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PUCL lauds Rajasthan CM for announcing that no manual scavengers will enter sewers

On July 6, 2020, Ashok Gehlot had asked district authorities to make sure that all sewer cleaning work be done by machines

14 Jul 2020

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has lauded the Rajasthan Government’s decision where it announced that no sanitary worker will enter into sewerage or septic tanks for manual cleaning and that all such work would henceforth be carried out by machines.

On July 6, 2020, the Rajasthan government appreciated the work of sanitation workers in the curbing of the coronavirus infection in the state and asked district magistrates and municipal authorities to ensure that no sanitation worker enters septic pits for cleaning. In the video conference conducted with public representatives of urban bodies and sanitation bodies Gehlot had said, “This work should be done entirely by machines. It should be ensured that nobody loses their life due to entering into a septic tank.”

PUCL said that the state government’s decision was very commendable and a great victory of the safai karamchari movement. It added, “Of these, we consider the safai karamchari movement run by Prakash Kardale (Hadale) in Rajasthan and the movement run by Bezwada Wilson run at the national level, the Safai Karamchari Andolan, a great success.”

It has also urged the state government authorities to take urgent action on Gehlot’s words by purchasing essential equipment for the same, lest it become just another declaration on a piece of paper.

It must be noted that a 2014 Supreme Court judgement in the matter, prohibits anyone from working in sewers or septic tanks. If it has to be done in case of an emergency, it can only be allowed with the use of adequate safety gear like facemasks, goggles, gloves, safety belt, etc. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 also prohibits the manual cleaning of sewers without protective equipment, the violation of which is punishable by imprisonment and fine or both.

As per data made available on the National Safai Karamchari Commission website, from 1993 to July 5 2019, around 38 people have lost their lives from working with sewers in the state. In a 2018 survey by the Central government, as many as 7,381 people registered themselves as manual scavengers, but only 2,590 (35%) were identified by the state, The Wire reported. Even this more than a three-fold rise, from 338 workers in 2013. It was also reported that of all those sanitation workers who lost their lives cleaning sewers between 1993 and 2019, families of only eight workers received the full compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each as set by the Supreme Court.

On July 8, 2020, two days after the government announced the decision, The Times of India reported Conveyor of NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan Prakash Hadale as saying, “These declarations have been made many times in the past but nothing has been done on ground level. Though manual scavenging is illegal as per law the practice is still prevalent in the state. The Safai Karamchari Commission which is supposed to monitor such activities, is defunct since assembly elections. Many private bodies are employing sanitation workers to go down in manholes for cleaning but the government has no control over them.”

Hence, while the decision is appreciative, what remains to be seen if it will still be implemented on ground, especially during this trying time.

Related:

Sanitation & Justice: Classify Sanitation Workers as Health Workers
Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India's manual scavengers
Stop killing us in sewers and septic tanks: Bezwada Wilson

PUCL lauds Rajasthan CM for announcing that no manual scavengers will enter sewers

On July 6, 2020, Ashok Gehlot had asked district authorities to make sure that all sewer cleaning work be done by machines

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has lauded the Rajasthan Government’s decision where it announced that no sanitary worker will enter into sewerage or septic tanks for manual cleaning and that all such work would henceforth be carried out by machines.

On July 6, 2020, the Rajasthan government appreciated the work of sanitation workers in the curbing of the coronavirus infection in the state and asked district magistrates and municipal authorities to ensure that no sanitation worker enters septic pits for cleaning. In the video conference conducted with public representatives of urban bodies and sanitation bodies Gehlot had said, “This work should be done entirely by machines. It should be ensured that nobody loses their life due to entering into a septic tank.”

PUCL said that the state government’s decision was very commendable and a great victory of the safai karamchari movement. It added, “Of these, we consider the safai karamchari movement run by Prakash Kardale (Hadale) in Rajasthan and the movement run by Bezwada Wilson run at the national level, the Safai Karamchari Andolan, a great success.”

It has also urged the state government authorities to take urgent action on Gehlot’s words by purchasing essential equipment for the same, lest it become just another declaration on a piece of paper.

It must be noted that a 2014 Supreme Court judgement in the matter, prohibits anyone from working in sewers or septic tanks. If it has to be done in case of an emergency, it can only be allowed with the use of adequate safety gear like facemasks, goggles, gloves, safety belt, etc. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 also prohibits the manual cleaning of sewers without protective equipment, the violation of which is punishable by imprisonment and fine or both.

As per data made available on the National Safai Karamchari Commission website, from 1993 to July 5 2019, around 38 people have lost their lives from working with sewers in the state. In a 2018 survey by the Central government, as many as 7,381 people registered themselves as manual scavengers, but only 2,590 (35%) were identified by the state, The Wire reported. Even this more than a three-fold rise, from 338 workers in 2013. It was also reported that of all those sanitation workers who lost their lives cleaning sewers between 1993 and 2019, families of only eight workers received the full compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each as set by the Supreme Court.

On July 8, 2020, two days after the government announced the decision, The Times of India reported Conveyor of NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan Prakash Hadale as saying, “These declarations have been made many times in the past but nothing has been done on ground level. Though manual scavenging is illegal as per law the practice is still prevalent in the state. The Safai Karamchari Commission which is supposed to monitor such activities, is defunct since assembly elections. Many private bodies are employing sanitation workers to go down in manholes for cleaning but the government has no control over them.”

Hence, while the decision is appreciative, what remains to be seen if it will still be implemented on ground, especially during this trying time.

Related:

Sanitation & Justice: Classify Sanitation Workers as Health Workers
Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India's manual scavengers
Stop killing us in sewers and septic tanks: Bezwada Wilson

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Fishing for trouble, or troubling the fishworkers?

A Draft National Fisheries Policy has been made public even as the fishworkers continue to struggle in the pandemic

08 Jul 2020

Image Courtesy:hindkisan.com

The first ever Draft National Fisheries Policy 2020 is not in favour of fishing communities, nor will it help for protecting the oceans and coast, say fishworkers who will be directly impacted, but have not even been consulted. Most of them cannot even access the policy online, and even if they manage to, they cannot read it as the draft is available only in English and Hindi, not the first languages for lakhs who live and work on India’s coastline. 

The National Fishworkers Forum has decoded the massive document and analysed the draft threadbare in a nationwide virtual consultation held last week. Around 81 community representatives, policy experts, and union leaders connected from all the coastal  states, and from Delhi. The policy analysis papers were presented by community leaders V. Vivekandan, Pradip Chatterjee and Jesuratinam Christy,  Narendra Patil and T Peter, of the NFFF.

The exhaustive analysis unearthed a number of gaps in the draft policy which was meant to have a people centric and participatory approach. At the outset the NFF pointed out that the Ministry of Fisheries has published a policy draft on the National Fisheries Development Boards website, without seeking comments from the stakeholders. “The policy has been uploaded in the midst of the pandemic when the trade unions were busy helping out to bring back the migrant fishworkers back to their native places. It is even more appalling that the policy has not been uploaded on the Ministry of the Fisheries website.” stated the NFF which has also submitted a memorandum to the Ministry asking that the deadline (originally June 15 then extended for a while)  for comments be extended further, and the policy be translated into the regional languages as well. “There is no translation in the regional languages at all, how will fishworkers read the draft,” asked T Peter.

According to V Vivekandan of FishMarc, there are various contradictions in the policy which appear in the productive integration of fisheries and economic sectors, such as agriculture, coastal development, tourism and blue economy. 

The top concerns flagged by the unions are:

Policy Claims: There is centre-state and inter-state cooperation with special emphasis on traditional and Small Scale Fisheries.

NFF says: This is not the case when the policy is analysed. This policy establishes the National Marine Fisheries Authority. It is not clear how will states continue to have powers under this setup. According to the Policy, this Authority will implement fisheries management plans over both territorial waters as well as Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ), which extends further beyond the coastal waters.

Policy Claims: Analysed  the entire fisheries sector, and capture fisheries is substantial.

NFF says: There is an under exploited resource of 30%. The draft does not mention  Maximum Sustainable Yield [MSY] calculation that its calculations are based on.

Policy Claims: Artisanal fishermen contribute only 2% of total fish catch.

NFF says: Terms like Traditional fishers, Small Scale Fishers (SSF), mechanised, motorised and artisanal are kept ambiguous, and are overlapping in the draft policy.  This is a ploy to dismantle the SSF which are marine fisheries dependent, by assuming that they are not “doing well”. This way they can be moved, rather displaced, to seek other livelihoods. The policy makes tall claims of raising the potential of mariculture production from four million to eight million tonne. 

Marine Culture Vs, Marine Capture

The policy puts an emphasis on making fisheries move to mariculture. They say that marine capture fisheries are economically risky. The draft does not offer any clarity on how the fisheries management works in a Centre-state equation of cooperative federalism. With local fishing communities sidelined, it can even lead to “privatisation of the ocean” as it were. Big private companies will ‘own’ oceanic areas where only their large boats will be allowed. A scary scenario for the smaller fisher communities. 

The rationale of this draft says the NFF is to “double income, double exports, blue growth initiative,” but not for the community, the mention of commitments to sustainable development goals is vague at best. 

At the virtual consultation, Jesuretinam of the  NFF highlighted that  women fishworkers were almost “invisible” in the policy, barely mentioned five times in the entire policy draft. “There are many women who engage in capture fisheries in both marine, backwaters, estuaries and inland, but there is no mention of them. To make things worse, the government also does not have comprehensive data on women who are in the fisheries sector,” she said.  

The policy aims at the rationale of schemes which has been envisioned in the Pradan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana which is largely shrimp culture and mariculture, says NFF. These are components of fisheries management. There is a thrust on culture fisheries and does not engage Small Scale fisheries. 

“They have neglected the traditional knowledge of fishworkers in this policy and there is nothing on their rights. Development without rights will lead to eviction of fishworkers from their livelihood,” said Pradip Chatterjee from the National Platform of Small scale fishworkers (Inland).

The NFF states that “the main drive of this policy is earnings, rather than that food security.” The omission of capture fisheries in the inland sector is another cause of worry. With rivers and wetlands so polluted,  that inland fishworkers can barely make ends meet, this is a big reason why they become migrant fishworkers and go work in other states. The draft policy does not secure their tenure rights either. Fish farmers, especially migrants, work under verbal agreements and understanding.  There is no support from the government in case of a dispute. The draft also does not mention fish vendors, especially in the domestic market  and distribution. 

“Fish farmers are being treated as a single homogenous group,” stated the NFF,  “the definition of artisanal or small scale fish worker is also not clear.”

The National Fishworkers Forum has decided to hold discussions with fishing communities across the coastal states, and has urged the Ministry of Fisheries to delay the draft policy till all stakeholders are consulted. Before everything else, the NFF has demanded that the draft  be immediately translated into regional languages so the fishing community can read and respond to the biggest policy document that can alter their lives for years to come.

National Fisheries Policy 2020 can be read here:

Related:
 

I don't have 100 dollars to reach the port: Indian fisherman in Iran
“If the fish dies it is GDP. If fisherman dies its ex gratia”
Government risking lives of fishermen by letting them venture into rough seas?

 

Fishing for trouble, or troubling the fishworkers?

A Draft National Fisheries Policy has been made public even as the fishworkers continue to struggle in the pandemic

Image Courtesy:hindkisan.com

The first ever Draft National Fisheries Policy 2020 is not in favour of fishing communities, nor will it help for protecting the oceans and coast, say fishworkers who will be directly impacted, but have not even been consulted. Most of them cannot even access the policy online, and even if they manage to, they cannot read it as the draft is available only in English and Hindi, not the first languages for lakhs who live and work on India’s coastline. 

The National Fishworkers Forum has decoded the massive document and analysed the draft threadbare in a nationwide virtual consultation held last week. Around 81 community representatives, policy experts, and union leaders connected from all the coastal  states, and from Delhi. The policy analysis papers were presented by community leaders V. Vivekandan, Pradip Chatterjee and Jesuratinam Christy,  Narendra Patil and T Peter, of the NFFF.

The exhaustive analysis unearthed a number of gaps in the draft policy which was meant to have a people centric and participatory approach. At the outset the NFF pointed out that the Ministry of Fisheries has published a policy draft on the National Fisheries Development Boards website, without seeking comments from the stakeholders. “The policy has been uploaded in the midst of the pandemic when the trade unions were busy helping out to bring back the migrant fishworkers back to their native places. It is even more appalling that the policy has not been uploaded on the Ministry of the Fisheries website.” stated the NFF which has also submitted a memorandum to the Ministry asking that the deadline (originally June 15 then extended for a while)  for comments be extended further, and the policy be translated into the regional languages as well. “There is no translation in the regional languages at all, how will fishworkers read the draft,” asked T Peter.

According to V Vivekandan of FishMarc, there are various contradictions in the policy which appear in the productive integration of fisheries and economic sectors, such as agriculture, coastal development, tourism and blue economy. 

The top concerns flagged by the unions are:

Policy Claims: There is centre-state and inter-state cooperation with special emphasis on traditional and Small Scale Fisheries.

NFF says: This is not the case when the policy is analysed. This policy establishes the National Marine Fisheries Authority. It is not clear how will states continue to have powers under this setup. According to the Policy, this Authority will implement fisheries management plans over both territorial waters as well as Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ), which extends further beyond the coastal waters.

