Labour Day: Big city woes for migrant workers

Labour Day: Big city woes for migrant workers

Labour Day: Big city woes for migrant workers

Forty-year-old Deb Mandal, a housekeeping staff at a Metro station here was still on his eight-hour shift when the rising sun ushered in the first day of the month of May, a day that celebrates the 'triumph of labour'.

Mandal, a migrant from a village in West Bengal's Burdwan district finds it hard to reconcile with the "cutthroat life" in a metropolis.

"People like me cannot afford a luxury like Labour Day. The day is a joke for us. My shift began at 10 pm and in the morning I will be working in a private company. But, I wish I too could enjoy the day," says Mandal.

A contractual employee, Mandal switches between two jobs to supplement his poor income. "Living in Delhi becomes too heavy on the pockets," he says.

"I will try to rest or catch a nap for some minutes after I am done mopping the floor and shining the glasses. But, I have to make sure the passengers wake up to a spotless Delhi Metro, it is our pride after all," says the migrant.

"We only get two holidays per month...Living for about three years in the city, sometimes I just want to run back to my hometown, away from the madness and suffering, but I can't," he says.

And, if the buildings of the metro housed such poignant lives behind their swanky facade, the streets of the Capital play host to the 'hard lives' of rickshaw-pullers and daily wagers, most of whom are unaware even of the significance the day holds to their lives.
Umesh, 30 who hails from Araria district in Bihar when asked what May 1 signifies, replied,"Humko nahin maalom hai sar, aap hi bataiye (I do not know about it, so you tell me, sir)".

"I miss my hometown everyday. This rickshaw is my 'rozi-roti' (source of earning a living) and we can't eat if don't labour," says Umesh.

Drawing attention to the "less than fortunate" lives of his brethren, many of whom spend their days and nights practically in the 'tough streets', he says. "Azadi to aap logon ko mili hay, humey nahin (Only few have earned Independence, we are yet to gain freedom)".

"I may be lucky that I can earn and with family support can afford a roof over our head.But, go and see those rickshaw-wallahs lives in Minto Road and Karol Bagh. See, how they hang by their seats to catch a few moments of rest. and, now with this summer, their woes will only magnify," he says.

Autorickshaw-wallahs say they don't fare any better in the "cold, harsh and heartless mega city".

Ramesh, who hails from Motihari in East Champaran district in Bihar has been living in Delhi for about 10 years and prefers "night duty" over day-time job, but says it comes with a cost.

"I prefer night time only to early a little more but it carries a lot of pain, which not many even see. At night, between ferrying passengers, we try to catch some sleep and our back seat becomes our bed. A big city gives you money and food to eat but it also takes away so many other things, our roots, our languages, our cultures" says Ramesh.

Fellow autorickshaw driver Ahmed Mallik, 40, from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, who made Delhi his home 15 years ago, says "No one ever thought of our plight, the trials and tribulations we have to go in a city like this. And, just when we thought a new political party had warmed up to us, it squandered away the opportunity, we had allowed to it by supporting its cause."

Cycle mechanic Pappu in South Delhi's Sewa Nagar questioning the hollow and academic meaning of the Day marked for labourers says, "I will open my shop at the same time and work as usual.

Labour Day. Resting, not working for a day? Is the government going to give me bonus or something ? It's labour day for us everyday. Because, if we don't labour, we don't eat."

Lives of migrant labourers and the poignancy they carry has also fascinated artists and inspired great works of art.

The 'Triumph of Labour' statue on the Marina Beach in Chennai, sculpted by noted artist Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhry still remains one of the most potent symbols of labour struggles in changing times after it was erected in 1959.

A stone's throw from the statue was held the country's first May Day rally in 1923.
Surviving against all odds in a "rate race" city, these migrants perhaps have scripted an individual triumph of their own labour even as the struggle of their community continues, for equality and honour.