There's a famous organization in our country which is working to improve people's living standards. Its HQ is situated in our country's capital. According to the available information, this organization is working in 32 countries, with the goals of poverty alleviation, creating new jobs, empowering women, spreading education, and so on. They have many workshops across the country. Today I am visiting one of those. It is situated on the outskirts of the capital.
Myself Harish, I am a journalist. I got the task to prepare a documentary about the activities of this organization. This organization's works are so noble and diverse that it's impossible to document all of their contributions in a single short-film. Hence, I'm thinking of making a three-part series about this organization. The socio-economic condition of people in this South Asian country isn't satisfactory. However, some organizations, like the one I am currently talking about, are working hard to improve people's lives in this country.
When my cameraman Kundal and I arrived at the workshop, we were warmly received by Mr. Dhiren. He is one of the assistants of the general manager, Ms. Lipika. Ms. Lipika is literally 'the boss' of this facility. After a short formal meeting with her, we set out for a tour around the building, accompanied by Mr. Dhiren. Kundal will capture the necessary video footage along the way. In our country, middle-aged men like Mr. Dhiren are always bored and grumpy. But he's an exceptionally nice guy. He shows courtesy in every way imaginable. Besides, he doesn't talk without a smile on his face. He even became friends with Kundal, who's stubborn and often unfriendly with others.
The workshop is truly amazing. We visited the garments section first. Hundreds, if not thousands of people are continuously working inside the workshop. Speaking of people, something felt strange to me. I see almost no male working around here. Only women were found working in the garments section. The plantation is also bustling with women. There are a few men, too. But they seemed to be keeping a watch on all the other workers rather than working. Are they supervisors or something?
After touring the garments section and the plantation, we came across some other smaller departments. All sections of the workshop are mostly occupied by women. Some men are also found working among them. But their number is negligible compared to that of women. I asked Mr. Dhiren some relevant questions during the tour, which will be necessary for our documentary. I asked several women about their experience of working in this workshop. Looks like they're happy about getting the chance to work here. The working conditions are very satisfactory. Sometimes they feel like they're paid less than necessary. But it doesn't matter much since they're always paid in time. Many women say they feel safer here than in their previous workplace.
Almost at the end of the tour, we saw a seminar which is being held in a large empty space within the building. The topic of the seminar is 'women empowerment'. All of its attendees are female. Am I in a no-man zone? This looks like feminist heaven. I don't feel uncomfortable, though. As a journalist, I've been in weirder situations than this. On the contrary, I feel very good by looking at all those hard-working women. Their dedication to work shows that our country is truly progressing. I can make a pretty decent report only based on what I've seen so far. Nevertheless, I'm curious about something else. While returning to Ms. Lipika's office, my curiosity got the best of me.
Since I'm here to prepare a documentary on this organization's activities, I was supposed to ask relevant questions only. However, I always have a hard time controlling my curiosity. I asked Kundal to turn the camera off. Then I opened my mouth. But how do I ask this? He may get offended by my question. So it's better to ask him indirectly. After much speculation, I blurted out a question.
"Say, why do I see very few men working around here?"
Mr. Dhiren turned around and replied with his usual smile, "That's because we hire women only."
"Oh, so that's why there are -"
It took me a few moments to neatly process what he just said.
"Eh? Women only?"
Two questions popped up in my mind simultaneously.
"Then what are those men doing?" and "Why only women?"
"Why?" I asked.
Mr. Dhiren replied, "Because they're easy to control. And manipulating them is a piece of cake."
"What do you mean?" I feel like I'm getting new stories. Did I do a wrong thing by turning the camera off?
Mr. Dhiren's smile widened, "How do I put this? You see, women can be paid less than men. They don’t take cigarette breaks like men. It's easier to trick them into believing something compared to men. They don’t complain too much as men do." The things he is saying are definitely not cool. Why is he acting so casual while saying these things?
Mr. Dhiren continued, "And even if they complain, they're taken care of."
He evilly twisted his lips while saying the last sentence.
A drop of cold sweat ran across my neck. "Taken care of?"
Why is he saying these things to a random journalist like me?
