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Carrying a heavy burden

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hard work... and not enough wages
hard work... and not enough wages

Meera Srinivasan

For construction workers, each day is a struggle

For Natarajan and Thangamma, a couple employed in construction work, the daily wages are barely enough for survival. . They each make Rs.150 per day; their two children go to high school in Arani, where they hail from.

“We get paid every week and the amount is barely enough for food and our children’s education,” says Natarajan. “We can’t always buy subsidised items at the ration shop, as we are never in the same place. Every time we shift to a new construction site, we have to buy rice and pulses from a shop in the neighbourhood,” says Ms. Thangamma.

Their wages have not gone up in quite a while. “Since cement prices have gone up, contractors tell us that it’s difficult to pay us more. Our entire family relies on this money and we cannot refuse to work for less, unless we can find jobs where the wages are higher."

With Mr. Natarajan’s nearly-80-year-old mother taking care of their children back home, the only thing that seems to be on the couple’s mind is that the children should get an education.

Their daughter Jayalakshmi has passed Class XI, and son Vijayakanth has taken his Class X examination. “They say some answer papers got burnt. I hope my son’s paper is safe, and he passes,” says Mr. Natarajan.

Ms. Thangamma, too, wishes she were able to send her daughter to college. “The girl is determined to pursue her education. But we cannot afford it. With the money we make, it is impossible for her to continue after Class XII."

The day for construction workers begins at 9 a.m. and they finish by 6 p.m. “Apart from food, we sometimes end up spending on medicines or doctors’ fees, as we tend to get injured at work. It is a risky job. Sometimes, your limbs ache terribly and you can’t move,” says Ms. Thangamma.

However, battling fatigue or physical pain is not so much a challenge as trying to stretch the rupee. “If they pay men Rs. 300 and women, Rs.250, we can cope better,” she says.

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