Policy Claims: Analysed  the entire fisheries sector, and capture fisheries is substantial.

NFF says: There is an under exploited resource of 30%. The draft does not mention  Maximum Sustainable Yield [MSY] calculation that its calculations are based on.

Policy Claims: Artisanal fishermen contribute only 2% of total fish catch.

NFF says: Terms like Traditional fishers, Small Scale Fishers (SSF), mechanised, motorised and artisanal are kept ambiguous, and are overlapping in the draft policy.  This is a ploy to dismantle the SSF which are marine fisheries dependent, by assuming that they are not “doing well”. This way they can be moved, rather displaced, to seek other livelihoods. The policy makes tall claims of raising the potential of mariculture production from four million to eight million tonne. 

Marine Culture Vs, Marine Capture

The policy puts an emphasis on making fisheries move to mariculture. They say that marine capture fisheries are economically risky. The draft does not offer any clarity on how the fisheries management works in a Centre-state equation of cooperative federalism. With local fishing communities sidelined, it can even lead to “privatisation of the ocean” as it were. Big private companies will ‘own’ oceanic areas where only their large boats will be allowed. A scary scenario for the smaller fisher communities. 

The rationale of this draft says the NFF is to “double income, double exports, blue growth initiative,” but not for the community, the mention of commitments to sustainable development goals is vague at best. 

At the virtual consultation, Jesuretinam of the  NFF highlighted that  women fishworkers were almost “invisible” in the policy, barely mentioned five times in the entire policy draft. “There are many women who engage in capture fisheries in both marine, backwaters, estuaries and inland, but there is no mention of them. To make things worse, the government also does not have comprehensive data on women who are in the fisheries sector,” she said.  

The policy aims at the rationale of schemes which has been envisioned in the Pradan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana which is largely shrimp culture and mariculture, says NFF. These are components of fisheries management. There is a thrust on culture fisheries and does not engage Small Scale fisheries. 

“They have neglected the traditional knowledge of fishworkers in this policy and there is nothing on their rights. Development without rights will lead to eviction of fishworkers from their livelihood,” said Pradip Chatterjee from the National Platform of Small scale fishworkers (Inland).

The NFF states that “the main drive of this policy is earnings, rather than that food security.” The omission of capture fisheries in the inland sector is another cause of worry. With rivers and wetlands so polluted,  that inland fishworkers can barely make ends meet, this is a big reason why they become migrant fishworkers and go work in other states. The draft policy does not secure their tenure rights either. Fish farmers, especially migrants, work under verbal agreements and understanding.  There is no support from the government in case of a dispute. The draft also does not mention fish vendors, especially in the domestic market  and distribution. 

“Fish farmers are being treated as a single homogenous group,” stated the NFF,  “the definition of artisanal or small scale fish worker is also not clear.”

The National Fishworkers Forum has decided to hold discussions with fishing communities across the coastal states, and has urged the Ministry of Fisheries to delay the draft policy till all stakeholders are consulted. Before everything else, the NFF has demanded that the draft  be immediately translated into regional languages so the fishing community can read and respond to the biggest policy document that can alter their lives for years to come.

National Fisheries Policy 2020 can be read here:

Related:
 

I don't have 100 dollars to reach the port: Indian fisherman in Iran
“If the fish dies it is GDP. If fisherman dies its ex gratia”
Government risking lives of fishermen by letting them venture into rough seas?

 

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Bihar: Migrants scrounge for food and jobs; BJP announces schemes to woo them for elections

An estimated 32 lakh migrants who have returned to the state during the lockdown are still to get jobs

07 Jul 2020

migrant workers

“Hunger and unemployment will kill us, if not the coronavirus” – this one sentence echoed throughout the past 3 months of India’s fight against the pandemic as migrants were left out of the fold of care by the government. The helplessness of not finding a way out was reflected in a recent incident in which Sikandar Yadav (32), a migrant, died by suicide at his hometown in Bihar after hanging himself from a tree near an unused college building in Bihar’s Mednipur village, The Telegraph Online reported.

Sikandar had returned to Bihar from Delhi, where he worked as a machine operator in a jeans factory. The lockdown had cost him his job and he had endured a 1,000 km journey some of it on foot and some through truck rides to get back home. What kept him going was the hope of finding some job in his village which would help him and his family get by. However, his hope had slowly started ebbing during the 14-day institutional quarantine where there was poor food and accommodation. However, what probably kept his hopes up was that he would find a job soon, but his luck cheated him there too, The Telegraph Online reported.

Sikandar, who was unmarried, lived with his mother, elder brother and the elder brother’s wife and children. Out of the eight members, only 3 had ration cards. They shared the house with another brother and didn’t own any land. Sikandar’s brothers who worked as day labourers had also lost their jobs during the lockdown

Sikandar’s uncle Akshay Lal Yadav said that Sikandar probably lost out as he wasn’t used to doing hard labour. However, there are many like Sikandar whose hopes are hanging by a thread.

Munna Sheikh, who left Bihar to work in Mumbai, had to return home during the lockdown. Speaking to Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), he said, “Currently I am under home quarantine. The situation here is the same as it is in Mumbai. In Mumbai at least there were people who distributed food, fruits, rations to us, but here we have to survive on our own,” says Shaikh wondering if he did the right thing by leaving Mumbai. “The Sarpanch is saying we haven’t got anything yet from the government so how can we help you?”

Another migrant, Ganesh Yadav told CJP that he didn’t own farmland and that he couldn’t rely on relatives for the rest of the lockdown. A cook, Yadav didn’t know if he would get a job in Patna or would have to return to Mumbai to earn and ensure the safety of his family.

Speaking to NDTV, a migrant from a quarantine centre in Bihar’s Sonepur blamed the CM for not providing enough jobs in the state due to which people had to look for jobs outside. Another migrant who was on his back to Surat where he was working before the lockdown told NDTV that not everyone got jobs through MNREGA. He said, “We looked for alternatives but realized options are limited - either die from hunger or coronavirus".

The Telegraph Online reported that Sikandar’s suicide came nine days after PM Modi launched the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana for 6 states from Bihar, a NGREGA like scheme, to provide employment to an estimated 67 lakh returned migrants.

The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar had announced that it had undertaken the skill mapping of at least 16 lakh migrants and found that out of these 8.40 lakh have been identified as construction workers, 57,000 tailors, 41,000 carpenters, 4,000 food processing workers and 1,400 handicraft workers among others. Though the government has said that people would receive job alerts on their mobile phones, it is unclear whether jobs have been made available or when the recruitment process will start, The Telegraph Online reported. It also said that the NDA government in Bihar claimed that two lakh people were given new NREGA job cards, but reports say that those having job cards also find it difficult to find a job.

Down to Earth had reported that the PM’s announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana from Bihar was nothing but a poll tactic. As per the scheme, migrant workers are set to get one-time employment for 125 days, but it does nothing for those already unemployed. If one does the math, the scheme, being started at a cost of Rs. 50 crore will only get each migrant Rs. 76.

Not just this, the extension of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme extended till November 2020 also arouses suspicion. The extension is till the end of November, which is also the peak of the Hindu festive season with Diwali, and Chhath Puja. The Chhath Puja is celebrated six days after Diwali with great fervour in Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh, and also in states where people of Bihari origin live. This year the Chhath Puja is said to be on November 20. Coincidentally, the Bihar elections may also be held by late October-Early November, as the current state government’s term ends on November 29, Sabrang India had reported.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

Many have said these announcements by the PM are only to placate the anger of the migrants and woo them for the Bihar elections. The mention of Chhath Puja, which is widely celebrated by the people of Bihar across the country is the first indicator. The announcement of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and the announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana from Bihar are other indicators. The issue of migrant employment, which he takes up with the ‘One Nation. One Ration Card Scheme’, is the next indicator. To amplify this message, the BJP IT cell has appointed 9,500 IT cell heads at each Shakti Kendra in Bihar and formed more than 72,000 WhatsApp groups to inform voters about the initiatives of the party, The Print reported.

With these trump cards in hand and the digital infrastructure to boot, will the NDA woo the migrants who are running back to the cities to work at a lower pay as there are no jobs at home?


Related:

Modi announces free grains for poor till Chhath Puja, 'One nation one ration card'

 

Bihar: Migrants scrounge for food and jobs; BJP announces schemes to woo them for elections

An estimated 32 lakh migrants who have returned to the state during the lockdown are still to get jobs

migrant workers

“Hunger and unemployment will kill us, if not the coronavirus” – this one sentence echoed throughout the past 3 months of India’s fight against the pandemic as migrants were left out of the fold of care by the government. The helplessness of not finding a way out was reflected in a recent incident in which Sikandar Yadav (32), a migrant, died by suicide at his hometown in Bihar after hanging himself from a tree near an unused college building in Bihar’s Mednipur village, The Telegraph Online reported.

Sikandar had returned to Bihar from Delhi, where he worked as a machine operator in a jeans factory. The lockdown had cost him his job and he had endured a 1,000 km journey some of it on foot and some through truck rides to get back home. What kept him going was the hope of finding some job in his village which would help him and his family get by. However, his hope had slowly started ebbing during the 14-day institutional quarantine where there was poor food and accommodation. However, what probably kept his hopes up was that he would find a job soon, but his luck cheated him there too, The Telegraph Online reported.

Sikandar, who was unmarried, lived with his mother, elder brother and the elder brother’s wife and children. Out of the eight members, only 3 had ration cards. They shared the house with another brother and didn’t own any land. Sikandar’s brothers who worked as day labourers had also lost their jobs during the lockdown

Sikandar’s uncle Akshay Lal Yadav said that Sikandar probably lost out as he wasn’t used to doing hard labour. However, there are many like Sikandar whose hopes are hanging by a thread.

Munna Sheikh, who left Bihar to work in Mumbai, had to return home during the lockdown. Speaking to Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), he said, “Currently I am under home quarantine. The situation here is the same as it is in Mumbai. In Mumbai at least there were people who distributed food, fruits, rations to us, but here we have to survive on our own,” says Shaikh wondering if he did the right thing by leaving Mumbai. “The Sarpanch is saying we haven’t got anything yet from the government so how can we help you?”

Another migrant, Ganesh Yadav told CJP that he didn’t own farmland and that he couldn’t rely on relatives for the rest of the lockdown. A cook, Yadav didn’t know if he would get a job in Patna or would have to return to Mumbai to earn and ensure the safety of his family.

Speaking to NDTV, a migrant from a quarantine centre in Bihar’s Sonepur blamed the CM for not providing enough jobs in the state due to which people had to look for jobs outside. Another migrant who was on his back to Surat where he was working before the lockdown told NDTV that not everyone got jobs through MNREGA. He said, “We looked for alternatives but realized options are limited - either die from hunger or coronavirus".

The Telegraph Online reported that Sikandar’s suicide came nine days after PM Modi launched the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana for 6 states from Bihar, a NGREGA like scheme, to provide employment to an estimated 67 lakh returned migrants.

The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar had announced that it had undertaken the skill mapping of at least 16 lakh migrants and found that out of these 8.40 lakh have been identified as construction workers, 57,000 tailors, 41,000 carpenters, 4,000 food processing workers and 1,400 handicraft workers among others. Though the government has said that people would receive job alerts on their mobile phones, it is unclear whether jobs have been made available or when the recruitment process will start, The Telegraph Online reported. It also said that the NDA government in Bihar claimed that two lakh people were given new NREGA job cards, but reports say that those having job cards also find it difficult to find a job.

Down to Earth had reported that the PM’s announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana from Bihar was nothing but a poll tactic. As per the scheme, migrant workers are set to get one-time employment for 125 days, but it does nothing for those already unemployed. If one does the math, the scheme, being started at a cost of Rs. 50 crore will only get each migrant Rs. 76.

Not just this, the extension of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme extended till November 2020 also arouses suspicion. The extension is till the end of November, which is also the peak of the Hindu festive season with Diwali, and Chhath Puja. The Chhath Puja is celebrated six days after Diwali with great fervour in Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh, and also in states where people of Bihari origin live. This year the Chhath Puja is said to be on November 20. Coincidentally, the Bihar elections may also be held by late October-Early November, as the current state government’s term ends on November 29, Sabrang India had reported.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

Many have said these announcements by the PM are only to placate the anger of the migrants and woo them for the Bihar elections. The mention of Chhath Puja, which is widely celebrated by the people of Bihar across the country is the first indicator. The announcement of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and the announcement of the PM Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana from Bihar are other indicators. The issue of migrant employment, which he takes up with the ‘One Nation. One Ration Card Scheme’, is the next indicator. To amplify this message, the BJP IT cell has appointed 9,500 IT cell heads at each Shakti Kendra in Bihar and formed more than 72,000 WhatsApp groups to inform voters about the initiatives of the party, The Print reported.

With these trump cards in hand and the digital infrastructure to boot, will the NDA woo the migrants who are running back to the cities to work at a lower pay as there are no jobs at home?


