ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Lives behind the Metaphor

The Real Chowkidars of India

Looking at the profile of chowkidars (watchmen), using National Sample Survey Office unit-level data, it is evident that their work conditions are deplorable. A typical chowkidar is a middle-aged male with poor education and skills, working in urban areas on a low salary and without any written job contract or social security coverage. Instead of appropriating them as a metaphor for political gains, ensuring their job security should be a policy priority.

In the build-up to the 2019 general elections, Narendra Modi spearheaded the “Main bhi Chowkidar” campaign to counter the “Chowkidar Chor Hai” (the watchman is a thief) jibe of the opposition.1 This catchphrase that translates into “I, too, am a watchman” received large support on social media, particularly in the form of #Main­BhiChowkidar campaign on Twitter.2 It was undoubtedly an attempt by the ruling party to “regain the reins of the master narra­-tive in Indian politics” (Kawade 2019). “Chowkidar” as a metaphor acquired connotations going beyond that of a mere watchman or gatekeeper to that of the guardian of the nation, and one who guards against corruption.3 There was also a much-publicised address of Modi, contesting as the leader of National Democratic Alliance, to around 2.5 million security guards across the country in which their dedication and hard work was highlighted. In the light of such an appropriation of “chowkidar” and the semantics associated with it, it is worth examining who the real chowkidars of the country are; where they work, what are their earnings, and whether they have social security protection. This is much needed, as despite their ubiquity, not much is known about the labour market conditions that chowkidars face across the country.

Data and Methodology

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Updated On : 29th Nov, 2019

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