Sunday, April 7, 2013


Dhananjay Joshi is one of those rare original thinkers I met in the Navy where “do-as-you-are-told” groupthink is the norm.

After an excellent stint in the Navy he took premature retirement and embarked on a very fulfilling second innings pursuing his passion in the realm of education.

A few days ago Dhananjay and I had an enjoyable walk in the lovely verdant green wooded park on the banks of Mula River at Wakad near Pune.

As usual, we talked about philosophy and the art of living and Dhananjay suddenly said: “Empowerment Equals Entrapment”.

Frankly, I did not understand the metaphor. So Dhananjay elaborated that though empowerment ostensibly envisages liberation and freedom, in actual fact empowerment results in entrapment.

“True empowerment means having choices,” Dhananjay said.

We discussed and this got me thinking, but to me the axiom seemed a bit hazy.

That is why I was delighted when Dhananjay emailed me an article this morning amplifying his views.

We discussed and thought it would be a good idea to post this article on my blog for everyone to read and ponder over.

So, Dear Reader, here is a Guest Post titled “Empowerment Equals Entrapment” by my talented thinker friend Dhananjay Joshi

(Empowerment = Entrapment)

Empowerment is about giving people the power to choose between alternatives.

If these alternatives are reduced or taken away, people feel disempowered.


Extending this logic, if someone is “empowered”, they would have more control over the choices they make.

Its 7 PM on a cold wintry night in Gurgaon.

Tens if not hundreds, of young men and women are waiting for the next overcrowded bus to come along to carry them home.

Young women with impossibly heavy backpacks struggled with men to enter a Haryana Roadways bus.

Perched precariously on the footboard they began their perilous journey home.

This scene is crushingly repeated in a stifling Mumbai local train.

This is a typical “lower-middle-income-group” setting, to which they are ordained to.

Do these young men and women have choices on where to work or the kind of work that they would like?

What if these young men and women wanted to work at home or from home?

Young men hardly have a choice to work for the home, but young women do.

The question then becomes, why don’t the young women exercise this choice?

For economic reasons perhaps.

The family needs her money to sustain its chosen lifestyle, because the man alone cannot.

That’s fine, if it keeps her happy.

But then, why have a family?

No family means less expenses.

Good question.

Do we see the signs of a trap being laid out?

On the other hand, the “higher-middle-income-group” does not have travel problems.

They speak on blue-tooth enabled smart-phones as they crawl in rush hour traffic in spanking new EMI driven cars.

Their problems are different.

The young women here have impossible deadlines to meet, networking parties to attend and early-morning flights to catch on not-so-empty bowels.

If the young men in this income group were given a choice to work at home, what would they do?

Let’s imagine a scenario.

Drive the kid to school to drop the kids.

Head to the gym for a workout.

On the way back pick-up sabzi for the bai and some beer for the bar.

Surf the net, to catch-up with USA buddies and check out the stock market.

Drive to school to pick up the kids, discuss the kids progress longer than required with his attractive nursery teacher.

An after-lunch snooze to rest those tired muscles.

Bonding time with the kid over home work, then off to the club where the kid swims, while you keep an eye over a sundowner.

Back home, the bai has left bhindi amchuri and rajma masala on the dining table.

Now just need to shower and wait for the wife.

But, are men allowed to make this choice?

Who is more empowered to make a choice?

Unless of course, you need to re-pay the loan for the fancy US business college attended or the golf-course facing apartment you bought or the status symbol car you upgraded to.

Again, the family needs her to keep up with the deadlines and the late working hours, so that the EMIs, the school, the doctor, the driver and the bai could be paid.

That’s fine if it keeps her happy.

But then, why have a family?

Good question.

The trap is sprung!

The rich and the super-rich in India have no such problems.

They own the home they live in and, already have all the trappings of life.

They invest in the family.

Harmony in the family is in the best interest of business.

The rich moms may exercise their choice to work at home or their London degrees to further their business interests.

The point is that they have a choice.

But, the myth of “empowerment” needs to be kept alive.

Businesses need a workforce.

Therefore, it is essential that a higher valence (intrinsic attractiveness) is attached to working for someone else and not if you work for yourself and your home.

It is a business need that comes at a social cost.

The singles bars in USA and Europe and the Karaoke lounges in most of Asia are overflowing with lonely ageing men and women.

If “empowerment” makes people happy, why not?

Or is it entrapment?

Empowerment = Entrapment

Do you agree?

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