"Yes. As I said, we hire women only. In case you're wondering about the men working here, know that they're no ordinary employees. They're either cold-blooded criminals or desperate job-seekers. They're hired to make them do anything we want. Jobs are hard to find in this country, you know."
That answered my second question alright. How did I not notice anything suspicious about those men? Mr. Dhiren's calm and composed way of saying these things added more intensity to the already tense atmosphere. Even though no hard action is taking place right now, I'm feeling a sudden adrenaline rush inside my body. The amicable and polite Mr. Dhiren suddenly turned into a cold-blooded criminal. Nevertheless, I tried to remain calm. I took a deep breath to control my rapidly incerasing heartbeat. I didn't let my facial expression change. If what Mr. Dhiren is saying is true, then there must be a few goons on standby. They might be watching us now, and are probably waiting for the opportunity to seize us in case we try to do something imprudent. Turning off the camera was a good thing to do. Otherwise our chance of getting out of this place would've been lowered significantly.
I looked at Kundal to see his reaction to Mr. Dhiren's words. His face is like a stone as always.
I whispered to him, "You're not surprised?"
He replied, with a loud and simple, "No," which amply surprised me.
Mr. Dhiren joked, "You're supposed to be surprised."
Kundal said, "There's nothing much to be surprised about. I've already understood something was odd about this place."
Mr. Dhiren laughed and said, "Your cameraman seems to be a better observer than you." Looking at Kundal, he asked, "Would you like to tell us what you've found out?"
Kundal started saying in an almost robotic voice, "The women don't know they're being controlled. They don’t know that goons are lurking around them. Those men are like the secret service, but with a criminal touch. They maintain the order in the facility using either nice words, seemingly helpful discussions, or indirect threats, call it psychological attacks, or, as the last resort, violence. However, most of the men do it not because they want to, but because they have to. It's their work, after all. In any case, they won't harm us unless we try to do something rash."
I'm surprised that he noticed all these things. I, for one, haven't noticed a single thing under the surface. I only heard praises about this organization. Nobody knows about a single thing which could give this organization a bad name. So I find it difficult to believe that things like this could happen in this place.
After a short breath, Kundal continued, "By the way, they're not under your control. So you can't order them around. They take orders from the GM, Ms. Lipika only."
Mr. Dhiren started laughing.
"Friend, are you Sherlock's brother? I thought this type of keen observation is only possible in movies or books. You'll surely make a good manipulator."
I asked, "What's a 'manipulator'?"
Mr. Dhiren replied, "It's exactly what it sounds like. A manipulator manipulates people's views on something." Kundal interrupted, "There's another term for it - propagandist."
Mr. Dhiren continued, "However, we use a very polite term to refer to them, 'Public Relations Officer'. In any case, I'm offering you a job in our company as a PR officer."
Whaaaaat? When did this turn into a headhunting session?
Mr. Dhiren continued, "Consider this, friend. You're gonna get double your current salary along with additional benefits. Plus the PR job is less tiring than being a cameraman. If you accept the job I'm offering you, you won't have to walk around with a big camera anymore. Do you accept my offer?"
Mr. Dhiren lent a hand in front of Kundal with a dramatic pose. Meanwhile, I just stood there, trying to straighten the things going on in my mind. Do they apply these tactics only in this workshop? Or do they do it everywhere? I thought this organization had a noble mission. I thought it was different from the other companies. Yeah right, as if there ever was a 'noble' mission. The only noble mission big companies could have is to exploit people in 'revolutionary' ways.
Kundal stared at Mr. Dhiren's hand for a few seconds. Then he turned away and said, "Sorry Sir, I have no wish to become one of your goons."
Mr. Dhiren said, "Hey, you've got it wrong. PR officers are not goons. They're different. Come, let me show you." We walked back to the place where the seminar was held. There were several office rooms close to it. Mr. Dhiren took us to one of those rooms and introduced us to a certain Ms. Ranjana. She was one of the speakers of the 'Women Empowerment' seminar.
Mr. Dhiren said, "She's one of our PR officers. They arrange different functions to spread awareness among people."
"In other words, they manipulate people into becoming your tools for accomplishing your secret agenda," said Kundal.
Ms. Ranjana furiously asked, "What do you mean?"
"What? Did I say something wrong?"
