to know that he, like most other ‘chowkidars’, is paid a pittance for doing this arduous job. He is paid Rs 200 per day, like a daily wager on monthly basis. Meaning, he is paid for only those days he attends to his work. No paid holiday ever, whether it is Holi, Diwali, Independence Day, Republic day or even the day he unfortunately falls sick!
Strangely enough he considers his eight-hour long full-time job as a part-time work. May be because he has opted to work as a Chowkidar only for the evening slot, and more so because he has a better things to do in the morning. He pursues his academic schooling.
Ajay belongs to a poor Dalit family. His father is a part-time Gardner in a few housing complexes, including ours. Hoping, and rightly so, for a better future for his children Ajay’s sensible father has been managing to school not only him, but his other three younger sisters also, who go to school regularly.
Currently Ajay, though not a very bright student, is studying in a local government college to complete his undergraduate course. I know this because I do help him sometimes to clear some of his academic doubts.
On my asking that how he feels these days when every other politician seems to be referring to his job profile, with some abusing it and others eulogising it, his reply was simple and spontaneous; “Sir they are all playing politics. Who bothers for the likes of us?”
To my question that whom would he, a first time voter, vote for in the ensuing election, his answer was quick but loaded with an air of uncertainty, “Hope someone, who would really 'watch' the interests of the poor, would surface this time.”(Published on 1st April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 14)