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>Doomed: Gujarat’s daily wage earners

>Nabina Das

New Delhi, May 12 (2002)

Shanti Abhiyan and PUCL-Vadodara (Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties), two voluntary organizations and human rights activist groups, have found that post Godhra carnage in Gujarat has rendered daily wage labourers bereft of employment and on the verge of starvation.
Most of the daily wage earners, a majority of them belonging to the minority community, are being forced to stay indoors for weeks together without any employment. A targeted attack on the minority community in the name of a revenge for the Godhra massacre has continued unabated ever since February 27. Homes of thousands of people belonging to the minority community have been razed to the ground. With all hell being let loose, and the government proving to be indifferent towards the ongoing problem in the once prosperous state, sources of livelihood have been destroyed.
It is only now that with the presence of K P S Gill, that the Gujarat state police has been revamped. The Supercop has promised stern action against those involved in rioting. Earlier, most cases of arson and looting happened in the presence of the police forces where the attackers had boldly stated that they have police protection.
According to Shanti Abhiyan and PUCL, looking back at the statistics, in the atmosphere of polarization in Gujarat in the past 5 years, as many as 10 lakh people have lost employment in the state. No new employment has been generated to rectify this. “The government, the public and the private sector have instead touted the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) as an answer to this,” states a PUCL observation.The PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan statement says: “Due to the new economic policy of the government, the situation of the common person is worsening day by day. Like vegetable vendors, groups of daily wage labourers move around in areas like Old Padra Road, Nyay Mandir, and the railway station underbridge. Now they have begun to overflow to other, newer areas of the city. In Baroda city, earlier there used to be 3-5 casual labour markets but now these have now increased to 20.”
Under any circumstance, daily wage workers have to work for more than 10-16 hours every day. The PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan report points out that as many as 4,000-10,000 people stand in labour markets for hours each day in Baroda city alone to get employed.
The common myth earlier, according to PUCL, was that these people are migrants from Panchmahal or Chota Udepur region. But a careful survey of these labour markets will reveal that there are new categories of people in these markets – even those who earlier had secure jobs or people who worked in industries that have now closed down, or those who have been retrenched in the name of “Voluntary Retirement Scheme”.
The report states that some of these “daily wage labourers” used to get Rs 2,500-3,000 per month as permanent employees in industries. Now, in the casual labour market they get a meager Rs 35-65 as daily wages. With the size of this casual labour market bursting at its seams, the wages naturally, have shown a downward trend. With more people joining these markets after being rendered homeless in the recent carnage, ones may imagine the situation.Taking stock of the riot scenario in Gujarat, PUCL notes that the number of rickshaws that are run on rents has also significantly increased. Among the number of those who are earning a living in such a manner, 50 per cent are workers of the closed mills of Gujarat.
Amongst the new rickshaw drivers, there are of course those who are unable to get other jobs, but also those who have lost their regular jobs or have been retrenched in the name of voluntary retirement. Those who can afford to rent out their rickshaws have bought the cars themselves, so that those who drive the rickshaws and those who sit in rickshaws are from about “the same economic strata” making the economic condition of rickshaw drivers even more precarious. Around 70 per cent of rickshaws are not able to go on road ever since the riots broke out and assumed a nefarious proportion.
There are about 70 per cent of people who rely on the informal/unorganised sector for their employment. It is anybody’s guess that a section of the population has been either been driven out of their homes or virtually imprisoned in their houses since rioting began and are unable to go out to seek employment. This segment of the population are not white collared workers employed in schools, banks or any other organised sector, where if people do not show up at work due to curfew, they are still able to get their salaries or wages. So not only have these people been pushed on the brink of starvation and are being terrorised by the fear of communal attacks, but they also do not see a favourable state intervention.

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This entry was posted on May 3, 2008 by in economy, gujarat, india, industry, minority, Nabina Das, PUCL, riots.
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