I really wish Kundal wouldn't stir the hornet's nest anymore. We have to find a way to get out of here alive.
"How dare you insult our noble cause! We only want to make people's lives better. But we can't do it because of narrow-minded people like you."
Mr. Dhiren intervened, "Ok, calm down, Ranji. This man knows a lot of things already. You don't need to play the victim now."
"Oh, is that so?" asked Ms. Ranjana. She changed her tone within seconds.
Kundal commented, with a sarcastic smile, "Noble cause, eh? Isn't it just a way to make more money by exploiting the idiotic masses?"
Mr. Dhiren said, "And if he changes his mind, he might become one of our voices."
"You mean he'll become a PR officer?" asked Ms. Ranjana.
Take Kundal away and let me out of this place already! Even though the room is air-conditioned, I'm sweating out of anxiety.
Mr. Dhiren left the three of us and went outside. He said he's got something important to do. I feel like a mouse under a cat's paw. I wish I could be a stone-face like Kundal. Since Kundal isn't talking, I started talking with Ms. Ranjana to cool down the situation. At some point of our irrelevant chatting, I asked, "So, you preach women empowerment just to get them into the workforce? You empower women not to empower them, but to exploit them."
NO! That was totally uncalled for. I should've thought twice before I said that. I'm getting more nervous by the minute.
Ms. Ranjana, brushing aside a strand of hair from over her eyes, replied, "Well, it's exactly as you say. You see, cheap labor is necessary for a healthy profit. In fact, it's essential for the capitalist idea of 'maximum possible profit'. If men work for less than what we pay to women, we can kick out some women and employ more men."
"You really don't care about them?"
"Do I sound like I care about women? Gender equality, women empowerment - these are nothing but word-plays. If a woman demands more pay than men, then she can go to hell."
I thought women cared about each other. How can she say such things? But I don't care. Right now the only thing I care about is a way to get out of this place alive. Nobody is glaring at me, nobody is spying on me, but this place is still hostile. Nevertheless, to keep the conversation going, I said, "But you're a woman, too."
"HAH! So what? Do you think you'll be given extra privileges if you're a woman? The corporate world doesn’t work that way. Industries don't work like that."
It is unbelievable that these words are coming out of a woman's mouth. I thought women were given extra privileges everywhere.
After looking elsewhere for a few moments, she continued, "Of course you can get some extra privilege over men in court. You can file a fake accusation against a man and ruin his reputation. You can suck out your husband's blood 'legally' if he won't listen to you. But you can't do anything in the corporate world. Money is a cruel master; you need to work as a slave for it."
She let out a sigh of frustration. She seemed to be in an awful mood. I couldn't find anything to say. Thankfully, Kundal finally opened his mouth and stepped in to break the silence. He asked, "Are you angry with your husband for some reason?"
Ms. Ranjana was surprised. "How did you know I was married?"
Mr. Dhiren was right. He might be Sherlock's brother.
"No, I'm not angry with him. But I wish I could be?"
"What do you mean?" asked Kundal.
"He's such a nice guy. He's a cold-blooded animal, to be honest. We've been married for six years but we didn’t have even a single fight within this time. I wish we could scream at each other's face then and again."
I interrupted, "Ms. Ranjana, I think you shouldn’t be discussing personal matters with us. Besides, what you're saying is totally irrelevant to the matter at hand. Can we get back to the point again?"
My actual intention was not to stop her from revealing what a filthy monster she actually is. Rather, I wanted to stop feeling any more uncomfortable. The atmosphere already feels pretty suffocating.
"You're one hell of a scary woman", Kundal commented. He has a bad habit of talking straightforwardly without any fear of consequence.
I glared at him, "Heyyyyyy!"
Who knows what reaction could his unnecessary comment invite? Thankfully, Ms. Ranjana just smiled and said, "You're right. I am scary."
If this conversation was recorded, I'm sure it would've been considered a drama masterpiece.
