We in Crisis – A Workers’ Life and Day

On its front-page, Faridabad Majdoor Samachar frequently publishes workers’ stories, relating both to their daily experiences and their life. This is less about ‘story-telling’ and ‘personal accounts’ as such, but about a collective process of discovering not only how the current system shapes our ‘private’ life according to its inner structure, but also how in seemingly ‘individual’ workers’ experiences lies a creative and productive wealth of the working class – the experiences of having worked in rural and urban areas, in various industries, in households and factories; of having gone through the systemic repressive institutions of family and school; of having found ways to survive and undermine the structural pressures.

We have translated and published workers’ his/her-stories in following earlier newsletters:
no.17
no.24
no.31
no.34
no.42

A 37 years old worker – FMS no.276 – June 2011

I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. There is no toilet, one has to go to the open space next to the rail-tracks. You have to be careful, I have seen two people being killed by trains – one of them was a relative of mine. After having washed, I prepare food together with my mate. In the morning we make vegetables and roti. The water comes from a private borewell, this is why we have to pay 150 Rs for water per month. We have finished preparing the food by 7:30 am. Washing, eating and then at 8:15 you have to leave for the factory.

Some things come up in the mind again and again. When Indira Gandhi died there was holiday at school. I was eight, nine years old then. I saw how, at the station, three wagons of a train were set on fire. After having dragged Sikhs out of the wagons, one after the other, the police beat them up. The crowd kept standing at a distance. They brought one Sikh and tied him up in a sack. When the policemen asked for petrol from people in the nearby shanties, I kept on standing to see what they would do. The policemen sprinkled the sack with petrol and set fire to it. I ran away in fear. There was a curfew for three days. When I think about it now, it seems strange to me – how was this possible?

The shift starts at 8:30am . At the moment I work in the New Industrial Area in Faridabad, in a company called Sisaudia Engineering. I work here in the Honda department, I operate an industrial drill, even though I have ITI (Industrial Training Institute) training in refridgeration and air-conditioning. Currently the minimum wage for unskilled workers is 4,503 Rs per month, but in this factory I earn 3,500 Rs.

I finished my ITI training in 2000. Our village is in East Uttar Pradesh and the ITI is about 20 kilometres away from our place – I cycled back and forth every day. I received 700 Rs student allowance per year. I also worked on the fields. My father was employed as a permanent worker at Gedore-Jhalani Tools factory in Faridabad, but for several years they had hardly been paid any wages. I arrived in Delhi to do my apprenticeship. The widowed mother-in-law had a house in Trilokpuri, but there were expenses for three young brother-in-laws and two sister-in-laws. Instead of doing an apprenticeship I started working as a security guard in Nanj Supermarket in Greater Kailash (South Delhi). I was working for Gajraj Securities, but hired through a contractor from NOIDA, who paid 3,800 Rs. I worked there for three and a half months, then the job was finished – a manager had embezzled three to four crore Rs. After looking for work for ten days I found a job at Kapeel Export factory in NOIDA Sector 11, they paid 1,200 Rs. I learned how to print and embroider clothes with machines. After having worked for some time the piece-rate wages went up to 4 to 6,000 Rs. I worked there for two years. Then my father fell ill and I returned to the village.

When we arrive at the factory we have to carry the raw material, which is stored outside the factory, to the machines. In 8 hours you have to drill 1800 pieces. I don’t have a particular fear of accidents. While working, you think about all kind of things.

After I had finished my eighth class in Faridabad I went back to the village. My grandfather had become old. I started to plough the fields with the bullocks and did other work. I finished the tenth class in a school three miles away. I enrolled in the Intercollege in Pratapgarh and lived in the student hostel there. They paid 50 Rs per month student allowance. I went back to the village only at weekends – I worked on the fields there, and when there was too much work, I took days off at the college. My mother went to Faridabad in order to have an eye surgery, around this time I failed my eleventh class. Because of mental pressure I also failed once in the twelfth class – my wife died after a miscarriage. We had lived together for many days, we were married when I was in the ninth class. I finished the twelfth class in a private college. When my neighbour – who taught in a neighbouring village – opened a school in our village, I joined him. When we had enrolled 250 children, each of us four teachers would earn around 500 Rs. I stopped teaching when I had to both study for ITI and do the work on the fields.

