Amid the euphoria of the 2010 Commonwealth Games successfully taking off, Shailaja Tripathi finds photographer Samar Jodha drawing attention to the shocking plight of the Games' construction workforce
While the world did take notice of corruption, unfinished work at the Games sites, leaking roofs, filthy bed sheets and snakes, etc., it missed the hands that were busy raising those world-class facilities day and night. And soon all will be forgotten in the wake of ‘success'. But not before social photographer Samar Jodha unveils his collection of photographs of scores of workers who were engaged in constructing the various Commonwealth Games venues in the city. We all know about how landless labourers and small farm holders in search of some cash land up in the city and Samar in his frames doesn't repeat the story. The appalling inhuman conditions in which the CWG work force lived while they made these state-of-art structures is what the lanky lensman reveals in his photographs.
“The workers were definitely exploited. Laws have been put in place but somehow regulation could have been better. The priority was so much on the infrastructure that they were left at the bottom,” says Jodha, who will showcase this set of pictures at Religare Arts Gallery in Connaught Place soon after the Games are over.
The conditions Jodha documented at the sites of Shivaji Stadium, Sarojini Nagar camp, Siri Fort auditorium, labourer camp in North Campus, authenticate his claims. “In the North Campus camp, at five in the morning, I found mosquitoes floating. They were falling sick. A lot of them were heavily underpaid and didn't know about the minimum wages. There was no monitoring happening. Sarojini Nagar camp was built on a garbage dump and as it rained, the groundwater rose with all the filth and germs in it. They were fed food which was made in awful conditions. I have pictures of that. Tehelka helped me a great deal in the whole project,” says Jodha.
Elsewhere, he found that the rainwater had entered their tin sheds. “Although there was a school at Sarojini Nagar camp, it was of a terrible standard. When you are building massive stadiums, you have the technology, work force, the machinery, it's so easy to create decent housing for the labourers. I can draw a parallel between this and the Delhi Metro. Workers aren't allowed to enter the construction site without a helmet, but here there was no regard for the workers' safety. The contractors would hold back their salaries so that they don't leave. I came across many who were packing their bags to leave,” he says adding that most of the workers were from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
It was an obvious subject for somebody like Jodha who has for long been probing the subject of migrant workers in different parts of the country like tea gardens in the North East. “My work is always about conflict. In this race of consumption and development, some communities are paying a heavy price for it and migrant workers are one of them. They are being marginalised. I call them a silent majority. The idea is not to undermine the CWG and take away from its glory, but it is also important to look at the underbelly,” says Jodha.