Related:

Modi announces free grains for poor till Chhath Puja, 'One nation one ration card'

 

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Migrant Diaries: The story of Zia ul Sheikh

“I am scared to return to Mumbai because you never know what will happen next,” a goldsmith from West Bengal hopes he can find work in his home state

04 Jul 2020

Migrant diaries

Zia ul Sheikh, a skilled goldsmith, is back home in Birbhum. The 32-year-old loves the clean air and green spaces of Harishpur village, where he was born and lived for 20 years. This is where he got married and now lives in a home full of love and care with his parents, wife and two young boys.

“My firstborn is five-years-old and the little one is just one-year-old,” says the proud father who has enrolled the elder one in an “English-medium private school.” He credits his wife for all that she does for the family, and especially the children’s education. “She looks after all of us. She is very caring and at the same time she is strict about the children’s studies, so that they stay on track,” he says feeling relieved that even under the lockdown when the schools are closed, his little lad studies at home. 

“My father is a farmer and grows all the vegetables we use, he has made sure there is food on our plates even in this lockdown and we don’t have to depend on anyone,” Sheikh is a proud son too. But all the love, home grown vegetables, and fresh air will not pay the bills, and Sheikh says he wants to start earning again and save money. “At the moment I am trying to look for some work anywhere in West Bengal, so that we will have some money if needed in an emergency,” he says wisely cognizant of the possibility of sudden future requirements.

The biggest lesson he has learnt in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic is this: Always be prepared for the worst. He is still shocked by how quickly the situation changed in Mumbai where he worked. “I had reached the city just two days before lockdown was suddenly announced. I thought it would last for maybe 14-days or so. My fellow workers and I had enough food stocked to last us till then, so we were not too worried. But the Coronavirus spread like fire, and the government extended the lockdown. That too suddenly,” he remembers the panic that began to creep in then.

“Soon enough we were struggling for food, and had to seek help,” he says they approached many organizations for ration but only got a response from Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and a Bengal organization. “We got enough rations for an entire April month, and sometimes also got packets of cooked food from some people. It was only because of all this help from various places that we managed to survive in this lockdown,” he says grateful for the generosity of strangers that taught him the other big lesson: Seek help when needed, and give help when possible.

ZIA UL SHEIKH WEARS A MASK AS HE FEARS HE WILL OTHERWISE CATCH COVID-19

 Once the emergency train schedules were announced Sheikh and his group filled the travel forms. “We got a call after ten days from the police station. They told us to get ready to board the next train to West Bengal from Mumbai CSMT. On May 17 we went to Pydhonie Police Station and a thermal screening was done before we were taken to the railway station,” he says. The sight there was overwhelming for Sheikh, “There were so many migrant workers standing in queues, looking so happy to be given a chance to reach their villages. We boarded the train systematically; all the IDs were checked.” The next development surprised him even more, “We were each given two masks, two parathas with pickle, a biscuit packet and a water bottle. I was so happy when I got my seat, we all were maintaining proper distance from each other and all of us were wearing masks.”

Sheikh who has lived in Mumbai for over 12 years, says he was one of the lucky ones who seemed to have the best experience on these Shramik Special Trains. “During the journey we were given biscuits, bananas and water. No ‘real’ food was provided but I did not care. I was happy to be headed home. We reached Murarai Railway Station the next day, and had thermal screening done, we were told to be in home quarantine for 14 days,” a new term that Sheikh says he obeyed like the law. “My home is close to the railway station so I walked back and followed all the instructions. I did not step out for 14 days,” he says. He was grateful to be home but waves of sorrow rose whenever he thought of the thousands of others who had to take uncomfortable truck rises, or worse walk for hundreds of miles to reach home. His quarantine is long over, and he is keeping busy helping at home while searching for a job. 

He also misses his workplace at Zaveri Bazaar, in Bhuleshwar Mumbai. He has been working here since the day he first came to Mumbai. “I earn around Rs 15,000 per month and manage to send almost Rs 9000 back to my family. I stayed with five roommates, all of us are from West Bengal, and we would divide the rent of Rs 11,500 per month among ourselves,” he says describing how things were going fine and every year Sheikh would visit his family in the village for two months. This schedule may have now been reversed, fears Sheikh, “I hear in the news that the situation is getting serious every day as the number of cases are increasing. I got a call from Mumbai that work has started, I want to go but I am scared because Mumbai has most cases,” he says. “My wife is also not allowing me to go, so I guess we will have to wait for the official announcement of a normal situation,” says Sheikh.

ZIA UL SHEIKH HOPES TO FIND WORK IN HIS HOME STATE

He does not want to complain now. He is home, there is food to eat, family to talk to and rations of grain from the government. “Everything is fine here, and I don’t want to go and get myself in trouble, because no one can predict what will happen in Mumbai next. I will wait till the situation is normal.” 

 

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: Sagar Ali

Migrant Diaries: Makar Behara

Migrant Diaries: Atiur Rehman

Migrant Diaries: The story of Zia ul Sheikh

“I am scared to return to Mumbai because you never know what will happen next,” a goldsmith from West Bengal hopes he can find work in his home state

Migrant diaries

Zia ul Sheikh, a skilled goldsmith, is back home in Birbhum. The 32-year-old loves the clean air and green spaces of Harishpur village, where he was born and lived for 20 years. This is where he got married and now lives in a home full of love and care with his parents, wife and two young boys.

“My firstborn is five-years-old and the little one is just one-year-old,” says the proud father who has enrolled the elder one in an “English-medium private school.” He credits his wife for all that she does for the family, and especially the children’s education. “She looks after all of us. She is very caring and at the same time she is strict about the children’s studies, so that they stay on track,” he says feeling relieved that even under the lockdown when the schools are closed, his little lad studies at home. 

“My father is a farmer and grows all the vegetables we use, he has made sure there is food on our plates even in this lockdown and we don’t have to depend on anyone,” Sheikh is a proud son too. But all the love, home grown vegetables, and fresh air will not pay the bills, and Sheikh says he wants to start earning again and save money. “At the moment I am trying to look for some work anywhere in West Bengal, so that we will have some money if needed in an emergency,” he says wisely cognizant of the possibility of sudden future requirements.

The biggest lesson he has learnt in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic is this: Always be prepared for the worst. He is still shocked by how quickly the situation changed in Mumbai where he worked. “I had reached the city just two days before lockdown was suddenly announced. I thought it would last for maybe 14-days or so. My fellow workers and I had enough food stocked to last us till then, so we were not too worried. But the Coronavirus spread like fire, and the government extended the lockdown. That too suddenly,” he remembers the panic that began to creep in then.

“Soon enough we were struggling for food, and had to seek help,” he says they approached many organizations for ration but only got a response from Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and a Bengal organization. “We got enough rations for an entire April month, and sometimes also got packets of cooked food from some people. It was only because of all this help from various places that we managed to survive in this lockdown,” he says grateful for the generosity of strangers that taught him the other big lesson: Seek help when needed, and give help when possible.

ZIA UL SHEIKH WEARS A MASK AS HE FEARS HE WILL OTHERWISE CATCH COVID-19

 Once the emergency train schedules were announced Sheikh and his group filled the travel forms. “We got a call after ten days from the police station. They told us to get ready to board the next train to West Bengal from Mumbai CSMT. On May 17 we went to Pydhonie Police Station and a thermal screening was done before we were taken to the railway station,” he says. The sight there was overwhelming for Sheikh, “There were so many migrant workers standing in queues, looking so happy to be given a chance to reach their villages. We boarded the train systematically; all the IDs were checked.” The next development surprised him even more, “We were each given two masks, two parathas with pickle, a biscuit packet and a water bottle. I was so happy when I got my seat, we all were maintaining proper distance from each other and all of us were wearing masks.”

Sheikh who has lived in Mumbai for over 12 years, says he was one of the lucky ones who seemed to have the best experience on these Shramik Special Trains. “During the journey we were given biscuits, bananas and water. No ‘real’ food was provided but I did not care. I was happy to be headed home. We reached Murarai Railway Station the next day, and had thermal screening done, we were told to be in home quarantine for 14 days,” a new term that Sheikh says he obeyed like the law. “My home is close to the railway station so I walked back and followed all the instructions. I did not step out for 14 days,” he says. He was grateful to be home but waves of sorrow rose whenever he thought of the thousands of others who had to take uncomfortable truck rises, or worse walk for hundreds of miles to reach home. His quarantine is long over, and he is keeping busy helping at home while searching for a job. 

He also misses his workplace at Zaveri Bazaar, in Bhuleshwar Mumbai. He has been working here since the day he first came to Mumbai. “I earn around Rs 15,000 per month and manage to send almost Rs 9000 back to my family. I stayed with five roommates, all of us are from West Bengal, and we would divide the rent of Rs 11,500 per month among ourselves,” he says describing how things were going fine and every year Sheikh would visit his family in the village for two months. This schedule may have now been reversed, fears Sheikh, “I hear in the news that the situation is getting serious every day as the number of cases are increasing. I got a call from Mumbai that work has started, I want to go but I am scared because Mumbai has most cases,” he says. “My wife is also not allowing me to go, so I guess we will have to wait for the official announcement of a normal situation,” says Sheikh.

ZIA UL SHEIKH HOPES TO FIND WORK IN HIS HOME STATE

He does not want to complain now. He is home, there is food to eat, family to talk to and rations of grain from the government. “Everything is fine here, and I don’t want to go and get myself in trouble, because no one can predict what will happen in Mumbai next. I will wait till the situation is normal.” 

 

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: Sagar Ali

Migrant Diaries: Makar Behara

Migrant Diaries: Atiur Rehman

Related Articles


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Sabrang

Trade unions launch nationwide protest Centre’s anti-worker policies

Protests were held across the country and supported by the working class of India

04 Jul 2020

CITU

A joint action committee of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) came together to hold nation-wide protests against draconian changes in labour laws, privatisation of government departments and PSUs and for rights of unorganized sector workers. Members of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hindu Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) among others observed Nationwide Protest Day on July 3, 2020 throughout the country, in all workplaces and centres as a united struggles of Non-Cooperation and Defiance to anti-worker, anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-national policies of the Govt. The action programmes were reportedly organised in almost one lakh places in all states in all workplaces, union offices, on roads and streets.

Protests took place at the Shram Shakti Bhawan in New Delhi, at a Vizag steel plant, a motorcycle rally was taken out in Punjab and demonstrations were held in over 1 lakh places in the country, including Puducherry, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Odisha and Maharashtra among others.

CITU

A statement by the CTUs said that through the protests, they “reiterated their opposition to disinvestment and wholesale privatisation of Public Sector Enterprises, 100 percent FDI in core sectors - Indian railways, Defence, Port and Dock, Coal, Air India, Banks, Insurance Privatisation of Space Science & Atomic Energy etc., steps in favour Corporates of Indian & Foreign brands to usurp natural resources and business of the country while mouthing behind the slogan of Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat. The decision of DA freeze of 48 lakh Central Government Employees and DR freeze of 68 lakh pensioners, which is also having impact on the state government employees, is not withdrawn despite vehement opposition from Government employees and CTUs. Neither the demand of cash transfer of Rs.7500/- to all non-income tax paying persons accepted.”

CITU

The CTUs added, “With the opening up of some industrial units, all workers are not being taken back, only a small percentage is finding their place back in jobs and that also on reduced wages and refusal to pay lockdown period salary. Such denial of employment and pressing for wage-reduction have to be unitedly combated.”

CITU

CITU

The unions added that adding the total number of unemployed persons who are out of a livelihood at present, including those working as daily wagers, contract workers and casual workers amounts to more than 24 crores. The rate of unemployment had reached 27 percent by April. It said that Medium and Small Enterprises themselves reported that 30 to 35 percent of units may not be able to begin activities. Speaking about the issues enraging workers, the CTUs quoted the Indian Labour Organization which said that more than 40 crore people would be pushed into deeper poverty and in the coming times, malnutrition would increase and hunger deaths would become a daily reality. They also spoke about eminent scientists and medical experts warning of the threat of depression and suicides among workers who have been dealt with insensitively during the pandemic.

CITU

Speaking about the Central government’s handling of the pandemic, the CTUs alleged, “Modi government has most insensitively dealt with the problem of Covid-19 as a law and order issue instead of treating it as a medical emergency for the human being and society. It has caused immense miseries to millions of workers, farmers and other vulnerable sections of the society. Whereas, the Government stood only by Corporates & big businesses.”

Concluding their statement, the CTUs said, “A Government which has no respect and concern, towards the rights and basic survival-entitlements of workers and the people does not deserve any co-operation. We the workers/employees and trade unions need to do everything possible to be in solidarity with each other, unitedly face the disease taking all precautions necessary, stand with each other to defend our rights of unionization, collective bargaining, decent working conditions, wages & future securities etc. This government has demonstrated cruel insensitivity of the basic human needs of the workers and people. This cannot be endorsed and cooperated with the leaders said while addressing the gathering at Shram Shakti Bhawan.”

Strike against Railway Privatisation

Recently, CITU had reacted strongly to the Central government’s Request For Qualification (RFQ) extended to the private corporates, both Indian and international, for operating passenger train services over 109 pairs of stations. The CITU has called this an “anti-national” move by the government. According to a statement issued by Tapan Sen, General Secretary. The CITU has alleged that this move has put “Indian Railways, the pride of India and its precious wealth, on sale”.

Some of the companies who have bid for the same are Adani Ports, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Essel Group, Bombardier India and Macquarie Group, Moneycontrol reported. Adani Ports owns one of the largest private railway lines in India which spans 300 km and connects ports and other business hubs for cargo movement. It also set up its own subsidiary to focus on metro rail projects.

