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Product Membership Friday, May 08, 2020 - 19:03


Ragamalika Karthikeyan

This week, our Twitter notifications were filled with angry messages. Not the usual anger directed at this political ideology or that. The rage of Twitter users – particularly IT employees – was directed at NR Narayana Murthy, the co-founder of IT giant Infosys. The reason: an interview he gave where he said, “We should take a pledge that we will work ten hours a day, six days a week – as against 40 hours a week – for the next 2-3 years so that we can fast-track and grow the economy much faster.”

The responses to Narayana Murthy’s comments ranged from how he was basically suggesting that workers be exploited, to how Indians were already working 60 or more hours a week, to how having fewer work hours but more employees should be the focus of companies, especially in a time of high unemployment. 

All valid points. In a quick and dirty survey of our newsroom, none of us personally know anyone who works a ‘40-hour week’. In fact, according to an NSSO report, Indians on average work 56 hours a week in urban areas, and 48 hours a week in rural areas. For those of us in cities in India, this basically translates to a little over 9 hours a day, 6 days a week. Or a little over 11 hours a day for 5 days a week, for those who have the luxury of weekends. This is the official data – anecdotal evidence shows people work much, much longer than 56 hours a week in some industries, including IT.

And this is just paid work – most of us, especially women, put in a considerable amount of hours into unpaid care work every week. ‘Work hours’ and ‘economic activity’ don’t take into account the time we spend on cooking and cleaning, taking care of children, the elderly and the sick, time spent dropping children to school, or buying groceries for the household.

In non-pandemic times, in most cities, we’re also spending a considerable amount of time on our daily commute (I’m looking at you, Bengaluru) – whether this should be added to our official work hours is another debate altogether.

Let’s compare our work hours with the rest of the world. We work 19-21 hours more than the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy. We work 23 hours more than Canada, on average. Don’t want to look at the western world because that’s an unfair comparison? Well, we also work much longer than Sri Lanka (42.5 hours), Pakistan (46.8 hours) and Bangladesh (46.9 hours).

Japan, which has a term for ‘death by overwork’ (Karoshi) works just over 32 hours a week, as per some estimates.

While there are no official estimates of how many hours China works, they may perhaps be the one country working longer than us, going by Jack Ma’s comment on the ‘996 work culture’ in China – 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week.

The 40-hour work week is clearly a myth in India, for most people. And companies, governments and leaders always have some excuse to make people work longer and longer hours. 

From "we are a small company who can’t afford shorter work hours" to "we are a big company that cannot afford to fail”; to the rhetoric of ‘passion’ and how work hours shouldn’t matter if you love your job", exclamations about the greater good – of the nation, the economy, the society – the reasons that employers give to make employees work longer and harder are many.

Some of them may be valid from an employer’s point of view, but does that make it fair for employees to be working so many hours, with little concern for one’s quality of life?

Unfortunately, with an unemployment rate of over 27%, our bargaining power as employees is clearly low. We have desperate citizens and disposable employees. And then, there is the reality of work in India, where many people are in the ‘gig economy’: work hours correlate to income. It’s not easy to say we-must-work-shorter-hours, when the extra hours are what make it possible for most workers to have a decent meal.

Several studies show that people have poorer physical and mental health due to working long hours – greater than 45 hours a week – across the world. And if such studies are conducted in India, many of us may find the answers (definitively) to why we are frequently fatigued, or feel so dissatisfied, even if we’re doing a job we love. 

So, how do we take our outrage a step further, and find ways to make companies agree to reasonable work hours?

Write to us on, and we will publish the best answer in next week’s newsletter.


Suhrith Parthasarathy, Advocate, Madras High Court

That these are peculiar times can scarcely be disputed. Covid-19 has overthrown our extant way of living. In the circumstances, to make a sacrifice of our freedoms at the altar of the greater public good appears to be a prudent—and even imperative—proposition. But does this mean we disregard the rule of law? Experience tells us, no. Granting the executive a free rein invariably renders liberties malleable to the caprices of the state.

Already, in the last few weeks, there have been many examples demonstrating just how this might happen. The Union government’s flagship responses to the pandemic have all involved a digital solution. But we’ve spent nary a moment wondering if these measures are even effective. A Brookings Institute paper, for instance, shows that contact tracing applications simply won’t work in a country like ours, where testing rates continue to languish below average standards. But yet we’ve adopted these measures with alacrity and with close to no scrutiny. 

This initial invasion into our private lives might well be made under the pretext of good governance. But if applications such as those unveiled by the state become the new “normal”, we might well have on us a device capable of breathtakingly pervasive surveillance. Privacy is important because it has values inherent and instrumental. It is not only essential to our autonomy and to our basic human dignity, but it lays the groundwork for the guarantee of a number of other liberties: our rights to free speech, freedom of association and freedom of movement, among others. 

To be sure, privacy is not absolute. The State has the power to make reasonable restrictions on the right. But whether a measure that limits privacy is reasonable or not depends on whether it is proportionate in nature. That is, the measure must be backed by legislation, must be necessary to achieve a legitimate state aim, and must be the least invasive option available. In the absence of such safeguards any solutions implemented will run the risk of turning into a Trojan Horse for a surveillance state.


Top 5 must read stories this week.

1. ‘Saw children collapsing in front of us’: Survivors recount Vizag gas leak tragedy

by Jahnavi Reddy, The News Minute

2. The long wait for a train back home for migrant workers in Hyderabad

by Mithun MK, The News Minute

3. Broken Shelters and Dreams: Life Inside a Labour Camp in Bengaluru

by Arun Dev, The Quint

4. India’s environment ministry is in a hurry to clear 191 projects amid coronavirus crisis

by Nihar Gokhale,

5. India Inc has a whiff of the licence Raj

by Rahul Jacob, Livemint


Curated by our members. If you want to suggest an article/book/video to the TNM members' community, email: 

Subha J Rao recommends: The Devastating Decline of a Brilliant Young Coder

Subha says: It’s never easy to write fusing technology, and raw emotion. Sandra Upson does just that in this achingly lovely feature, about programmer Lee Holloway, the erstwhile resident genius of Cloudflare, the internet security firm. Over time, Lee, from whose fingertips codes once poured, turns into a distant, unpredictable person, and no one knows why. It takes his wife Kristin’s concerted efforts to figure what happened to the man she married. The answer is heartbreaking, and the article beautifully answers the question: “If a person isn't himself, who is he?”


Get to know the people who work at TNM.


Prajwal Bhat is a reporter in our Karnataka bureau. One of our youngest colleagues, Prajwal is always willing to travel, will do his best to chase a lead, and makes sure he gets his stories, no matter what. At 6'3, Prajwal is officially our tallest employee - do follow him on Twitter for the latest news updates, his opinions, and to send him ideas!

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