At 12:30 there is a lunch break. There are 400 workers in the factory, but there is no canteen. There is no place to sit and eat. I go to our shanty and eat there. And at 1 o’clock you have to be back at the drill.

In 1993, after having finished my tenth class I was trying hard to find a job. I filled in many application forms. I went to Bophal, Buvaneshvar, Jodhpur in order to apply for jobs as a gangman for the railways. Then on the bases of the ITI I went to Mumbai, Ilahabad, Lakhnow, Kolkata in order to get a job as an assistant driver. In 1998, I went to an interview for a job at the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation department. A lot of job seeking people came at the same day. Seeing this, the administrators said that the interviews were cancelled and that we would receive further information by letter. People started throwing stones. The place was closed down, people left. This letter never arrived. After having finished the ITI I put my name down on the list of the employment office in Pratapgarh. They never sent anything. I renewed the enrolment in 2003 and 2006. Again nothing. In 2006, they told me not to put my name down again in future. I got furious. In the meantime I had seen governments changing from Congress, BJP, SP, BSP…

At 2:30 the contractor provides tea. The wages are low, but there is no particular atmosphere of complaining here. I know some of the people who work here from before, acquaintances, friends…

In 2009 the village council leader himself issued a job card under the MNREGA (Rural Employment Scheme). In 2010 during the monsoon the village leader said: “Your money has arrived for the 25 days of work that you have done. Open an account and you can get the money.” I did not even work under this scheme… figure that out. I then met a lot of other people who had not worked, but in whose name money was drawn for MNREGA. The village leader called the bank manager to his home and asked him to open accounts. When it? was to get the money from the bank the village leader said I should go to the bank and that the contractor (who was supposed to have undertaken the work under MNREGA) has already taken the pass book there. I went to the bank, I withdrew 2,500 Rs from the account, out of which 1,700 Rs was taken by the contractor… the village leader is illiterate and he once received a reward from the prime minister.

No one stops working at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The overtime is only paid at single rate, but nevertheless, no one could make ends meet if they did not work 12 hours a day. Some workers work 200 hours overtime per month.

I married again in 1997. We had children. My father did not receive his outstanding wages from his company. Even in the village they sell packaged goods nowadays (everything becomes more expensive). The bullocks have been sold and 1.5 bigha are now ploughed by tractor. The school fees are 800 Rs per month. My wife works as a domestic nurse, but she does not get a fixed salary, nor a honorarium, she works piece-rate: for a childbirth 600 Rs, a vaccination 50 Rs, a sterilisation 150 Rs. But she also has to pay, e.g. 200 Rs for the room for a monthly meeting – it is difficult to earn enough to cover expenses. We wanted to form a Dr. Ambedkar Self-Aid Group, but there is no space, where would you keep the goats? What will you give the buffalos to eat? There is no hay. The chicken spread their dirt everywhere. I thought about starting sewing, but I didn’t know how to. I tried to learn, but was not too successful. I thought again about an apprenticeship, after the CTI I could then complete my ITI master. I arrived again in Faridabad, to do an apprenticeship in refridgeration and air-conditioning at Whirlpool company, but they said that they wouldn’t take anyone who comes from a different state. So I then started to work as a casual worker at Whirlpool. At the cabinet line there were three permanent workers, six casuals and two workers hired through contractors – their wages were 20,000 Rs, 4,200 Rs and 3,500 to 4,000 Rs respectively. Because there was too much work to be done back home on the field I left this job in August 2010 and went back to the village.

We finish working at 8 or 9 o’clock and buy vegetables on the way back to the shanty. Between my mate and myself, whoever comes home first starts to prepare dinner. We make dal, rice and roti – all in all this takes about two hours. We go to sleep around 11 o’clock or midnight. I cannot sleep… I really can’t stand the noise around, the trains which pass nearby really disturb you. You never get a good night’s sleep. The head becomes heavy.