In 2018, Essel Infraprojects Ltd won the first railway project for Rs 17.06 billion on the Eastern Freight Corridor connecting Howrah and Chennai mainline. In May, Bombardier India won the contract to supply 210 commuter and metro cars for the Delhi-Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System.

CITU had highlighted that the Union government’s claim of a Rs 30,000 crore investment and employment generation had no meaning as the drainage due to loss of revenue to the Indian Railways in these revenue generating routes and that the potential loss of employment due to privatisation would be much higher than any fresh employment which would not guarantee permanent jobs or social security.

 

 

Coal workers strike

 

More than half a million coal workers also participated in the protests opposing the privatisation of the coal sector through the government throwing open 41 coal blocks mainly in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Activist Stan Swamy had shed light on the fact that most of these coal blocks to be auctioned are located in Adivasi-inhabited areas, on Adivasi land and forests. None of the stakeholders, including the state governments were consulted before opening up these blocks for commercial mining. Throughout the country, irrespective of their political affiliation, collieries participated in the strike to oppose the government’s plan to privatize Coal India Limited (CIL) or sell of mines in Singareni.

 

 

Farmers, contractual and casual workers join strike

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee – which consists of 130 farmers’ groups – also expressed solidarity to the Friday protest, saying that “the lockdown is being used by the central government to enact laws against farmers and workers to swiftly implement policies that promote and support corporates,” Newsclick reported. Demonstrations by the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) and MGNREGA workers were also held across Punjab and Maharashtra.

The Defence civilian employees also joined the strike in opposition to the government’s decision to corporatize the Ordinance Factory Board, allow private players to operate army workshops, abolition of posts in military engineer service and army units, outsourcing and FDI in defence and reduction of manpower in the Directorate General of Quality Assurance, The Times of India reported.

TOI also reported that in Tiruvananthapuram, Trivandrum Airport Casual workers trade unions decided to continue the token strike at the airport against the layoff of ground by Air India SATS. We were informed that cargo operations were hit due to unavailability of employees. The members of all trade unions, CITU, INTUC and BMS are jointly participating in the strike. The company has over 900 staff at the airport, which includes 200 managerial staff. We had requested them not to terminate the staff during the lockdown and that we are ready to take a salary cut. They terminated senior staff with nine years of experience, while retaining newly-recruited staff,” P Rajendradas, general secretary, Trivandrum International and Domestic Airport Contract Workers Union (CITU) told TOI.

Another glimpse of the working class of India who is fighting for its rights, may be viewed below.

 

 


Related:

Privatising Indian Railways is anti-national: CITU

ASHA Workers on Covid-19 duty demand safety gear, healthcare, insurance and better wages

Trade unions launch nationwide protest Centre’s anti-worker policies

Protests were held across the country and supported by the working class of India

CITU

A joint action committee of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) came together to hold nation-wide protests against draconian changes in labour laws, privatisation of government departments and PSUs and for rights of unorganized sector workers. Members of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hindu Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) among others observed Nationwide Protest Day on July 3, 2020 throughout the country, in all workplaces and centres as a united struggles of Non-Cooperation and Defiance to anti-worker, anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-national policies of the Govt. The action programmes were reportedly organised in almost one lakh places in all states in all workplaces, union offices, on roads and streets.

Protests took place at the Shram Shakti Bhawan in New Delhi, at a Vizag steel plant, a motorcycle rally was taken out in Punjab and demonstrations were held in over 1 lakh places in the country, including Puducherry, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Odisha and Maharashtra among others.

CITU

A statement by the CTUs said that through the protests, they “reiterated their opposition to disinvestment and wholesale privatisation of Public Sector Enterprises, 100 percent FDI in core sectors - Indian railways, Defence, Port and Dock, Coal, Air India, Banks, Insurance Privatisation of Space Science & Atomic Energy etc., steps in favour Corporates of Indian & Foreign brands to usurp natural resources and business of the country while mouthing behind the slogan of Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat. The decision of DA freeze of 48 lakh Central Government Employees and DR freeze of 68 lakh pensioners, which is also having impact on the state government employees, is not withdrawn despite vehement opposition from Government employees and CTUs. Neither the demand of cash transfer of Rs.7500/- to all non-income tax paying persons accepted.”

CITU

The CTUs added, “With the opening up of some industrial units, all workers are not being taken back, only a small percentage is finding their place back in jobs and that also on reduced wages and refusal to pay lockdown period salary. Such denial of employment and pressing for wage-reduction have to be unitedly combated.”

CITU

CITU

The unions added that adding the total number of unemployed persons who are out of a livelihood at present, including those working as daily wagers, contract workers and casual workers amounts to more than 24 crores. The rate of unemployment had reached 27 percent by April. It said that Medium and Small Enterprises themselves reported that 30 to 35 percent of units may not be able to begin activities. Speaking about the issues enraging workers, the CTUs quoted the Indian Labour Organization which said that more than 40 crore people would be pushed into deeper poverty and in the coming times, malnutrition would increase and hunger deaths would become a daily reality. They also spoke about eminent scientists and medical experts warning of the threat of depression and suicides among workers who have been dealt with insensitively during the pandemic.

CITU

Speaking about the Central government’s handling of the pandemic, the CTUs alleged, “Modi government has most insensitively dealt with the problem of Covid-19 as a law and order issue instead of treating it as a medical emergency for the human being and society. It has caused immense miseries to millions of workers, farmers and other vulnerable sections of the society. Whereas, the Government stood only by Corporates & big businesses.”

Concluding their statement, the CTUs said, “A Government which has no respect and concern, towards the rights and basic survival-entitlements of workers and the people does not deserve any co-operation. We the workers/employees and trade unions need to do everything possible to be in solidarity with each other, unitedly face the disease taking all precautions necessary, stand with each other to defend our rights of unionization, collective bargaining, decent working conditions, wages & future securities etc. This government has demonstrated cruel insensitivity of the basic human needs of the workers and people. This cannot be endorsed and cooperated with the leaders said while addressing the gathering at Shram Shakti Bhawan.”

Strike against Railway Privatisation

Recently, CITU had reacted strongly to the Central government’s Request For Qualification (RFQ) extended to the private corporates, both Indian and international, for operating passenger train services over 109 pairs of stations. The CITU has called this an “anti-national” move by the government. According to a statement issued by Tapan Sen, General Secretary. The CITU has alleged that this move has put “Indian Railways, the pride of India and its precious wealth, on sale”.

Some of the companies who have bid for the same are Adani Ports, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Essel Group, Bombardier India and Macquarie Group, Moneycontrol reported. Adani Ports owns one of the largest private railway lines in India which spans 300 km and connects ports and other business hubs for cargo movement. It also set up its own subsidiary to focus on metro rail projects.

In 2018, Essel Infraprojects Ltd won the first railway project for Rs 17.06 billion on the Eastern Freight Corridor connecting Howrah and Chennai mainline. In May, Bombardier India won the contract to supply 210 commuter and metro cars for the Delhi-Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System.

CITU had highlighted that the Union government’s claim of a Rs 30,000 crore investment and employment generation had no meaning as the drainage due to loss of revenue to the Indian Railways in these revenue generating routes and that the potential loss of employment due to privatisation would be much higher than any fresh employment which would not guarantee permanent jobs or social security.

 

 

Coal workers strike

 

More than half a million coal workers also participated in the protests opposing the privatisation of the coal sector through the government throwing open 41 coal blocks mainly in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Activist Stan Swamy had shed light on the fact that most of these coal blocks to be auctioned are located in Adivasi-inhabited areas, on Adivasi land and forests. None of the stakeholders, including the state governments were consulted before opening up these blocks for commercial mining. Throughout the country, irrespective of their political affiliation, collieries participated in the strike to oppose the government’s plan to privatize Coal India Limited (CIL) or sell of mines in Singareni.

 

 

Farmers, contractual and casual workers join strike

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee – which consists of 130 farmers’ groups – also expressed solidarity to the Friday protest, saying that “the lockdown is being used by the central government to enact laws against farmers and workers to swiftly implement policies that promote and support corporates,” Newsclick reported. Demonstrations by the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) and MGNREGA workers were also held across Punjab and Maharashtra.

The Defence civilian employees also joined the strike in opposition to the government’s decision to corporatize the Ordinance Factory Board, allow private players to operate army workshops, abolition of posts in military engineer service and army units, outsourcing and FDI in defence and reduction of manpower in the Directorate General of Quality Assurance, The Times of India reported.

TOI also reported that in Tiruvananthapuram, Trivandrum Airport Casual workers trade unions decided to continue the token strike at the airport against the layoff of ground by Air India SATS. We were informed that cargo operations were hit due to unavailability of employees. The members of all trade unions, CITU, INTUC and BMS are jointly participating in the strike. The company has over 900 staff at the airport, which includes 200 managerial staff. We had requested them not to terminate the staff during the lockdown and that we are ready to take a salary cut. They terminated senior staff with nine years of experience, while retaining newly-recruited staff,” P Rajendradas, general secretary, Trivandrum International and Domestic Airport Contract Workers Union (CITU) told TOI.

Another glimpse of the working class of India who is fighting for its rights, may be viewed below.

 

 


Related:

Privatising Indian Railways is anti-national: CITU

ASHA Workers on Covid-19 duty demand safety gear, healthcare, insurance and better wages

Related Articles


Theme

Campaigns

Videos

Archives

IN FACT

Podcasts

Podcasts

Podcasts

Analysis

Archives

Podcasts

Sabrang

Migrant Diaries: The story of Atiur Rehman

“Not a penny in my pocket for three months, not a grain in my belly for three days before CJP helped me,” recalls a migrant worker from West Bengal

01 Jul 2020

Migrants diaries

The Covid-19 pandemic could have been an opportunity for all of us as a society to showcase our most compassionate and humane side. But many employers and middle-men took this opportunity to further exploit their labourers, especially impoverished and often unlettered migrants, and push them to the brink of starvation. This is the story of one such migrant from West Bengal, Atiur Rehman.

35-year-old Rehman, a construction worker, has been toiling away in Mumbai since 2001, even as his wife, two sons, mother and sisters continue to live in Dunigram, a small village in Birbhum district of West Bengal. “My elder son is 11-years-old and he is studying in class 5. The younger one is 6-years-old and studies in class 2. My sisters are married,” he reminisces fondly about his family and village. “We have a small plot in the village and my mother does farming. She takes help from others but the income from that farm is not enough,” he says, giving us an initial insight into why he took the difficult decision to not go back home when the lockdown began. 

“I am the only son and must work to support my family,” he says. Rehman feared that if he went back home, it would place a bigger burden on his family and plunging them into a financial crisis.

Rehman is a daily wager and works through agents who help him secure jobs. “We call them ‘mukhiya’ or leader, and they are the ones who hire workers like me for jobs at construction sites. They pay us on a monthly basis,” he says. Rehman manages to earn around Rs 15,000 per month. “But I haven’t got any payment for January, February and March. The agent blames it on the Covid-19 lockdown. He says the bills have not been cleared yet,” says Rehman explaining how his own penury disallowed him the luxury of leaving town in the months that followed. “I was sure I would stay put, even if the other five men I was staying with in Govandi were toying with the idea of returning home,” he says.

ATIUR REHMAN

 

He remembers that one of the migrants he lived with, left for his village by truck, and two others took a bus from Majiwada, Thane. All of them paid the fare from their own pockets. He remembers an initial futile attempt at leaving town with his fellow migrants, “We had decided to go to the police station to inquire about the emergency travel forms, but the police didn’t allow us to talk to anyone and shooed us away!” Rehman still feels the anger boil over whenever he recalls how they were treated that day. He did not try to get official help again.

“My nephew and I, both, stayed back in the hope that our work will start soon,” he says, remembering being told by some people that the lockdown would end quickly. However, that did not happen. Nor did the agent give Rehman his due payments. Feeling humiliated, betrayed and exploited, Rehman decided to move from Govandi to Chembur.

“I got fed up with the situation and came to Chembur to an area where other migrants from West Bengal stay. With their help I have got work at a construction site near Surya Hospital in Santa Cruz,” says Rehman who managed to get a job when construction activity resumed. But Rehman finds it difficult to talk about the prolonged period when he didn’t have money or even food when he was still at his older accommodation in Govandi.

“After the lockdown was announced, I was anxious as nothing like this had ever happened before. None of us were prepared. We bought some ration with the money we had, but the food ran out quickly,” he says. Rehman remembers approaching a local group for food supplies, “In Govandi there is a mandal (group) who helped people with ration and food in the initial lockdown period. That was a big help for us, but soon they stopped giving food.” Rehman says he understood their limitations, “They can only offer help to an extent, not forever.”

Following this, Rehman and his group approached people in the neighbourhood. “But they were not in a position to help,” he says. Then one day, Rehman got a call from volunteers of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), asking if they needed help with the travel forms. “We told them that we had run out of food and urgently needed some ration. I confessed that we had not eaten a proper meal for three days, and just survived on tea and some biscuits,” says Rehman who was overjoyed when CJP volunteers brought them ration. “There was not a penny in my pocket for three months and not a grain in my belly for three days when help arrived from CJP. We ate as soon as the food came,” says Rehman recalling how relieved he felt that day. Rehman says as his roommates had already left for their villages, and he too decided to move from Govandi to Chembur. 

