Finding work on their minds in election time

A group of workers waits for work at Labour Chowk in Gurugram on Monday.

A group of workers waits for work at Labour Chowk in Gurugram on Monday.   | Photo Credit: MANOJ KUMAR

Hundreds of daily wage labourers talk about hardships faced by them in the city as their wait for ‘acche din’ continues

Small groups of men can be seen approaching any and every vehicle on the Basai Road near Shiv Murti Chowk in Gurugram.

They are the reserve army of the unemployed seeking wages for work that dot the National Capital Region.

At Gurugram’s Labour Chowk, hundreds are awaiting their turn for the day’s employment, which will get them anything between ₹250 to ₹400 and on, “acche din”, a sum of ₹600.

“There are days when we get paid nothing despite working for the entire day. Yahan toh gulaami chal rahi hai,” rues 50-year-old Suresh who is a regular at the Basai Road Labour Chowk for three decades now.

Hailing from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Suresh like the many others have left behind his family in search of employment with the hope of contributing more to the family income.

Unfulfilled promises

“We have small farms back home but there is hardly any substantial income to sustain the entire family. Here we offer our services for various kinds of construction work but sometimes the contractors do not even pay and when we ask for what we deserve, they start hitting us and shoo us away. Gareebo ka koi nahi sunta iss desh main [No one listens to the poor in our country],” he says.

Shafique-ul-Hasan, who hails from Agra and has been a daily wage labourer for five years, adds, “It’s only before election that you will find politicians washing our feet and eating with us. Have you ever seen Narendra Modi meet a single poor person?”

Raj Bahadur, a fellow daily wage earner, says, “Even the ₹15 lakh in our accounts which he promised, has not even reached us. Not even ₹5,000 is in our bank accounts yet.”

For Asha Devi, the need to seek employment began a decade back when the family of six needed an extra helping hand. Since then she has been a regular at the Labour Chowk near the Noida Sector 16 metro station.

‘No identity sans cards’

The Jhansi resident says, “We come here around eight in the morning and wait till noon. If we do not get work then we head back home. There are days when we have to make do with ₹350 a day. What can we say about the government? The BJP government has done nothing for us. While promises are being made about Ayushman Bharat and other schemes, here we are struggling to get our labour cards made without which we have no identity whatsoever.”

Kranti Devi (43) adds, “We hear that there are housing schemes of the government as well. Lekin humara ghar toh waisa ka waisa hi reh gaya [But our houses have remained the same]. We left our villages as the farms had dried up but unfortunately the work here has also dried up.”

On demonetisation

Rajrani, one of the few other women who are seen at the Chowk says, “The demonetisation period destroyed us completely. There was no work and this place was overcrowded with people looking for some source of earning. We could not even leave our spots to drink water fearing that someone else will occupy it. The days were spent by looking for jobs and then at night the men would sleep outside banks.”

For Arpit Tiwari, a Bundelkhand resident and a BSc graduate, uncertainty looms as he has been forced to work as a daily wage labourer after he lost his job two years ago.

“Despite having a degree I have no employment and come to Labour Chowk in search of some employment. Kya faayda vote karne ka agar humara kuch nahi huya toh? [I will not vote as nobody really cares about what is happening to us.]” he asks.

Those at Sevpuri Chowk in Geeta Colony however argue that even though the move disrupted their work “for a few days,” the Prime Minister’s demonetisation move has been beneficial to the country.

“The best thing about Mr. Modi is that woh nah khaatey hain na khaaney detey hain. Look at the Congress government in the past…they were busy in all sorts of corruption. Nobody even cared about us. At least with demonetisation the black money was caught,” says Ramesh Kumar from Uttar Pradesh.

Improved facilities

Sonu Kumar, a Bulandshahr resident, earns anything between ₹500 and ₹1,000 a day by engaging in work related to plumbing, carpentry, painting and so on.

Agreeing to Ramesh Kumar, he adds, “Thanks to the government we have proper toilets in the village. The ambulance service has also become prompt and arrives in five minutes. Pehle kahan tha yeh sab? Just think about it, Modiji went to the extent of attacking Pakistan just for the country. What else do we need? The Gandhis and Yadavs have done nothing for us.”

Migrants on voting

With the general election round the corner do the migrants intend to head home?

When asked, Om Prakash another Uttar Pradesh resident vehemently replies in the affirmative.

“Obviously we will go. It’s just a day and missing out on one day’s work is fine. But it is important to vote into power someone who will work for us,” he says.

However, for Birender Kumar from Nalanda in Bihar, going back home to vote is more than “just a day”.

Paisa hona chahiye na ghar jaane ke liye? How are we to go home if we have no money? There are days when we earn only ₹100-150 despite waiting here the whole day till 6 p.m. The income from the farms is not enough so we have to spent almost our entire lives doing mazdoori. We cannot afford to go back to Bihar just to vote. We need to accumulate whatever little money we get,” says Birender who was found waiting at the Labour Chowk in Okhla Phase II.

Sant Ram (57) from Gorakhpur remarks, “No politician cares about us. Every five years, the government should change. But all we can do is hope that our situation will improve.”

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 3:19:22 PM |

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