No country for them – A tale of textile workers in Gujarat’s textile hub

No country for them

A tale of textile workers in Gujarat’s textile hub

tnd1581

DamayanteeDhar/GauravTiwari

Surat | 14 August 2015

At the stroke of midnight today when the nation will celebrate its 69th Independence Day, far from the rejoicing and shining face of Gujarat, there would be hundreds of mill workers working a 12 hours shift overnight to earn two square meal for their family and themselves on an average salary of Rs 300- Rs 400 a day.

In the textile hub of Surat, Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) Pandesera sustains about 100 textile mills that run on the daily wage earners who are mostly migrated to Surat from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa in search of jobs. They work in 12 hours working shift from eight or nine in the morning till ten in the night when the next shift takes over. The average salary of these labourers is Rs 300 to Rs 400 that goes as high as Rs 600 if the person has an experience of four or five years of working a mill.

The manager at Bhagyalakshmi dyeing and printing mill at GIDC Pandesera won’t let anyone have a look at how the mill functions or talk to any worker as it is strictly not allowed by orders of the owner Anil Kumar Agarwal and he quickly changes his statement to, “It’s not safe either for someone who is news to a mill.” But as we come out of the mill, a standing across keeps staring at us, I ask him,

“Are you a worker in a mill?”

Yes, he quickly replies and steals a glance around him as he says, “We are not allowed to talk to strangers while at work.”

tnd1582Refusing to reveal his name or the mill he works, he almost whispers, “I am not allowed to come out the mill either. Our working conditions are horrible. We basically never get a day off. If there’s a death in the family, the bosses say, “Well, there’s nothing anyone can do about that. If someone’s dead, he’s dead. Why do you want to go there? You can’t do anything anyway. If you absolutely want to take the day off, then take it. But you won’t earn anything that day. We only get money if we’re at the factory. There’s no paid vacation.”

“And then there’s the unbearable heat! In the area of the mill where I work there are the washing units where saris are washed boiling water and treated with chemicals before they are dried in next section. The temperature is 100 degree Celcius and there are no fans. That’s how things are at our company.”

“The name is written on the walls of the mill, in English and Gujarati. But I can’t read or write”, he adds.

NitishPashwan, a young boy of 17 years had migrated to Surat couple of years ago in search of employment said, “I came here because I culd find myself a job at Bihar. After arriving in the city, I use to live at at my friend’s house and I was employed as helper in a Dyeing and printing mill through a reference. Since then, I have been working here a border man and earning Rs400 a day”.

When he was asked are you satisfied with your job, he smiled and said, “ if I get a job at my hometown I would always choose to live there, even if I am paid half of what I am earning here. I work in 12 hours shift and earn Rs400 a day, the temperature remains more than 45 degrees inside the mill in the monsoon season. The situation becomes worse when summer arrives.”

“A border man is a person at dyeing mill, who is responsible to align the raw fabrics in to the printing units, they keep a keen watch at the sarees so that they should remain aligned at the time of printing,” said, 25 year old Vijay Kumar , a border man at Ambaji Dyeing & Printing mill.

Vijay, who is a sole earner of his family said, necessity is the main reason we have been working in such a filthy condition, no one raise their voice against the maximum working hours being deployed by factory owners.

He said, 12 thousands are not enough for a family for surviving in the present time, migrants prefers to earn, even they did not get any basic facilities like safety gadgets and insurance facility.

Prashant Bind (18), Rajkumar Bind (25) and Saroj (40) residents of Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh are workers at boiler department. Their prime job is to cover and maintenance of the pipes with insulators by insulating Chemical to avoid loop-holes for steam leakage. They draw a salary of 12 thousand after working for three companies Balakrishna, Shree Salasar and Ambaji dyeing mills.

Saroj, who has spent more than two decades in working as a labour in the textile mills stated, “I have seen a hundreds of strikes related to increase in price of printing and reducing taxes, but still waiting to see an initiative from owners to provide basic facilities to the workers, like provident fund, life insurance cover and assurance of a perennial job.”

tnd1583The idea of “Swatch Bharat” elude them as they live in shanties in pathetic living conditions. “The government can all bask in the glory of scoring top ranks in the Swachh Bharat Rankings but this how we live, states Raja, a resident of Bihar, and worker in one of the mills, pointing at an open drain passing near his abode.

Will you vote for BJP or Modi in Bihar elections?

The answer is simple and straight, “Hum kyu vote de unhe, hamareliyekyakiyaunhone, hum to is deshkeniwasinaihai.(why d we vote for Modi or BJP, what have done for us, this isn’t a country for us.).”