ATIUR REHMAN WITH RATION KITS FROM CJP

He shared the ration which was provided by CJP with the other migrants at the new site, “because they were also in need and how could we eat when someone else is sitting hungry near us,” says the generous man. But the ration is now running out. “I requested CJP to provide us with some more ration. We don’t need a big kit like before. Just some pulses, rice and oil,” he says.

“I want to thank CJP for providing us ration when we needed it urgently, I will remember this for my lifetime,” says Rehman who feels let down by the government. “I also want to tell everyone that we didn’t get any help from the government. They should have helped the poor in this crisis. Even when we went to the police station, they didn’t even listen to us. It is people like CJP volunteers who came forward and helped us, and I am really thankful to all of you who provided us food, which gave us strength to survive,” says Rehman.

Rehman says he is also grateful to his new friends who have helped him find work. “Our work has just started a few days ago, and we are getting payments on a daily basis,” he says, feeling relieved that now he can finally send some money back to his family. “They are also struggling in the village,” he worries.

Rehman misses his family. “I usually go back to my village during Ramzan, and come back to Mumbai 2-3 months after Eid,” he says sadly accepting why the trip did not happen this year. More than the festival celebration itself, he just wanted to be with his family. “It’s been almost a year since I have seen my family, and I don’t even know when I will go back now, because in this lockdown I have faced a financial crisis and have to make up for the losses. I just hope that my old boss gives me my pending salary as soon as possible,” says a hopeful Rehman who will send most of that money home too.

His only prayer now is that the work continues, “so that we can earn something and can manage our daily needs. I now earn Rs. 800 rupees from the past few days. I want to send Rs. 4,000 back home.” Rehman does hope to visit home for the next Eid if possible. “I want to go back home during Bakra Eid, till then I will work hard. And if needed, I will do extra work, so that I can earn enough and can celebrate Bakra Eid with my family,” says a determined and hard-working man with renewed vigour.

 

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: Sagar Ali

Migrant Diaries: Makar Behara

Migrant Diaries: The story of Atiur Rehman

“Not a penny in my pocket for three months, not a grain in my belly for three days before CJP helped me,” recalls a migrant worker from West Bengal

Migrants diaries

The Covid-19 pandemic could have been an opportunity for all of us as a society to showcase our most compassionate and humane side. But many employers and middle-men took this opportunity to further exploit their labourers, especially impoverished and often unlettered migrants, and push them to the brink of starvation. This is the story of one such migrant from West Bengal, Atiur Rehman.

35-year-old Rehman, a construction worker, has been toiling away in Mumbai since 2001, even as his wife, two sons, mother and sisters continue to live in Dunigram, a small village in Birbhum district of West Bengal. “My elder son is 11-years-old and he is studying in class 5. The younger one is 6-years-old and studies in class 2. My sisters are married,” he reminisces fondly about his family and village. “We have a small plot in the village and my mother does farming. She takes help from others but the income from that farm is not enough,” he says, giving us an initial insight into why he took the difficult decision to not go back home when the lockdown began. 

“I am the only son and must work to support my family,” he says. Rehman feared that if he went back home, it would place a bigger burden on his family and plunging them into a financial crisis.

Rehman is a daily wager and works through agents who help him secure jobs. “We call them ‘mukhiya’ or leader, and they are the ones who hire workers like me for jobs at construction sites. They pay us on a monthly basis,” he says. Rehman manages to earn around Rs 15,000 per month. “But I haven’t got any payment for January, February and March. The agent blames it on the Covid-19 lockdown. He says the bills have not been cleared yet,” says Rehman explaining how his own penury disallowed him the luxury of leaving town in the months that followed. “I was sure I would stay put, even if the other five men I was staying with in Govandi were toying with the idea of returning home,” he says.

ATIUR REHMAN

 

He remembers that one of the migrants he lived with, left for his village by truck, and two others took a bus from Majiwada, Thane. All of them paid the fare from their own pockets. He remembers an initial futile attempt at leaving town with his fellow migrants, “We had decided to go to the police station to inquire about the emergency travel forms, but the police didn’t allow us to talk to anyone and shooed us away!” Rehman still feels the anger boil over whenever he recalls how they were treated that day. He did not try to get official help again.

“My nephew and I, both, stayed back in the hope that our work will start soon,” he says, remembering being told by some people that the lockdown would end quickly. However, that did not happen. Nor did the agent give Rehman his due payments. Feeling humiliated, betrayed and exploited, Rehman decided to move from Govandi to Chembur.

“I got fed up with the situation and came to Chembur to an area where other migrants from West Bengal stay. With their help I have got work at a construction site near Surya Hospital in Santa Cruz,” says Rehman who managed to get a job when construction activity resumed. But Rehman finds it difficult to talk about the prolonged period when he didn’t have money or even food when he was still at his older accommodation in Govandi.

“After the lockdown was announced, I was anxious as nothing like this had ever happened before. None of us were prepared. We bought some ration with the money we had, but the food ran out quickly,” he says. Rehman remembers approaching a local group for food supplies, “In Govandi there is a mandal (group) who helped people with ration and food in the initial lockdown period. That was a big help for us, but soon they stopped giving food.” Rehman says he understood their limitations, “They can only offer help to an extent, not forever.”

Following this, Rehman and his group approached people in the neighbourhood. “But they were not in a position to help,” he says. Then one day, Rehman got a call from volunteers of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), asking if they needed help with the travel forms. “We told them that we had run out of food and urgently needed some ration. I confessed that we had not eaten a proper meal for three days, and just survived on tea and some biscuits,” says Rehman who was overjoyed when CJP volunteers brought them ration. “There was not a penny in my pocket for three months and not a grain in my belly for three days when help arrived from CJP. We ate as soon as the food came,” says Rehman recalling how relieved he felt that day. Rehman says as his roommates had already left for their villages, and he too decided to move from Govandi to Chembur. 

ATIUR REHMAN WITH RATION KITS FROM CJP

He shared the ration which was provided by CJP with the other migrants at the new site, “because they were also in need and how could we eat when someone else is sitting hungry near us,” says the generous man. But the ration is now running out. “I requested CJP to provide us with some more ration. We don’t need a big kit like before. Just some pulses, rice and oil,” he says.

“I want to thank CJP for providing us ration when we needed it urgently, I will remember this for my lifetime,” says Rehman who feels let down by the government. “I also want to tell everyone that we didn’t get any help from the government. They should have helped the poor in this crisis. Even when we went to the police station, they didn’t even listen to us. It is people like CJP volunteers who came forward and helped us, and I am really thankful to all of you who provided us food, which gave us strength to survive,” says Rehman.

Rehman says he is also grateful to his new friends who have helped him find work. “Our work has just started a few days ago, and we are getting payments on a daily basis,” he says, feeling relieved that now he can finally send some money back to his family. “They are also struggling in the village,” he worries.

Rehman misses his family. “I usually go back to my village during Ramzan, and come back to Mumbai 2-3 months after Eid,” he says sadly accepting why the trip did not happen this year. More than the festival celebration itself, he just wanted to be with his family. “It’s been almost a year since I have seen my family, and I don’t even know when I will go back now, because in this lockdown I have faced a financial crisis and have to make up for the losses. I just hope that my old boss gives me my pending salary as soon as possible,” says a hopeful Rehman who will send most of that money home too.

His only prayer now is that the work continues, “so that we can earn something and can manage our daily needs. I now earn Rs. 800 rupees from the past few days. I want to send Rs. 4,000 back home.” Rehman does hope to visit home for the next Eid if possible. “I want to go back home during Bakra Eid, till then I will work hard. And if needed, I will do extra work, so that I can earn enough and can celebrate Bakra Eid with my family,” says a determined and hard-working man with renewed vigour.

 

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: Sagar Ali

Migrant Diaries: Makar Behara

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Migrant Diaries: The story of Makar Behara

“I didn’t go back home because I was scared of getting Covid-19 in the village quarantine centre,” says a skilled mason from Odisha who chose to stay on in Mumbai

29 Jun 2020

Migrants diaries

Makar Behara, who works as a skilled mason in Mumbai, was sure he would not go back to his village of Biripali in Bolangir district of Odisha, even though many others were leaving town in droves in wake of the Covid-19 lockdown. For the 48-year-old father of four staying in Mumbai was the only way to make sure his children’s education did not get affected.

No, they are not studying in Mumbai, they live in Odisha with their mother. Behara lives and works in Mumbai and sends money home for them. “This is why I thought going back to the village was of no use. At least in Mumbai I can earn something and send money back home,” he says feeling relieved that his work has resumed, now that construction activity has been allowed.

“I came to Mumbai 30 years ago, soon after my parents passed away. Someone from our village worked here and he told me to come to Mumbai too. I was scared because I knew no one in the city, but I also realised that staying in Odisha was not going to help me much. To earn well and live a good life I had to come to Mumbai,” says Behara explaining why he chose to come to the city of dreams in the first place. “I have been working with the Painterior Company that undertakes repairs and renovations of buildings. I am a skilled mason and earn around Rs 750 rupees per day, in a month I make almost Rs 22,000. I send Rs 15,000 back home,” he says adding how a good part of that goes to fund his children’s education, “I want them to have a good life.”

Behara’s elder son is studying for a Master’s degree in Arts. The second child, a daughter, is studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Arts. “My two younger daughters are in class 12 and class 8. By god’s grace they are good in studies, so that’s why I work hard for them,” says the proud father. His younger brother, his wife and two daughters stay with Behara’s family too. “My brother had also come to Mumbai for work but he didn’t like it and went back. I then helped him to open a paan shop,” said Behara who usually goes back to the village when monsoon hits Mumbai, to return only in November. “It rains heavily in Mumbai and our work also gets affected. The monsoon in Odisha is even worse, so I prefer to be with my family in those months,” he explains.

However, the schedules were a bit different last year. “I came to Mumbai in July 2019, because in May 2019 my eldest daughter got married,” said Behara who had taken a loan of Rs 1,00,000 from a landlord in Odisha for wedding expenses. “I have paid back Rs 50,000 and have to pay the balance Rs 50,000. That is why when I came back, I worked at Alibaug and then at Cuffe Parade, the work was going smooth until the lockdown was announced,” recalls Behara who was with 30 other migrant workers at the construction site.

MAKAR BEHARA AND HIS FELLOW MIGRANTS

“It’s a 20 storied tower and requires a lot manpower. We migrants prepare our own hutments near the construction site using aluminum roof panels and cook our own food. So, I don’t stay at a particular place, instead I and live where I work. Sometimes the site is located outside Mumbai,” he says. “After the lockdown was announced our work totally stopped, we had some money with us so we brought our ration but soon it got over,” he recalls the early days of the lockdown.

Behara says the contractor did give them some rice, pulses and oil but it did not last even a week. With a crisis looming, his fellow migrants and Behara heard of the ration distribution campaign of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and got in touch with our volunteers. “We got a ration kit which included everything we could want. It helped us a lot and was so much that still we have some pulses left. I am very grateful to CJP,” he said with a laugh that even now at each meal the group blesses the volunteers as they begin eating.

However, they still remember feeling hurt at being shunned by the ones who were living next door. “It was very hurtful that the people who stayed in Jupiter building didn’t provide us anything, not even a single meal. It would not be difficult for them but the rich don’t care about the poor. I really thought they would ask us to leave the site but thankfully, it didn’t happen as our boss told them that migrant workers don’t have any other place to stay,” he said adding that they have to undergo  thermal screening every day and their ‘rooms’ are also sanitised, though Behara didn’t seem to mind that too much.

When the government kept extending the lockdown, the migrants felt restless and just wanted to go back to the village. “We even filled the emergency travel form but didn’t receive any call from police officials. Then our boss and a few people from the building requested all of us to stay where we were, because the situation was only getting worse,” he says. “But 14 people left by truck at their own expense and 12 more went on a bus arranged by Mumbai Central IAS officer Sarika Jain, who is originally from Odisha,” says Behara recalling the initial exodus.

MAKAR BEHARA BEING CAREFUL, SPORTING A MASK

After much consideration, Behara and four others decided to stay put. “The main reason for staying back was that all the Odiya migrants from different parts were travelling back in large crowds. There were chances that they would all be quarantined together, putting everyone at risk of infection,” Behara explains their rationale. Behera spoke to his wife and son and even they thought it was best that he stayed put in Mumbai.  

“Luckily, our work has resumed. I work with four helpers who mix the cement while I do the masonry. We are getting our daily payment so we have brought enough ration for the next 15 days. I have also learned that many migrant workers are coming back to Mumbai, and am now convinced that I made a good decision by not going home,” he says sounding relieved. Even though the work situation is stabilising, Behera is worried that Covid-19 cases are increasing in Mumbai, and fears another lockdown. Meanwhile, home is where Behera’s heart is, and he is already looking forward to his planned next trip soon. “Once this work gets over, I will go back to my village,” he says.

