My Story: “Job In UK, Luxury & Weekend Road Trips; I Left Everything After The Bangladesh Factory Disaster”

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Four years ago, I was a Supply Chain Management consultant with a renowned IT firm. I was one of the best performers in my team, was regularly promoted, got good salary hikes, travelled on-site to USA and UK, made a lot of money, owned a snazzy bike, wore the best of clothes and shoes, partied with friends, went on road trips every other weekend. You name it and I had it all. I was living an enviable life, I had everything an engineer in a corporate IT firm would aspire to have.

My family was extremely proud of my accomplishments. But in all this, was I happy? The answer, without doubt, is an emphatic NO. I wasn’t happy. I would wake up every day with a lot of guilt for contributing to a corporate system which was exploitative of many sections of the society, feeling constantly miserable about being an instrument in this huge design deemed to be unfair to a large section of the society. I pulled myself along somehow for around 7 years when one fine day I went for a jog and just decided it was time I quit.

Dramatic eh?

So what actually drove me to quit my job or even give up on my career as an engineer in an IT company?

I was in the UK at that time. I was considered to be one of the best in my team and was sent on-site for the same reason to work in the garments division of a multinational retail corporation. I fell into the routine of going to the office, doing my job and lived a pretty regular life, till one day, disaster struck. The garment manufacturing company in Bangladesh from whom our clients procured garments, collapsed and almost 1,134 workers lost their lives.

Excerpts from Wikipedia regarding the incident:

“The building contained clothing factories, a bank, apartments, and several shops. The shops and the bank on the lower floors were immediately closed after cracks were discovered in the building. The building’s owners ignored warnings to avoid using the building after cracks had appeared the day before. Garment workers were ordered to return the following day, and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.”

“Some people have argued that the decision by managers to send workers back into the factories was due to the pressure to complete orders for buyers on time. This second line of argument gives partial responsibility for the disaster to the short production deadlines preferred by buyers due to the quick changes of designs, referred to as fast fashion. Some have argued the demand for fast fashion and low-cost clothing motivated minimal oversight by clothing brands, and that collectively organised trade unions could have responded to the pressure of management. Others have argued that trade unions would increase workforce costs and thus endanger the Bangladesh garment industry.”

Find the complete article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Savar_building_collapse

This incident was the last straw, it completely shook me. I couldn’t convince myself any longer, to continue to work with a corporation which encouraged such exploitative practices. I felt guilty for contributing to the system. I could no longer breathe and exist in that framework. I came back to India, rejected all the persistent efforts of my company to send me to Canada and much to the chagrin of my family and everyone around me, I finally quit.

In the four years following this incident, I spent a lot of time understanding the whole corporate system and capitalistic markets and their impact on society. I met many activists, artists, social workers, political leaders, environmentalists, people working towards food security and open food networks, techies with their hearts in the right place working on open data and open source systems and many more wonderful people (who are now my closest friends) doing exceptional socially conscious work. I also participated in many meetings and protests and started to openly take the side of justice and voice out my opinions and stand up for righteous causes for animals, farmers, data security etc.

I completely changed as a person; I almost underwent a metamorphosis. I consciously made an effort to understand the world from a fresh perspective. I grew into a courageous, free-thinking, socially conscious human being. I started to express myself more openly and fearlessly on relevant platforms. After experimenting and grappling with a lot of things I understood that agrarian crisis and rural distress is something I feel very strongly about. Especially, the dire conditions and dangerous circumstances in which the cotton farmers in Telangana work and the growing suicides amongst them totally moved me. It has been close to 2 years since I have been the state coordinator of a rural distress helpline called Kisan Mitra which is a part of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

I have also been working on the causes of animals and the environment whenever I get time. I still continue to work on data and information technology which I am really passionate about, but the difference is whatever I do now is more relevant and helpful to the oppressed masses rather than the elite capitalistic corporates. And I am happy. It doesn’t mean that my life is all rosy now with absolutely no work stress. The work I currently do is equally stressful if not more because day in and out we deal with distressed farmers on the verge of committing suicide, families of farmers who have already committed suicide, need to speak to apathetic government officials sometimes and still maintain my cool, manage my team, the members of which are from humble backgrounds, take care of their salaries etc.

But in the process I also met some really wonderful district collectors who inspired me, many farmers both men and women whose undying spirit gave me a ray of hope, lived close to nature and interacted with many wonderful people, children and animals whose innocence teleported me into a blissfully joyful world.

So my life overall in the past couple of years after I quit my job has been largely fulfilling and there is peace in my heart that I am at least not feeding the oppressive capitalistic devil that has set out to devour all our lives. I have consciously given up on a lot of things which would see me encouraging such a system. I travel by public transport, own only a couple of pairs of clothes which I buy from local weavers only, live a healthy life which means I rarely eat out and of course travel a lot. My whole outlook to travel also has changed, where I have started to interact with people, understand about their lives and culture, eat in their homes and live like a local as opposed to a touristy way of travelling.

My idea of sharing this story isn’t to give you a boastful account of my life. It is an attempt to share my experiences and if possible be a source of support and guidance to anyone who is stuck in the rigmarole of a life they least enjoy and are wanting to break free but are unable to because of the fear of having to step out of their comfort zone or the fear of being socially rejected etc., Trust me, it isn’t all that bad. Yes, there will be rejection but if we are convinced about what we are doing then it isn’t tough to convince the people around us. We may not have a lot of money to splurge but then isn’t that the whole idea behind not wanting to encourage corporate markets? Going local is very cheap and equally gratifying so one doesn’t need a lot of money to live a comfortable life. In fact when the work we do in itself gives us a high, why would we need a special weekend outing to have fun?

And the best part about my life right now is, when I retire to bed at the end of a tiring day I go into a deep sleep the minute I put my head to the pillow. I sleep peacefully and wake up with the freshness of a child. No guilt about having wronged someone. No regrets and an absolutely clear conscience.

– Sree Harsha Thanneru

Originally written by Shruti at Why I quit my well paying Corporate Job…

Also Read: My Story: “Depressed, I Used To Contemplate Suicide; I Found My Calling In Barefoot College”

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