For Migrant Workers in the National Capital, Gurudwaras are the Lifeline, Politics Remains a Distant Concern

Delhi tops in inter-state migration, with most residents in slum clusters coming from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal for work.
Daily Wage Earners at Gurudwara for their morning meal
Daily Wage Earners at Gurudwara for their morning mealAyanabha/The Mooknayak

New Delhi-  As the morning light softly touches the city streets in the National Capital, a group of hardworking individuals begins their day by making their way to the Gurudwara in Govind Puri. These are the daily wage earners, their faces showing the signs of hard work and determination. They come here not to pray, but to find something to eat.

For them, the Gurudwara is more than just a place of worship. It's a place where they can find a warm meal, perhaps their only one for the day. The simple rotis with a humble dal or a dry curry served here mean a lot to them, offering a sense of comfort and assurance in the midst of their daily struggles.

As they gather around the corridor, the smell of food fills the air, and there's a sense of camaraderie among them. In this moment, they find solace and support in each other's company, reminding them that they're not alone in their journey.

In the quiet of the morning, amidst the sounds of the city waking up, these humble individuals find a moment of peace and nourishment, both for their bodies and their spirits.

As per the 2011 Census, Delhi has the highest proportion of inter-state migrants. In slum clusters and various unauthorized settlements within the city, eight out of every ten residents hail from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal.

The majority migrated to Delhi in search of employment opportunities, and over 78% of families earn less than Rs 20,000 per month.

A study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) surveyed 1,017 individuals residing in different areas of Delhi.

It revealed that 45.5% of respondents have lived in the city for over a decade, while 28.7% were born in Delhi.

The Mooknayak set out in the early hours of the morning to engage with the daily wage earners in Giri Nagar, aiming to grasp the myriad challenges they face.

The first thing that was visible at the chowk was the absence of many workers. Akshay was sitting nearby with a bucket of paint brushes. He earns his living by whitewashing buildings in the neighborhood.

As we broached the topic of livelihood, Akshay interjected abruptly, "Do you even know how much hunger there is here?" “Aapko Kya pata ki kitni bhukhmari hai yahan, saamne Gurudwara par roti milti hai subha 8 baje. Woh roti na baante toh saare marr jaye". ( The nearby Gurudwara provides flattened bread in the morning as breakfast. If they do not serve that, we all will die of starvation).

And soon enough, as the time of morning langar approached, many workers showed up for the meals. Many have adapted their daily routine around the meals provided by the community workers at the Gurudwara at Gali no. 1 of Govind Puri as the daily wage earned is not enough for them to fill their stomachs.

Akshay mentioned that it had been ten days without him earning even 1500 rupees.

Akshay's bucket of brushes for white-washing
Akshay's bucket of brushes for white-washingAyanabha/The Mooknayak

The lack of available work is a complaint echoed by many daily wage earners at the chowk. Manmohan is from Ballia (UP) and works with tent houses. He questioned the lack of available work around the area, stating that the increased number of celebrations is also a probable cause for not having access to work.

In a month, he gets to work for about 20 days and gets to earn 10,000 at the most. He lives with his wife and kids in a rented room which costs 2,000 per month, which means 20% of his earnings already goes in paying the rent.

Rais, another daily wager from Uttar Pradesh, adds to the conversation, saying rent and food are the two sources where maximum earning goes. There are times when he is not even able to make money for the rent, causing him to go and ask other people to lend him money which adds up to his burden.

According to the labourer’s account, this practice has resulted in a rise in crime in the area, with individuals frequently resorting to violence against those who couldn't repay borrowed money on time. Rais further noted that incidents of petty crimes, such as theft, have also surged due to insufficient resources to support the community.

According to him, this situation has also resulted in certain companies refraining from hiring workers from the area, as the community there has been associated with criminal activities, thereby tarnishing their reputation. This has become a vicious cycle.

Rais, has two children, both of whom are in primary school. Talking about the expense associated with their studies, he said, “Abhi toh bache chhote hain to chal jata hai. Copy Kitab ka paisa nahi rehta kabhi kabhar to woh bhi mang lete hain (Right now the children are young, so their studies and associated costs are not too much. But if I do not have the money then I ask for it from others)

The cost of education-related expenses also provides a hindrance for the workers, with many not being able to afford the costs which discourage them from sending their children to school.

Calloused and Swelled hands of a worker
Calloused and Swelled hands of a workerAyanabha/The Mooknayak

Kavita also delves into daily wage work and sets up a stall during the time of Navratri to sell auspicious items related to worshipping the goddess. She has multiple children, and her eldest daughter had to discontinue her studies after the 10th standard because she did not have an extra 2,100 rupees for her fees.

Kavita mentioned that her husband has passed away, forcing her to work in order to provide for her family. At times, she ends up helping her father with his roadside stall too.

One daily-wage earner interrupted the conversation to add that even education cannot help their family break out of the cycle of toil. Dinesh Chand, from Etah, who was waiting for any opportunity to earn the day’s wage, added that he has a bachelor’s degree in science from a local college but still did not get a job.

He talked about another person he knows who has completed Chartered Accountancy but shares the same fate as him.

Dinesh is a science graduate but joblessness has forced him to work as a daily-wage labourer.
Dinesh is a science graduate but joblessness has forced him to work as a daily-wage labourer. Ayanabha/The Mooknayak

By that point, Rakesh chimed in and began discussing his family, but the other laborers present started dismissing him. It didn't take long to realize he was intoxicated.

He went on to say, “Bhaiya, agar aap meri tarah raaste me sote, toh aapko pata chalta daaru peena kyu zaruri padh jaata hai (Brother, if you slept on the streets like me, you would understand why drinking becomes necessary to numb your senses).”

Though controversial, his words shed light on the prevalent issue of substance abuse in the community.

Many turn to alcohol to escape the pressures of society or simply to cope with the harsh reality of sleeping on the streets while fending off others.

The long-drawn conversations with the community came to an end as soon as the Gurudwara opened up and started serving meals to the daily-wage earners, prompting reflection on the necessities and hardships of life.

It is also important to note that since most of the wage earners are migrants, not many benefit from the schemes provided by the state government. Lack of awareness also results in members not having documentation for accessing such support.

The Labour Community and Their Vote:

“Vote dena hi padhta tha, tum jaha bhi raho (Casting your vote is important, no matter where you are),” expressed Manmohan when the conversation turned to the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections.

When asked about the primary concern influencing their voting decisions, he replied by stating, “Mudda yahi hai ki vote usse hi dena hai jo jeeetega. Agar har jaye fir vote ka kya fayda (The issue is that we have to give our vote to the one who will win. If the person we vote for loses, then what is the use of voting.)”

“Aadmi jab line pe rehta hai tab pata chal jaata hai kaun jeet raha hai" (When you’re standing in line, you get to know who is winning).

These words underscore the disillusionment of the workers regarding the election system. Governments come and go, but the realities on the ground seldom change.

Most daily wage laborers are migrants and would go back to their villages during the election season, but political ideologies are not important to many.

Ideologies could influence them if they had the opportunity to contemplate them, assuming they weren't preoccupied with thoughts of where their next meal would come from.

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