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: Sagar Ali

Migrant Diaries: The story of Makar Behara

“I didn’t go back home because I was scared of getting Covid-19 in the village quarantine centre,” says a skilled mason from Odisha who chose to stay on in Mumbai

Migrants diaries

Makar Behara, who works as a skilled mason in Mumbai, was sure he would not go back to his village of Biripali in Bolangir district of Odisha, even though many others were leaving town in droves in wake of the Covid-19 lockdown. For the 48-year-old father of four staying in Mumbai was the only way to make sure his children’s education did not get affected.

No, they are not studying in Mumbai, they live in Odisha with their mother. Behara lives and works in Mumbai and sends money home for them. “This is why I thought going back to the village was of no use. At least in Mumbai I can earn something and send money back home,” he says feeling relieved that his work has resumed, now that construction activity has been allowed.

“I came to Mumbai 30 years ago, soon after my parents passed away. Someone from our village worked here and he told me to come to Mumbai too. I was scared because I knew no one in the city, but I also realised that staying in Odisha was not going to help me much. To earn well and live a good life I had to come to Mumbai,” says Behara explaining why he chose to come to the city of dreams in the first place. “I have been working with the Painterior Company that undertakes repairs and renovations of buildings. I am a skilled mason and earn around Rs 750 rupees per day, in a month I make almost Rs 22,000. I send Rs 15,000 back home,” he says adding how a good part of that goes to fund his children’s education, “I want them to have a good life.”

Behara’s elder son is studying for a Master’s degree in Arts. The second child, a daughter, is studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Arts. “My two younger daughters are in class 12 and class 8. By god’s grace they are good in studies, so that’s why I work hard for them,” says the proud father. His younger brother, his wife and two daughters stay with Behara’s family too. “My brother had also come to Mumbai for work but he didn’t like it and went back. I then helped him to open a paan shop,” said Behara who usually goes back to the village when monsoon hits Mumbai, to return only in November. “It rains heavily in Mumbai and our work also gets affected. The monsoon in Odisha is even worse, so I prefer to be with my family in those months,” he explains.

However, the schedules were a bit different last year. “I came to Mumbai in July 2019, because in May 2019 my eldest daughter got married,” said Behara who had taken a loan of Rs 1,00,000 from a landlord in Odisha for wedding expenses. “I have paid back Rs 50,000 and have to pay the balance Rs 50,000. That is why when I came back, I worked at Alibaug and then at Cuffe Parade, the work was going smooth until the lockdown was announced,” recalls Behara who was with 30 other migrant workers at the construction site.

MAKAR BEHARA AND HIS FELLOW MIGRANTS

“It’s a 20 storied tower and requires a lot manpower. We migrants prepare our own hutments near the construction site using aluminum roof panels and cook our own food. So, I don’t stay at a particular place, instead I and live where I work. Sometimes the site is located outside Mumbai,” he says. “After the lockdown was announced our work totally stopped, we had some money with us so we brought our ration but soon it got over,” he recalls the early days of the lockdown.

Behara says the contractor did give them some rice, pulses and oil but it did not last even a week. With a crisis looming, his fellow migrants and Behara heard of the ration distribution campaign of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and got in touch with our volunteers. “We got a ration kit which included everything we could want. It helped us a lot and was so much that still we have some pulses left. I am very grateful to CJP,” he said with a laugh that even now at each meal the group blesses the volunteers as they begin eating.

However, they still remember feeling hurt at being shunned by the ones who were living next door. “It was very hurtful that the people who stayed in Jupiter building didn’t provide us anything, not even a single meal. It would not be difficult for them but the rich don’t care about the poor. I really thought they would ask us to leave the site but thankfully, it didn’t happen as our boss told them that migrant workers don’t have any other place to stay,” he said adding that they have to undergo  thermal screening every day and their ‘rooms’ are also sanitised, though Behara didn’t seem to mind that too much.

When the government kept extending the lockdown, the migrants felt restless and just wanted to go back to the village. “We even filled the emergency travel form but didn’t receive any call from police officials. Then our boss and a few people from the building requested all of us to stay where we were, because the situation was only getting worse,” he says. “But 14 people left by truck at their own expense and 12 more went on a bus arranged by Mumbai Central IAS officer Sarika Jain, who is originally from Odisha,” says Behara recalling the initial exodus.

MAKAR BEHARA BEING CAREFUL, SPORTING A MASK

After much consideration, Behara and four others decided to stay put. “The main reason for staying back was that all the Odiya migrants from different parts were travelling back in large crowds. There were chances that they would all be quarantined together, putting everyone at risk of infection,” Behara explains their rationale. Behera spoke to his wife and son and even they thought it was best that he stayed put in Mumbai.  

“Luckily, our work has resumed. I work with four helpers who mix the cement while I do the masonry. We are getting our daily payment so we have brought enough ration for the next 15 days. I have also learned that many migrant workers are coming back to Mumbai, and am now convinced that I made a good decision by not going home,” he says sounding relieved. Even though the work situation is stabilising, Behera is worried that Covid-19 cases are increasing in Mumbai, and fears another lockdown. Meanwhile, home is where Behera’s heart is, and he is already looking forward to his planned next trip soon. “Once this work gets over, I will go back to my village,” he says.

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: Sagar Ali

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Migrant Diaries: The story of Sagar Ali

“The health facilities are terrible in Birbhum. At least in Mumbai, if I fall ill, I can go to the nearby government hospital,” says a labourer who feels his young family is safer in the city

27 Jun 2020

migrant diaries

Sagar Ali, a daily wage labourer, had returned to Mumbai from his village in West Bengal just a week before the national lockdown was imposed. He had yet to get back into his work routine, had no money, and no stock of ration for his family. At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in March itself, Ali was struggling to make ends meet.

“I hail from Majhida in Birbhum, and have been working in Mumbai as a helper and daily wage labourer. For the past four years, I have had a steady job, and worked as a helper at a construction store, earning Rs 13,500.  My wife is a domestic worker and earns Rs 4,000 per month. We send Rs 3,000 to my younger brother and mother who live in the village. My younger brother works as a labourer in Birbhum but the work is not regular, so I have to take care of their needs too, as I am the eldest son. My younger sister got married last year,” says the 31-year-old for whom family always comes first.

In Mumbai, Ali stayed with his father but he passed away almost eight years ago. “Then I started staying with other migrants from West Bengal, and brought my wife and 7-year-old son to live with me four years ago,” he tells us. The young family lives rent-free as the colony does not charge migrants. Ali’s son had been enrolled in a boarding school in West Bengal. “It which charged Rs 4,000 per month but I got to know that they didn’t take proper care of children, so I brought my son with me to Mumbai. I wanted to enrol him in an English medium school in Mumbai, and enquired at a couple of schools but realised they were asking for huge fees so I decided to enroll him in BMC school,” says Ali, though he does not regret this decision at all. He just wants his son to get a good education.

However, the real shock was that of the lockdown hitting the family just as they had returned to town after a trip back home, Ali says his ‘bad luck’ is to blame. “I had no clue that such a thing would happen. I had only carried Rs 1200 with me while returning from the village, I knew I was going to rejoin my work soon. I had no tension as even my wife is employed as a domestic worker and she was also going to rejoin work.”

 

SAGAR ALI WITH WIFE AND SON

When the family returned, they bought some ration for Rs 1,000 and were left with Rs 200 rupees. Nothing to worry, they thought, they will be back at work soon and the wages will be paid soon, maybe they could take an advance if needed. But all plans vapourised in the Mumbai heat the minute the lockdown was announced without any notice. “We were scared of what would happen next? How will we manage without money,” Ali recalled that the ration they we had stocked lasted for 20 days. “After that the real struggle started. I got to know that from our village the sarpanch is going to arrange a ration supply, I gave my family’s names but we didn’t receive any ration from them,” he says.

He then approached CJP volunteers. “I got ration twice from CJP, once in May, and again in June,” says Ali adding that the family also collected cooked food occasionally being distributed in their area by individuals. “I am so thankful to CJP for helping the poor. The government should have provided us with ration, and money, to survive in this situation. They just say we are giving a package worth lakhs and crores, but it never reaches the poor. During this period, I even did cleaning work at some houses and because I needed money, I earned Rs 800 from that and I sent Rs 500 to my brother in the village, and kept Rs 300, for emergencies. I have never experienced such a situation in my life,” he says. Ali says he even got a call from someone to inform him there were shelter homes being set up for migrants but he said he had a home, and just needed food to survive. “I asked for some food to be arranged, but they said they could not do that,” his voice falls as he recalls that conversation.

“In May the trains were going to start, I filled the emergency travel form and even had a medical screening done for my family, I paid Rs 900 for that. I had to borrow money from my boss but till now I haven’t received any call from any official,” he says he does not know what the authorities have arranged now. Even as he saw most migrants left by bus and truck, Ali said he felt helpless, “I also wanted to go but as I said I had no money at all, so going home was not possible.” As news of accidents and deaths of migrants who were travelling came in, Ali’s wife did not even want to take a risk. She said, “We will stay in Mumbai and survive somehow, but I don’t want to go by truck.” Ali stayed on with a little help, “I called the CJP volunteers and requested more ration, we got ration kits on which we are surviving till now.”

SAGAR ALI

Sagar Ali has given up all plans of going back to the village for now, as the lockdown restrictions are slowly lifting. “Things are getting normal and my boss said our store will open soon. That’s a relief now and I have to earn and send money to my mother too, returning to the village is of no use now. Living in Mumbai is better, if anything happens here, we can at least go to nearby government hospitals,” he says the city has health facilities and things are worse off in his village, “there, the hospital staff don’t give us much importance.”

He only has one prayer for the near future, “I am just hoping that a lockdown should not be imposed again, because I hear news that a complete lockdown may be imposed again because of increasing cases of Covid-19. If it happens then I don’t know how we will manage to survive. CJP already has given us ration kits twice and calling CJP again will not be good, I am sure because the organisation must be having its own limitations,” he signs off with concern for those who are concerned for him.

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

Migrant Diaries: The story of Sagar Ali

“The health facilities are terrible in Birbhum. At least in Mumbai, if I fall ill, I can go to the nearby government hospital,” says a labourer who feels his young family is safer in the city

migrant diaries

Sagar Ali, a daily wage labourer, had returned to Mumbai from his village in West Bengal just a week before the national lockdown was imposed. He had yet to get back into his work routine, had no money, and no stock of ration for his family. At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in March itself, Ali was struggling to make ends meet.

“I hail from Majhida in Birbhum, and have been working in Mumbai as a helper and daily wage labourer. For the past four years, I have had a steady job, and worked as a helper at a construction store, earning Rs 13,500.  My wife is a domestic worker and earns Rs 4,000 per month. We send Rs 3,000 to my younger brother and mother who live in the village. My younger brother works as a labourer in Birbhum but the work is not regular, so I have to take care of their needs too, as I am the eldest son. My younger sister got married last year,” says the 31-year-old for whom family always comes first.

In Mumbai, Ali stayed with his father but he passed away almost eight years ago. “Then I started staying with other migrants from West Bengal, and brought my wife and 7-year-old son to live with me four years ago,” he tells us. The young family lives rent-free as the colony does not charge migrants. Ali’s son had been enrolled in a boarding school in West Bengal. “It which charged Rs 4,000 per month but I got to know that they didn’t take proper care of children, so I brought my son with me to Mumbai. I wanted to enrol him in an English medium school in Mumbai, and enquired at a couple of schools but realised they were asking for huge fees so I decided to enroll him in BMC school,” says Ali, though he does not regret this decision at all. He just wants his son to get a good education.

However, the real shock was that of the lockdown hitting the family just as they had returned to town after a trip back home, Ali says his ‘bad luck’ is to blame. “I had no clue that such a thing would happen. I had only carried Rs 1200 with me while returning from the village, I knew I was going to rejoin my work soon. I had no tension as even my wife is employed as a domestic worker and she was also going to rejoin work.”

 

SAGAR ALI WITH WIFE AND SON

When the family returned, they bought some ration for Rs 1,000 and were left with Rs 200 rupees. Nothing to worry, they thought, they will be back at work soon and the wages will be paid soon, maybe they could take an advance if needed. But all plans vapourised in the Mumbai heat the minute the lockdown was announced without any notice. “We were scared of what would happen next? How will we manage without money,” Ali recalled that the ration they we had stocked lasted for 20 days. “After that the real struggle started. I got to know that from our village the sarpanch is going to arrange a ration supply, I gave my family’s names but we didn’t receive any ration from them,” he says.

He then approached CJP volunteers. “I got ration twice from CJP, once in May, and again in June,” says Ali adding that the family also collected cooked food occasionally being distributed in their area by individuals. “I am so thankful to CJP for helping the poor. The government should have provided us with ration, and money, to survive in this situation. They just say we are giving a package worth lakhs and crores, but it never reaches the poor. During this period, I even did cleaning work at some houses and because I needed money, I earned Rs 800 from that and I sent Rs 500 to my brother in the village, and kept Rs 300, for emergencies. I have never experienced such a situation in my life,” he says. Ali says he even got a call from someone to inform him there were shelter homes being set up for migrants but he said he had a home, and just needed food to survive. “I asked for some food to be arranged, but they said they could not do that,” his voice falls as he recalls that conversation.