What we got from Ms. Ranjana is that PR officers like her work to convince people to believe in a specific ideal that is favorable to the organization. Simply said, their work is to brainwash people. I wonder how they can feel no guilt for deceiving all these people. Kundal was utterly disgusted after hearing the tricks they use to deceive people. Meanwhile, I came to learn about some dirty truths from the conversation. When Mr. Dhiren came back, Kundal told him that he'd rather kill himself than do such a disgraceful job. I wonder why he's so appalled at the idea of working as a propagandist. Who doesn’t do propaganda these days? I mean, he's a good guy and all, he's a man of 'truth and honesty', but shouldn't he reconsider declining such a lucrative offer? I would've readily accepted the offer if I was in his place.
After spending some time again in other departments, we went to the GM's office for having an interview with her. I have heard enough from Mr. Dhiren, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity. Part of me wants to satisfy the curiosity while another part want to get out of here as soon as possible. My urges to escape got defeated by my curiosity. So after completing the video interview with Ms. Lipika, I told Kundal to turn the camera off. Then I asked her, "Why do you hire only women in this facility?"
Setting her spectacles right, she replied, "I think you already know. If you already know that we hire only women, then you already know why we do so. Don't you already know why?"
She gave me almost the same explanation as given by Mr. Dhiren. Ms. Lipika took it a step further by saying, "This facility hires women only so that they remain unable to compare their wages with men. Then we pay them less than what we'd pay men, while at the same time, nailing the message in their heads that they are oppressed by men. Since men 'always' oppress women, women must be wary of them at all times. Because we 'care' about our employee's safety, we choose to hire women only. And guess what, those idiots buy this BS."
She laughed after saying this. She is even more casual than Mr. Dhiren while discussing such things. What do they think of themselves? Smooth Criminals?
"In this way, we can obtain a big pool of cheap workforce. We tell them we're freeing them, we're making them independent, and provide them with employment opportunities. But what we do in reality is that we use them as our necessity."
Kundal asked, "Then why don't you try using them in works like sewage cleaning, garbage collection, plumbing, and mining? Those works can also bring higher profit if you hire more women there."
Ms. Lipika replied, "Good idea. Actually, we're trying to do it. But some hypocrites who advocate only for equal rights without equal responsibilities are protesting against it. Besides, the works you've mentioned are male-dominated since they're hard and pay less. Only desperate men who don't get chance anywhere else pick up these works."
Thinking about something, she continued, "I'm sure women will work as hard as men if we make them as desperate as them. To do so, the number of available jobs should be made lesser compared to the number of job-seekers. Increasing the number of job-seekers would do the trick. This is why we should encourage women to become more 'independent'. This would create extreme competition among the job-seekers, making them even more desperate."
That's a genius-level criminal brainwork! That's straight-up exploitation!
Kundal asked, "How exactly are you going to make them independent?"
"Family is a big obstacle to their independence. So if we can somehow convince a woman to cut ties with her father, brother, husband, and other family members, she'll become an easy catch. We can procure even cheaper labor force in that way."
Kundal asked, "What about their children?"
"Hmm, children... need not be abandoned. But if the husband takes care of the family, we have to remove him from the game. Or better than that, let the woman have children out of wedlock. Let their boyfriends impregnate them and throw them away afterward. They don't have an obligation to take care of the child's expenses anyway. So the single mom will have to work to earn for the child as well as for herself. That's why a single mom is far more desperate than a single woman."
How did I end up in such a conspiratorial conversation? It feels like I'm involving myself in some labor exploitation scheme; more like a women exploitation scheme. I don't feel good hearing all these. Truth is a criminal. It doesn’t allow us to feel comfortable.
Such a grand scheme, yet no employees have any idea about this. How is it possible? Should I even ask about it? Isn't this what everyone calls 'knowing too much'?
While I was hesitating, Kundal asked, "That's a pretty amazing trick. How can you continue exploiting workers like this while maintaining an untarnished image?"
C'mon Kundal, how long do want to keep this stupid conversation going?
"Pro-pa-gan-da," Ms. Lipika replied, "It's the best and the most efficient tool we have. It's a powerful thing, you know. You can make hell look like heaven through constant propaganda. We just make our exploitation look like philanthropy using it. We make our workers believe they're not being exploited, and that's pretty much all we do. Neat trick, eh?"
Kundal said, "It sure is. If I am not wrong, you don't have to use those men very much, thanks to the successful propaganda. So they work like normal employees of this company too."
