In the realm of suffering, migrant workers dwell

Migrant workers are living a life from hand to mouth in Delhi, which is built on the back of their labour. Beyond utter poverty, they face sheer humiliation from all quarters and long for a life with basic dignity

Labourers conduct their daily work at Chandni Chowk. (Photo: Faisal Malik)

Every year, thousands of people from impoverished villages move to India’s metropolitan cities to fulfill their aspirations and dreams of a better life. However, in face of a crisis, they are often the worst hit. Even during Covid induced lockdown, migrant workers were among those who bore the brunt of it at its ugliest.

One such migrant worker, Mohammad Ashraf, hailing from Bihar, said that during the lockdown, he went back to his village barefoot.

“I had to face many hardships, which I don’t wish for anyone. People used to long for water, and sometimes for food. When food was available, there was no water and vice versa. If anyone could get a bottle of water somewhere, then everyone fought with each other saying – give us give us. People didn’t have the money to be alive,” he says.

A rickshaw puller, Maqbool, has been working in Delhi for the past three decades. When he first moved to Delhi, he wanted to achieve his dreams, but today he is barely surviving with his family of four.

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He laments, “I am living in Delhi for 30 years, driving a rickshaw to feed four mouths. We save nothing here – what we earn in Delhi is exhausted here, in Delhi. I couldn’t buy anything, that’s why we didn’t have anything to sell. Everything I earned was spent in raising our children here. Such is the expenditure here!

“Inflation is so much that we save nothing in Delhi. It is enough if you get to earn something for your livelihood. I just earned to feed my family, I could not buy anything back in the village, nor could I save anything here. First, I used to do labour work at Chawri Bazar. At that time, I used to earn Rs 60 per week. Yet, during those days, there was never any shortage of ration in the house. Today, inflation is so much that Rs 300 is spent every day,” he adds.

Meanwhile, an autorickshaw driver, Deepak, who migrated from Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow says. ” A migrant labourer, who toils hard to make ends meet, at the end of the day just hopes to survive. There are many like us who came to Delhi to earn better but inflation and demonetisation left us on the road. We are suffering.”

“No work can be done without labour. Even if our engineers make a machine, labour is needed to run it. Even food can’t be eaten without using your hands. If there is a big machine, its work depends on the worker. If we see the city shining, then the labourer’s hand is behind that sheen,” he says.

Forty-five-year-old Sandeep has done all kinds of work, including horse-cleaning, but never received an ounce of respect.

“There is no, absolutely no respect for us nowadays. I drive an auto, if I blink my eyes while driving, then an accident will happen immediately. Because of that our life can be lost, the life of the passenger can also be lost. Regarding respect, we are humiliated daily by even police officers. Not even basic human dignity is considered for us,” he says.

Sandeep continues, “At a construction site, a worker is not respected like an engineer who is always talked to respectfully. Back in our village, we had a kutcha in a dilapidated condition, so whatever money I had I sent to my father for repair work. My father should also feel some joy that his son is earning!”

Meanwhile Mohammad Ashraf who works at a Barber shop in Harola says, Delhi is a very big city, but it is very expensive, due to which the poor have been affected a lot. I had come with a lot of expectations that I will earn and build a house here. But, nothing even close to that happened. We are very upset! At this stage, we do not understand anything, what should we do? It has been 10 years that we have not been able to do anything about the rising expenditure.”

Mohiuddin works 14 hours a day in old Delhi’s Chandni chowk, but saves nothing. “I moved to Delhi thinking that I will earn something and make some progress. I haven’t achieved anything yet. With inflation, business is decreasing. I barely manage to put two meals a day for my family. Whatever we earn, we have to spend on basics like food and water and a space to take shelter. That’s what happens to us!

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