“In May the trains were going to start, I filled the emergency travel form and even had a medical screening done for my family, I paid Rs 900 for that. I had to borrow money from my boss but till now I haven’t received any call from any official,” he says he does not know what the authorities have arranged now. Even as he saw most migrants left by bus and truck, Ali said he felt helpless, “I also wanted to go but as I said I had no money at all, so going home was not possible.” As news of accidents and deaths of migrants who were travelling came in, Ali’s wife did not even want to take a risk. She said, “We will stay in Mumbai and survive somehow, but I don’t want to go by truck.” Ali stayed on with a little help, “I called the CJP volunteers and requested more ration, we got ration kits on which we are surviving till now.”

SAGAR ALI

Sagar Ali has given up all plans of going back to the village for now, as the lockdown restrictions are slowly lifting. “Things are getting normal and my boss said our store will open soon. That’s a relief now and I have to earn and send money to my mother too, returning to the village is of no use now. Living in Mumbai is better, if anything happens here, we can at least go to nearby government hospitals,” he says the city has health facilities and things are worse off in his village, “there, the hospital staff don’t give us much importance.”

He only has one prayer for the near future, “I am just hoping that a lockdown should not be imposed again, because I hear news that a complete lockdown may be imposed again because of increasing cases of Covid-19. If it happens then I don’t know how we will manage to survive. CJP already has given us ration kits twice and calling CJP again will not be good, I am sure because the organisation must be having its own limitations,” he signs off with concern for those who are concerned for him.

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: Mohammed Jamaluddin

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ASHA Workers on Covid-19 duty demand safety gear, healthcare, insurance and better wages

At present they are conducting door-to-door surveys, monitoring quarantines, recording health conditions, etc. without protective gear, unless they buy one on their own

26 Jun 2020

Covid 19Image Courtesy:newslaundry.com

They are officially called, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA). Over ten years ago, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) demanded that they be called Asha Workers. The name stuck, however they are yet to be officially recognised as workers, and given workers rights.  

Today, over nine lakh ASHA workers and facilitators are a part of the army of  frontline health workers who are out in the field working on implementing various Covid-19 related policies and protocols on the ground. These include door-to-door surveys, especially of those who have traveled recently, monitoring quarantine, recording health conditions, and following up of various government schemes launched to combat the spread of Covid-19  pandemic in the country.  Many of them are doing so without any medical grade masks or protective gear, unless they buy one on their own.  

They have recently lodged a peaceful protest, and if not heard, are likely to intensify it till their demand for better work conditions, health services and fair wages is met. On June 25, thousands of ASHA workers united, at the call of the All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers (CITU), and held a protest at various states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. They held protest stand-ins at various local health centres and submitted memoranda to the local authorities as well as state and Central Health Ministers at state and central level. 

According to Coordination Committee’s Convenor Ranjana Nirula, “When they (ASHA Workers) ask officials they are told to use their dupattas, or buy their own masks, as they travel long distances and go door-to-door to survey and guide people about Covid 19. Many have been infected and several have died.”

None of that seems to have made it to national headlines, nor have state governments recognised them as ‘frontline workers’ or hailed them as ‘warriors’ fighting the pandemic. The workers are instead reminded about how they are doing ‘seva’ or social service, and treated more like volunteers rather than workers who should be paid adequate dues for the job they do. “They face exploitation by calling them seva activists and volunteers, now these women are asking to be treated as professionals,” said Nirula. These workers have had it with being treated like unpaid labour, and being deprived of their rights as workers. 

“We have been fighting for their regularisation as workers. Now, they risk Coronavirus infection without PPEs,” said Nirula.

Especially now as Covid-19 lockdown and fears are also keeping the men folk at home, and increasing the number of challenges the ASHA workers are facing. The men in their families do not want them to go out to work and ‘bring disease back home’, and the men in the houses they visit also resist the questions asked.

“They are not provided transport, food, water, or rest facilities when they are out on the field, many have not been paid their March salaries yet,” said Nirula, adding that the ASHA workers have even been attacked while out on duty, in Haryana, Punjab  and Kashmir allegedly by police, even though they were in uniform. The authorities ‘apologised’  when local unions raised the issue, however that is too little, too late.

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/oYM3o_UvERLRcTXEHdK2SedW-FYd3r0RY61vPMGndyy7o7b7bvbyp9wErBGs4Vv4u59BcXflfq4W6t1KgOA1J-LiFrRNGS1omwfLc_h3pMXoaKZ0Ha07TrYW9qUZx1d1uhR42UtK

All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers (CITU), and held a protest at various has demanded the following:

1.    Regualrise ASHA Workers and all NHM workers as permanent workers, pay minimum wages and ensure social security and pension as per recommendations of the 45th and 46thILC. 

2.    Safety gear for all frontline workers, especially those in the health sector; PPEs for those who are engaged in containment areas and red/containment zone

3.    Frequent, random and free Covid-19 test of all frontline workers 

4.    Rs 50 lakhs insurance cover to all frontline workers (covering deaths on duty); coverage of treatment for Covid-19 for the entire family

5.    Additional incentive of Rs.25,000 per month for all contract and scheme workers on Covid -19 duty. Payment of all pending dues of ASHA workers immediately

6.    Compensation of  Rupees Five lakhs for all those who got infected while on duty

7.    Free and adequate COVID tests and treatment to all non tax paying people 

8.    Ensure adequate facilities in quarantine centres and hospitals

9.    Free ration /food for the needy and Rs.7,500 per month for all non tax paying families for six months

10. Strengthen the public health system and the health infrastructure

11. Allocate 6% of GDP for health sector

12. Withdraw  proposals for privatisation of public health infrastructure and services 

13.  Enact legislation for right to universal healthcare 

14. Make NHM a permanent health programme of the government, with universal application and adequate financial allocation

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/VtxuG8v5Dye7oCcbyYbc5UO76njjLCnkScvPuPwNi2DbbJVmEZurXYQ4ZRFSNhZ0gmN4uFpyjmlB_G_i2FoBgJdFgmcZPd-uJeCBzUyDKIdBnxeE1IYWvwl-q7ys20Wi2sDQ1lRk

As they wait for those demands to be considered by the Centre, there has been a bit of good news for over 65,000 ASHA workers in Maharashtra. They may soon get a Rs 2,000 incentive for their  Covid-19 related work. They have so far been earning about Rs 10,000 per month, reported the Hindustan Times. “State Health Minister Rajesh Tope has finalised a proposal for their salary hike which would be discussed in the Cabinet meeting. If the proposal is cleared, the ASHA workers would get a monthly hike of Rs 2,000,” an official from the Health and Family Welfare Department told PTI.

Related: 

Reports of glaring vacancies of ASHA workers in Covid-19 hotspots, no pay
Killing Dissent’ – How the government has been silencing opposing ideas and voices

ASHA Workers on Covid-19 duty demand safety gear, healthcare, insurance and better wages

At present they are conducting door-to-door surveys, monitoring quarantines, recording health conditions, etc. without protective gear, unless they buy one on their own

Covid 19Image Courtesy:newslaundry.com

They are officially called, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA). Over ten years ago, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) demanded that they be called Asha Workers. The name stuck, however they are yet to be officially recognised as workers, and given workers rights.  

Today, over nine lakh ASHA workers and facilitators are a part of the army of  frontline health workers who are out in the field working on implementing various Covid-19 related policies and protocols on the ground. These include door-to-door surveys, especially of those who have traveled recently, monitoring quarantine, recording health conditions, and following up of various government schemes launched to combat the spread of Covid-19  pandemic in the country.  Many of them are doing so without any medical grade masks or protective gear, unless they buy one on their own.  

They have recently lodged a peaceful protest, and if not heard, are likely to intensify it till their demand for better work conditions, health services and fair wages is met. On June 25, thousands of ASHA workers united, at the call of the All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers (CITU), and held a protest at various states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. They held protest stand-ins at various local health centres and submitted memoranda to the local authorities as well as state and Central Health Ministers at state and central level. 

According to Coordination Committee’s Convenor Ranjana Nirula, “When they (ASHA Workers) ask officials they are told to use their dupattas, or buy their own masks, as they travel long distances and go door-to-door to survey and guide people about Covid 19. Many have been infected and several have died.”

None of that seems to have made it to national headlines, nor have state governments recognised them as ‘frontline workers’ or hailed them as ‘warriors’ fighting the pandemic. The workers are instead reminded about how they are doing ‘seva’ or social service, and treated more like volunteers rather than workers who should be paid adequate dues for the job they do. “They face exploitation by calling them seva activists and volunteers, now these women are asking to be treated as professionals,” said Nirula. These workers have had it with being treated like unpaid labour, and being deprived of their rights as workers. 

“We have been fighting for their regularisation as workers. Now, they risk Coronavirus infection without PPEs,” said Nirula.

Especially now as Covid-19 lockdown and fears are also keeping the men folk at home, and increasing the number of challenges the ASHA workers are facing. The men in their families do not want them to go out to work and ‘bring disease back home’, and the men in the houses they visit also resist the questions asked.

“They are not provided transport, food, water, or rest facilities when they are out on the field, many have not been paid their March salaries yet,” said Nirula, adding that the ASHA workers have even been attacked while out on duty, in Haryana, Punjab  and Kashmir allegedly by police, even though they were in uniform. The authorities ‘apologised’  when local unions raised the issue, however that is too little, too late.

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/oYM3o_UvERLRcTXEHdK2SedW-FYd3r0RY61vPMGndyy7o7b7bvbyp9wErBGs4Vv4u59BcXflfq4W6t1KgOA1J-LiFrRNGS1omwfLc_h3pMXoaKZ0Ha07TrYW9qUZx1d1uhR42UtK

All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers (CITU), and held a protest at various has demanded the following:

1.    Regualrise ASHA Workers and all NHM workers as permanent workers, pay minimum wages and ensure social security and pension as per recommendations of the 45th and 46thILC. 

2.    Safety gear for all frontline workers, especially those in the health sector; PPEs for those who are engaged in containment areas and red/containment zone

3.    Frequent, random and free Covid-19 test of all frontline workers 

4.    Rs 50 lakhs insurance cover to all frontline workers (covering deaths on duty); coverage of treatment for Covid-19 for the entire family

5.    Additional incentive of Rs.25,000 per month for all contract and scheme workers on Covid -19 duty. Payment of all pending dues of ASHA workers immediately

6.    Compensation of  Rupees Five lakhs for all those who got infected while on duty

7.    Free and adequate COVID tests and treatment to all non tax paying people 

8.    Ensure adequate facilities in quarantine centres and hospitals

9.    Free ration /food for the needy and Rs.7,500 per month for all non tax paying families for six months

10. Strengthen the public health system and the health infrastructure

11. Allocate 6% of GDP for health sector

12. Withdraw  proposals for privatisation of public health infrastructure and services 

13.  Enact legislation for right to universal healthcare 

14. Make NHM a permanent health programme of the government, with universal application and adequate financial allocation

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/VtxuG8v5Dye7oCcbyYbc5UO76njjLCnkScvPuPwNi2DbbJVmEZurXYQ4ZRFSNhZ0gmN4uFpyjmlB_G_i2FoBgJdFgmcZPd-uJeCBzUyDKIdBnxeE1IYWvwl-q7ys20Wi2sDQ1lRk

As they wait for those demands to be considered by the Centre, there has been a bit of good news for over 65,000 ASHA workers in Maharashtra. They may soon get a Rs 2,000 incentive for their  Covid-19 related work. They have so far been earning about Rs 10,000 per month, reported the Hindustan Times. “State Health Minister Rajesh Tope has finalised a proposal for their salary hike which would be discussed in the Cabinet meeting. If the proposal is cleared, the ASHA workers would get a monthly hike of Rs 2,000,” an official from the Health and Family Welfare Department told PTI.

Related: 

Reports of glaring vacancies of ASHA workers in Covid-19 hotspots, no pay
Killing Dissent’ – How the government has been silencing opposing ideas and voices

Related Articles


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Migrant Diaries: The story of Mohammed Jamaluddin

“We took a bus, then rode in a truck, then walked, then boarded another truck, and were heckled by officials at each checkpost,” a mason recalls his hellish journey from Mumbai to Birbhum

24 Jun 2020

Migrants diaries

39-year-old Mohammed Jamaluddin is a skilled mason, who has been working in Mumbai for the past 13 years. But in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, he was forced to leave the city and undertake an arduous journey back home to his village in Birbhum, West Bengal. At first, he undertook two consequent journeys by bus, then travelled in the back of a truck, then a short distance even on foot, before again boarding a truck just so he could go home to his family!

Once he reached his village, he called to tell us, “The bus transport was provided by the government. But the journey was really painful and lack of proper coordination made it very challenging for homeward bound poor and helpless migrants.” 

Jamaluddin, had never thought he would have to leave Mumbai this way. He had come to the city in 2007, and worked as a labourer for seven months. But he had to return to his village after that. “I returned to Mumbai in 2009, and since then I am working here. Initially used to work as a helper, but now I am a skilled mason. We are called ‘Naka Workers’, because every morning we stand at the naka (road crossings) and then the Mukadam, our contractor hires as many workers as he needs for the day. Everyone used to get work daily,” he recalls how he went about his work in Mumbai before the pandemic wreaked havoc on his life and livelihood.