Dammit, Kundal. Shut your mouth before you get us into trouble.
Ms. Lipika smiled, "You're very observant, I see. Yes, we only rarely have to use them. Nevertheless, we always keep them on standby in case someone sees through our propaganda."
"Then why?" I asked, "Why are you telling us everything?"
Ms. Lipika asked back, "Why not? It's an open secret, but still, nobody knows about it."
"Then why let us know?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
I elaborated, "Why are you letting us know about all the dark secrets of your organization, despite knowing that we're journalists?"
Ms. Lipika started laughing.
"C'mon Mr. Harish, you must be joking. How can you call these methods "dark secrets"? Everyone knows them and uses them as necessary. All of our workshops follow almost the same tactics. Other organizations that I know of also do the same. Isn't this how capitalism works? Isn't this how the free market economy works?"
I'm not an economist. So I can't say for sure.
Ms. Lipika commented, "You step on poor peoples' throats and sing the song of freedom to them. Give poor people the medicine named 'low-paying jobs' and tell them it'll cure their poverty. And thus you make them chronically poor. By making them chronically poor, you're getting a virtually infinite source of a cheap workforce."
I asked, "Don't you fear about having your tactics exposed in a newspaper or television?"
I fear getting myself killed. So I'll never expose them myself.
"No, absolutely not. Because you simply CANNOT publish them."
That's some high level of confidence.
"What makes you think we can't?"
"Isn't that simple? If you try publishing things like this, the editor will stop you. Even if it gets published, most people won't believe you. Furthermore, we'll strategically attack the leaked information, and accuse it to be a hoax. No, we'll cause it to look like a hoax. Doing so will be a piece of cake for us. And then, you will be sacked from your job, and also possibly jailed for spreading misinformation."
She's got a point, to be honest. We're free yet we're not free to report things. THEY CONTROL EVERYTHING. Anything contrary to the interests of a certain group of people will never make it out of the press. Even if it does reach the people, most of them will not believe it. Because it is heavily conflicting with the standard narrative they're always fed with. Their thoughts are already hijacked using mass mental manipulation. This conditioning will hold back people from accepting the truth. I can't say for sure, but I think their minds are so messed up that they can't distinguish anymore between truth and falsehood. Furthermore, Truth has an ugly face. Lies are always beautiful compared to it.
"You can try your luck, nonetheless. You can turn your camera on, I'll tell you everything in front of it. Wanna try it out?"
I remained silent, with my head hung downwards.
Ms. Lipika continued, "Mr. Harish, media is a tool for manipulation, not a tool for truth. I'm sure you know this better than me since you're involved with the media."
I just came to realize why journalists write huge articles about stupid little things. Because we'll lose our job if we say the truth. And based on the ugliness of the truth we tell, we may get jailed or even killed. I think it's for the best that we go with the flow. I don't want to get out of my comfort zone. Nobody wants to get killed, do they? Let the oppressed continue to be oppressed.
A month later, the documentary film was completed and published. Everyone appreciated it greatly. They thanked me for making such an informative documentary on the works done by the said organization. I also got a promotion shortly thereafter. Although the documentary was very elaborate, no 'dark secrets' were revealed in it. In the end, I wasn't brave enough to 'try my luck'. And so everyone who saw my documentary instantly became a well-wisher of the organization. Everyone praised the 'noble' works done by them. The organization sent me and Kundal 'some' money as a token of gratitude for publicizing their good works. I heard Kundal didn't take the money since it was 'money of dishonesty.'
Some questions continued bothering me long after I left the facility. Why did they tell about all those things to some random journalists? It just doesn't make sense. Or is it that they tried conducting a psychological experiment and used me and Kundal as lab rats for it? Well, it doesn't matter anymore. So I stopped caring about finding their answers.
Was it a good idea - not 'trying my luck'? I was confused about this for quite some time. But now I've made up my mind. I've finally straightened out my thoughts. No matter what they're doing behind the curtains, they're doing a great job in the outside. The world should appreciate the organization's endeavor to alleviate poverty and empower women. There's a probability that they may get nominated for the Nobel Prize very soon. It'll be fun to see them win a Nobel Prize in economics.