The Collapse of the Care Economy in Kashmir

Life has been made immensely difficult by this contractual faculty engagement system
Representational Image
Representational ImageFile/GK

A society cannot be disentangled from the economy, nor can the latter be detached from the former. The two are kept in tandem by the jelly like glue of culture. Contextualising the broader case of South-Asia, societies have been predominantly patriarchal in nature.

For a very long time, women were strictly restricted within the outer and inner walls of the home, and men were the designated bread-winners. The culture had created roles specific to gender.

While men went out to earn money-wages, women stayed back taking care of the household, old and children. And based on this model to social and economic life, civilisations and societies have proceeded forth for a long long time.

With a number of social, economic and cultural revolutions originating from different pockets of the world, the global dynamics have altered at various levels. One of the fundamental changes that took place has been the growth of education among the women folk and a simultaneous imbibing of marketable skills amongst the women.

While the rest of the world has had different time trajectories in marching along these changes, adapting and acquainting the same, the sub-continent in general has lagged behind. While the Kashmir region could be expected to reflect outcomes akin to the sub-continent in general and India in particular the reality is much altered.

The modern history of Kashmir has been shaped by the axioms of the ‘Naya Kashmir Manifesto’ and one of the strong reforms brought forth by the manifesto has been the equality, equity and education of women in the Kashmir region. As a result of which the literacy rate and skill possession of the Kashmiri women is much high as compared to the rest of the country and the subcontinent.

However, owing to disturbances and fragility the formal job creation across the formal sector in the region of Jammu and Kashmir has been much constrained and highly limited. One of the major fallacies of the local economy has been a creation of a strange and distasteful trend of creating informal jobs across the formal sector.

For example, the higher education department in the region of Jammu and Kashmir instead of advertising the posts for various faculty positions every year or every two to three years make mass advertisements after decades. Meanwhile the position keeps on getting vacant and the staff shortage is felt. To keep the system running, the invention has been unique yet destructive. Something called ‘contractual faculty/temporary lecturer’ is advertised.

This is usually a brief teaching position running from April to December. Menial wages, pathetic treatment and absence of any and every benefit or social security are its main characteristics. In a society which is very close-knit at the family level, women are being educated and at the same time have a tendency to cater to their families, life has been made immensely difficult by this contractual faculty engagement system.

For a college or university teaching position the characteristics of the population are like; having a PhD, having qualified NET exams, having published in journals etc. simultaneously it means that the age cohort of the people seeking job or working in this sector is between 25 and 35. This is exactly the reproductive age of every population.

In the contractual arrangement system across J&K, a female employee is somehow entitled for 40 days paid maternity leave no matter the delivery is normal or through a C-Section. For the same job, a lady who is employed ‘permanently’ in the same department, doing the same job the entitlement is six months paid leave with additional two years paid child-care leave.

The startling question that arises here is: do women have different biological settings based on the nature of their employment viz the permanent and contractual positions?

A few days ago, I was sitting in office preparing for the upcoming lecture and the helper came with a box of sweets. One of our staff members who is employed against a contractual position recently had a baby. The helper told me she has come. As I went to see her, nothing about it turned out to be pleasant! Her ‘(under-)paid’ maternity leave had ended and it was the 41st day. She was supposed to join back on the 41st day of her C-Section.

She looked pale and weak and every shade of feeble. She was supposed to leave her new-born baby with God-knows-whom because the salary she is drawing there is no scope to pay for a domestic help or a baby sitter. The babies are not allowed on the campus and mothers not allowed to stay back: in the contractual system.

Each passing moment, I could see her turning paler and paler, cold and colder and by 12 in the noon she was already trembling. Discovering her feeble condition she started to cry and with a fearful heart went to the administrative office, mostly dominated by men with ‘permanent and substantive’ positions to humbly request for a ‘leave without pay’.

That is how exactly the state administration itself is knocking the collapse of the care economy. Initially it is creating self-proclaimed logic-less rules like contractual employment and 40 days maternity leave. Then to add fuel to the fire under-paid employments are created and the scope to substitute the personal care at family level with domestic help and baby sitters is eliminated out.

What is being created? A growing army of unhappy contractual employees. Tired contractual women burdened with double load of house and office work. And at the end an empty bank account with over-aged in-eligibility to appear for the jobs that are decades and decades away from contemporary times, all summed up in the collapse of the care economy in the region.

(The author is yet another educated, contractually employed and under-paid girl from Kashmir)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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