Jamaluddin remembers the time when he would earn only Rs 110 when he worked as a helper. “As a skilled mason I earn Rs 1,000 each day, and get work 23-25 days a month on an average, so I earned between Rs 23,000-25000,” he says. Telling us about sharing accommodation with other migrant workers from West Bengal in Mumbai, Jamaluddin says, “There were more than 200 of us, seven of us shared a room, and we divided the Rs 5,000 rupees rent amongst ourselves.” 

Jamaluddin had an annual work schedule and worked in Mumbai from October to June. As soon as the monsoon hit, work would slow down. He says, “During the rainy season I would always go back to my village and spend time with my wife, daughter who is three-years-old now, and my mother. I also have three brothers, but they live with their families.”

The visits home were spent relaxing and finishing any pending work in the house and sharing future plans with his wife. Jamaluddin says, “I would send Rs 15,000 back home and keep the rest. I have to save money because soon my daughter will start going to school, and I want to give her good quality education.” 

When the lockdown was announced Jamaluddin did not panic. “All of us had some money so we brought ration for one month. But when the lockdown was extended, it was a real struggle for us. Our money was over and so was the ration. Then requested ration from various people but only Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) gave us rations that were enough for nearly a month,” he says. “While getting the food was a big relief, our real problem was that seven of us lived in one 100 sq ft room. A police post near our locality made it impossible for us to step out, but we managed to survive somehow,” he remembers the hot summer months almost trapped in the room.

He was keeping track of the news and heard that the trains were soon going to start. “I hoped we could return to our village but there was also news that the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had not given permissions for the train. We still filled up the emergency travel forms, but the police never called us. Living with six others in one small room during the scorching summer was really getting difficult. The whole day we were drenched in sweat, nights were a bit cooler but two of my roommates fell ill,” he recalls.

“By May 15, we began discussing if we should start walking to West Bengal, and hire whatever transport we find along the way. I was the only one suggesting that we wait for a few more days, as surely there will be some arrangements made. But everyone was frustrated and wanted to reach their village anyhow. That day, three of my roommates from Malda, West Bengal decided to go by truck, and paid Rs 3,500 per head,” says Jamaluddin.  

On May 17 Jamaluddin’s other three roommates left paying Rs 4,000 per head for the journey back home. “Luckily, I heard about buses being arranged from Majiwada Thane to Chhattisgarh, so I went there and boarded the bus on May 18. I was so happy but my joy was short lived, as soon as I reached Madhya Pradesh, I saw that there was a waiting station for migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh but there was nothing for West Bengal,” he says.

MOHAMMED JAMALUDDIN WITH OTHER MIGRANT WORKERS ON A BUS

Jamaluddin made enquiries and was shocked at the response. “They asked why I came here, that it wasn’t the route to West Bengal,” says Jamaluddin recalling feeling shattered. But later he found that the police had made some arrangements and one bus left for Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. “We were 21 people, it took us two days to reach Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. There we boarded trucks leaving for Kharagpur, West Bengal, there were a total of 35 people in the truck and we had paid 200 rupees per head,” he says recalling another arduous leg of the journey.

Jamaluddin reached Kharagpur on May 21 but was in for another shock. “There was a camp in Kharagpur from where officials were sending migrants to their villages, but an officer questioned us about where we came from, how did we come, did we have permission. I told him the route we took, by bus till Chhattisgarh and then via truck. However, he said they had not been informed about all this and told us to leave! ‘You go to Mumbai again or go anywhere but don’t wait here’ he said, it was raining at that time,” Jamaluddin recalls feeling crestfallen at this point.

A stunned Jamaluddin I tried to explain the tough journey he and his colleagues had just survived but the officer was not ready to listen. “He forced us to leave from there. So, twelve of us started walking on the highway, towards Birbhum,” still coming to terms with the heartless treatment they had been meted out by the police. But Jamaluddin’s luck was about to change. “We had only walked a few kilometres and met a man who appeared like god for us, who asked us where we were going. I told him the entire story,” he recalls that chance meeting with a good samaritan who took them to a petrol pump near the highway, owned by his friend. “He asked us to wait there for the night and told us that the next day, May 22 there will be trucks going from here to Birbhum and other places to collect and drop stones,” says Jamaluddin.

The man told Jamaluddin and his friends that he will arrange for them to travel on these trucks too. “We were happy, the kind man even arranged food for us so that night. We ate and slept at the petrol pump. The next morning, we grouped according to our districts, and three of us boarded the truck headed towards Birbhum,” says Jamaluddin. As feared, at the Birbhum check post the truck was stopped by the police, who asked to see permission papers, “We had none, our truck driver gave Rs 1,000 to the police officer and then we were allowed to go. We pooled in money and repaid our driver,” says Jamaluddin showcasing how bribery is often the only resort for helpless people. They reached Birbhum that night and were made to wait at the Panchayat School. “I wondered if things would have been better if I had gone with my roommates earlier,” says Jamaluddin.

On May 23, they were sent to the government hospital for screening, and subsequently quarantined for 12 days. But, according to Jamaluddin, that was yet another horrifying experience. “Conditions at the quarantine were very bad, we were not provided food by them, and asked our families to bring rations for us. We cooked food ourselves every day and ate, there was no responsibility shown by the local government,” he says recalling his ordeal.

“It was a very bad experience for me but I am grateful to have met many good people who helped us for food, water, biscuits along the way. In each state, there were people distributing supplies and helping migrants returning home, just like the man who helped us reach Birbhum. I also want to thank all of you at CJP, and everyone across our country who are helping the poor. I have no trust left in the government,” he says. “We are not at fault. This Covid-19 has come from other countries but it is the poor who have to suffer,” says Jamaluddin expressing anguish at how he feels that the authorities abandoned the poor in this crisis situation.

Meanwhile, economic compulsions have made Jamaluddin realise that he has no other option, but to return to Mumbai. “I am waiting for things to get normal so that I can again go back to Mumbai and work, because there is no work in my village, and even if there is a job the payment is so little,” he says.

 

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

Migrant Diaries: The story of Mohammed Jamaluddin

“We took a bus, then rode in a truck, then walked, then boarded another truck, and were heckled by officials at each checkpost,” a mason recalls his hellish journey from Mumbai to Birbhum

Migrants diaries

39-year-old Mohammed Jamaluddin is a skilled mason, who has been working in Mumbai for the past 13 years. But in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, he was forced to leave the city and undertake an arduous journey back home to his village in Birbhum, West Bengal. At first, he undertook two consequent journeys by bus, then travelled in the back of a truck, then a short distance even on foot, before again boarding a truck just so he could go home to his family!

Once he reached his village, he called to tell us, “The bus transport was provided by the government. But the journey was really painful and lack of proper coordination made it very challenging for homeward bound poor and helpless migrants.” 

Jamaluddin, had never thought he would have to leave Mumbai this way. He had come to the city in 2007, and worked as a labourer for seven months. But he had to return to his village after that. “I returned to Mumbai in 2009, and since then I am working here. Initially used to work as a helper, but now I am a skilled mason. We are called ‘Naka Workers’, because every morning we stand at the naka (road crossings) and then the Mukadam, our contractor hires as many workers as he needs for the day. Everyone used to get work daily,” he recalls how he went about his work in Mumbai before the pandemic wreaked havoc on his life and livelihood.

Jamaluddin remembers the time when he would earn only Rs 110 when he worked as a helper. “As a skilled mason I earn Rs 1,000 each day, and get work 23-25 days a month on an average, so I earned between Rs 23,000-25000,” he says. Telling us about sharing accommodation with other migrant workers from West Bengal in Mumbai, Jamaluddin says, “There were more than 200 of us, seven of us shared a room, and we divided the Rs 5,000 rupees rent amongst ourselves.” 

Jamaluddin had an annual work schedule and worked in Mumbai from October to June. As soon as the monsoon hit, work would slow down. He says, “During the rainy season I would always go back to my village and spend time with my wife, daughter who is three-years-old now, and my mother. I also have three brothers, but they live with their families.”

The visits home were spent relaxing and finishing any pending work in the house and sharing future plans with his wife. Jamaluddin says, “I would send Rs 15,000 back home and keep the rest. I have to save money because soon my daughter will start going to school, and I want to give her good quality education.” 

When the lockdown was announced Jamaluddin did not panic. “All of us had some money so we brought ration for one month. But when the lockdown was extended, it was a real struggle for us. Our money was over and so was the ration. Then requested ration from various people but only Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) gave us rations that were enough for nearly a month,” he says. “While getting the food was a big relief, our real problem was that seven of us lived in one 100 sq ft room. A police post near our locality made it impossible for us to step out, but we managed to survive somehow,” he remembers the hot summer months almost trapped in the room.

He was keeping track of the news and heard that the trains were soon going to start. “I hoped we could return to our village but there was also news that the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had not given permissions for the train. We still filled up the emergency travel forms, but the police never called us. Living with six others in one small room during the scorching summer was really getting difficult. The whole day we were drenched in sweat, nights were a bit cooler but two of my roommates fell ill,” he recalls.

“By May 15, we began discussing if we should start walking to West Bengal, and hire whatever transport we find along the way. I was the only one suggesting that we wait for a few more days, as surely there will be some arrangements made. But everyone was frustrated and wanted to reach their village anyhow. That day, three of my roommates from Malda, West Bengal decided to go by truck, and paid Rs 3,500 per head,” says Jamaluddin.  

On May 17 Jamaluddin’s other three roommates left paying Rs 4,000 per head for the journey back home. “Luckily, I heard about buses being arranged from Majiwada Thane to Chhattisgarh, so I went there and boarded the bus on May 18. I was so happy but my joy was short lived, as soon as I reached Madhya Pradesh, I saw that there was a waiting station for migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh but there was nothing for West Bengal,” he says.

MOHAMMED JAMALUDDIN WITH OTHER MIGRANT WORKERS ON A BUS

Jamaluddin made enquiries and was shocked at the response. “They asked why I came here, that it wasn’t the route to West Bengal,” says Jamaluddin recalling feeling shattered. But later he found that the police had made some arrangements and one bus left for Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. “We were 21 people, it took us two days to reach Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. There we boarded trucks leaving for Kharagpur, West Bengal, there were a total of 35 people in the truck and we had paid 200 rupees per head,” he says recalling another arduous leg of the journey.

Jamaluddin reached Kharagpur on May 21 but was in for another shock. “There was a camp in Kharagpur from where officials were sending migrants to their villages, but an officer questioned us about where we came from, how did we come, did we have permission. I told him the route we took, by bus till Chhattisgarh and then via truck. However, he said they had not been informed about all this and told us to leave! ‘You go to Mumbai again or go anywhere but don’t wait here’ he said, it was raining at that time,” Jamaluddin recalls feeling crestfallen at this point.

A stunned Jamaluddin I tried to explain the tough journey he and his colleagues had just survived but the officer was not ready to listen. “He forced us to leave from there. So, twelve of us started walking on the highway, towards Birbhum,” still coming to terms with the heartless treatment they had been meted out by the police. But Jamaluddin’s luck was about to change. “We had only walked a few kilometres and met a man who appeared like god for us, who asked us where we were going. I told him the entire story,” he recalls that chance meeting with a good samaritan who took them to a petrol pump near the highway, owned by his friend. “He asked us to wait there for the night and told us that the next day, May 22 there will be trucks going from here to Birbhum and other places to collect and drop stones,” says Jamaluddin.

The man told Jamaluddin and his friends that he will arrange for them to travel on these trucks too. “We were happy, the kind man even arranged food for us so that night. We ate and slept at the petrol pump. The next morning, we grouped according to our districts, and three of us boarded the truck headed towards Birbhum,” says Jamaluddin. As feared, at the Birbhum check post the truck was stopped by the police, who asked to see permission papers, “We had none, our truck driver gave Rs 1,000 to the police officer and then we were allowed to go. We pooled in money and repaid our driver,” says Jamaluddin showcasing how bribery is often the only resort for helpless people. They reached Birbhum that night and were made to wait at the Panchayat School. “I wondered if things would have been better if I had gone with my roommates earlier,” says Jamaluddin.

On May 23, they were sent to the government hospital for screening, and subsequently quarantined for 12 days. But, according to Jamaluddin, that was yet another horrifying experience. “Conditions at the quarantine were very bad, we were not provided food by them, and asked our families to bring rations for us. We cooked food ourselves every day and ate, there was no responsibility shown by the local government,” he says recalling his ordeal.

“It was a very bad experience for me but I am grateful to have met many good people who helped us for food, water, biscuits along the way. In each state, there were people distributing supplies and helping migrants returning home, just like the man who helped us reach Birbhum. I also want to thank all of you at CJP, and everyone across our country who are helping the poor. I have no trust left in the government,” he says. “We are not at fault. This Covid-19 has come from other countries but it is the poor who have to suffer,” says Jamaluddin expressing anguish at how he feels that the authorities abandoned the poor in this crisis situation.

Meanwhile, economic compulsions have made Jamaluddin realise that he has no other option, but to return to Mumbai. “I am waiting for things to get normal so that I can again go back to Mumbai and work, because there is no work in my village, and even if there is a job the payment is so little,” he says.

 

Related:

Migrant Diaries: Tinku Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Hurdanand Behara

Migrant Diaries: Dilip Rana

Migrant Diaries: Ganesh Yadav

Migrant Diaries: Munna Sheikh

Migrant Diaries: Laxman Prasad

Migrant Diaries: Abul Hasan Mirza

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