Raj Narayan Jha rises before dawn on most days of the year to go to his job as a chowkidar, or watchman, at a gated community in suburban Mumbai. After 12 hours on duty, often under the scorching Indian sun or in heavy monsoon showers, he heads off to another six-hour at a local factory.
Mr Jha, 42, originally from the northern state of Bihar, has been working as watchman in India’s economic capital for the past 20 years. He earns 12,000 rupees (Dh637) a month, not nearly enough to support his family of four, let alone send money to his ageing parents in Bihar.
“My daughter was to be married recently, but the groom’s family called it off because we couldn’t afford to pay them the dowry they asked,” he told The National. Paying dowry is still widely practised in India even though it has been outlawed.
Mr Jha briefly tried his hand at running a business, selling small products imported from China. When it failed, he was left owing 100,000 rupees to money lenders. He returned to being a chowkidar to pay off the debt. “No one wants to actually work as a chowkidar. It is majboori [helplessness],” he said.
And yet thousands of Indians on social media, mainly supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), are calling themselves “chowkidar” after the party launched its “Main bhi chowkidaar” (I am also a watchman) campaign for the general election.
Mr Modi is calling on Indians to join him in protecting the country from corruption, terrorism and poverty and has changed his name on Twitter to “Chowkidar Narendra Modi”. His party’s ministers and many supporters have followed suit.
I am confident that the entire family of @BJP4India Karyakartas would be working day and night to ensure that our Party and our allies are blessed yet again by the people of India. In the last 5 years lots has been done and we want to do much more for the country.— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 6, 2019
In the 2014 election Mr Modi played up his humble beginnings as a “chaiwallah” – a tea seller – to identify with the working classes but his appropriation of the role of chowkidar this time has upset some watchmen who say their job is given no respect or dignity by society.
“It’s so fashionable to call yourself a chowkidar these days, but it is also important to see how these people treat their own chowkidars,” said a security guard who works for an airline.
“Many of these minister who are calling themselves chowkidar mistreat their own security guards, and make them do menial jobs like fetching groceries, washing their car and watering the garden.”
The watchman, who has been doing this work for more than 20 of his 48 years, did not wish to be named for fear his comments could cost him his job.
He challenged politicians to work one shift as a security guard before adopting the title of chowkidar.
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