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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

the cold was the last straw

its a cold day here in gurgaon...in the north of India at this time, temperatures hover around freezing point.....the cold winds blow down from the mountains and make things distinctly uncomfortable.

Last night, the guard at our office was telling me about the labour problem here. How the migrant labour from impoverished parts of india is flooding into Delhi and driving labour rates down. The government approved rate for a monthly wage for a labourer in Gurgaon is 2400 rupees. Thats about 50 dollars a month. Now this labourer has come here seeking work, so he can pull his family back home out of starvation. So saving money is a priority for him. Companies here, do not directly employ labour, but rather operate through private contractors.

These contractors, typically pay a labourer about 1500 rupees a month, about $30. The rest of the money stays with them as their profit margin. Its fair, I guess, since they too are in business, and need to make their money. In gurgaon, there are small villages on the outskirts where residents have built rooms. These rooms are about 8 to 10 feet long and wide with a window and door. There is no central heating or electricity apart from a fan and electric bulb. The doors do not fit snugly, the walls are damp, sunlight is rarely seen, air comes in through spaces between the roof and wall. In almost freezing temperatures, with a west wind blowing down as if straight from Afghanistan, this is not so much a room, as a cardboard box. And that too one with holes.

There is a common bathroom and lavatory which is shared by a row of rooms. The same landlord usually also has a grocery shop somewhere nearby. Migrant labour rents these rooms. If you rent a room with an asbestos roof, its 1000 rupees a month, if with a concrete roof its 1200 - 1500 rupees a month. Usually 2-3 labourers share a room. So out of the 1500 they get, they first pay off about 400 rupees as rent. They buy groceries and necessities from the grocery shop on credit and settle when they get their pay. So after paying the rent, they pay the storekeeper. By this time they are pretty much left with nothing. Then comes the task of surviving till the next paycheque. Also some money has to be sent home.

In such a situation, with sometimes the labourers not getting work everyday, things get pretty grim. There isnt much margin for error. An illness, a little indulgence, a theft of a bicycle, the wearing out of shoes or clothes ...all can throw your monthly budget out of balance. Things keep running solely on the amount of overtime pay you can get.

So considering this background, the story the guard told me was not unexpected or unusual. But it is a story, and a short one.

A daily labourer, from Bihar, worked the morning shift in his job. Then he worked the evening shift. He came back to his room at 2 am. Went to sleep. Never got up.

Turns out he didnt have a blanket.

Probably thought of buying one in november, but then that would cost him 300 rupees. So thought, will do it in December, when its colder. Till then lets manage with a couple of old bedsheets. And when it got very cold, it was the end of the month...and so on and so forth. Probably wasnt eating very well too, if u work 16 hours a day, money must be tight. And eating costs money. Since they buy groceries on credit, they usually are overcharged and cheated in terms of quality and weight of goods purchased.

Anyways, our brave little soul, one of the countless migrants to delhi, met a cold end. He didnt have a blanket.

He was a few miles away from my house....but he could have been in another world.

________ - X - X - ______________

an article about the cold and homeless in delhi

6 comments:

AmitKen said...

Cold Naked Truth... thats what comes out of your post.... Sad.. but then thats the kind of world we live in....

AmitKen
http://amitken.wordpress.com

jerrymaguire said...

touching!all i can say. hey by the way r u a roorkiete?so m i!

Sanjukta said...

There is a way out trust me...its just that the way isn't easy..If you wanna help read this link...

http://www.labour.nic.in/dglw/contract_lab.html

talk to the workman there and find out more on the matter...what are the promises made to them by the contractor, what are the labour conditions provided to them by the contractor...the contractors are required to follow certain law, where the contractors doesn't, the principal employer is held responsible...

That's the law, when a law is made but not implemented and the Government doesn't take action against such non implementation...a Petition can be filed in HC/SC against the Government. Fact, You can just write a letter to High court, after having done a little more survey and fact finding...and High Court will take it from there...

And don't come to me saying the courts don't work...I never said the road is easy

@ said...

yup..roorkeeite....u in roorkee jerry?

thanks for your comments Amit.

thanks for the info, sanjukta...do you know any ngo working in this area? Also if you know anyone working on behalf of the farmers and against the WTO let me know.

Ankur said...

I feel had he requested for blankets from his employers,,,they would not have minded that....i also c the issue that he might have taken 2 much of liquor before sleeping and that eventually coupled with the cold to kill him..

@ said...

you are right ankur...the trouble is sometimes that one doesnt really have an employer, with the subcontracting of labour happening. It snaps the traditional link between the factory owner and the factory worker. There is no accountability left.

maybe he was high on alchohol....though from all reports he had worked 17 straight hours till 2 am. he might have had time to knock off a thaili before bedtime. It is a possibility.

I just related the story as I heard it from the guard.

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