Replicas of India gate, Parliament building and Red fort take the centre-stage at the election rally venues of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Supremo Jayalalithaa, signalling her foray into national politics.
And most of those who are engaged in mounting the replicas, cut-outs and barricades are hapless workers, being in the profession for ten to 25 years, purely at the mercy of the contractors. They earn a daily wage of Rs. 300 to Rs. 600, but spend a major portion on food and liquor as they have to stay away from their families.
E. Kathavarayan (43) from north Chennai has been in the job for 25 years and is one of the experts in erecting cut-outs. He and his men were busy giving final touches to the replica of the Indian Parliament building, here on Friday.
Working with a Madurai-based contractor, he earns Rs. 600 a day but spends a bulk of it, Rs. 400 on food and liquor. He consumes two ‘quarters’ a day – “one during the day to work and another at night to sleep beating the mosquito bites,” he confides.
His son and two daughters are studying in a Corporation School in Chennai and the contractor had remitted Rs. 5,000 to his family last week, says Kathavarayan. The amount would be deducted from his salary, he says. “We worked in Karaikudi and after this, we will move to Tiruchi,” he added.
Like him, more than 300 workers camped at the venue are involved in different tasks, from readying the helipad, laying roads to erecting the barricades. A few contractors have brought cooks and supplied food to the workers at the site while other workers depend on nearby hotels.
K. Sekar (48) is working with a Paramakudi-based contractor, who was entrusted with the job of erecting 30 ‘tower cut-outs’ of Ms Jayalalithaa. He too has been in the work for 25 years and his lifestyle is no different from Kathavarayan’s.
R. Azhagar (30), engaged in erecting ‘tower cut-outs’ is a third generation worker. A fifth class dropout, he took to this job at the tender age of 10, after his father broke his leg in an accident. His younger brother, a Class X dropout was also roped in for the same work. “Most of us take liquor to beat the body pain and get ready for next day’s work,” he mused.
At least a dozen contractors have brought their men to work virtually round the clock to set the stage ready for the Chief Minister’s rally here on Saturday. The workers take a day’s break to visit their families on the rally day. They come back the next day to remove the structures and move to another venue, for another rally.