A year into lockdown, migrant labourers in Gurgaon continue to struggle without work

Some 500 odd migrant workers have been assembling at various chowks in Gurgaon for the past nine months, looking for work. With dwindling savings and no hopes for a job, many of them are now preparing to go back to their homes.

Nimisha Agarwal March 27, 2021 21:10:24 IST
A year into lockdown, migrant labourers in Gurgaon continue to struggle without work

Migrant workers wait at a chowk near Sikanderpur in Gurgaon. Image courtesy: Nimisha Agarwal

Twenty-year-old Nishant prepares to pack his bags and leave for his village uncertain of his return.

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, while labour advocates and the government have taken note of employees laid-off in Gurgaon's ever famous multinational corporations hub, just outside those glistening offices stands another problem every morning.

Some 500 odd migrant labourers have been assembling at various chowks in Gurgaon for the past nine months, looking for work. With dwindling savings and no hopes for a job, many of them are now preparing to go back to their homes.

"There is no point," says Kundan, a 30-year-old carpenter who has been coming to the chowk every morning for the past six months.

"When the initial phase of lockdown happened, we travelled 1,000 kilometres on foot to reach our villages. Then, two months later, they (the government) open the borders and asked us to come back. However, there are 500 of us, and hardly one-two people who offer us jobs. Who will get it, then?" adds Kundan, with a disappointed look on his face.

Thirty-five-year-old Naveen was rather disappointed with the media. After initially refusing to talk on the basis of mistrust in the media, he finally agreed to give a statement.

"I am not sure if this will make any impact," he retorts and continues, "But I want to highlight this nevertheless. Many of us labourers have experienced instances where even after someone offers us a short-term gig, they later beat us and send us off without paying, or make us work longer than the time agreed upon."

When asked if they approached the police about this, Naveen responded that a complaint was registered but the police did not follow up on it. "We are poor people and migrants, no one wants to help us," he says.

Ajay Singh, the SHO of the area where the incident took place, denied the allegations. "We are doing our best to follow up on any complaint that we are getting, and will ensure speedy justice," he said in a statement.

"The (Gurgaon) municipal corporation is doing nothing for us, even when they are under mandate to do so," says Patel Singh, another labourer.

The Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon handles all matters related to labour in the city and have been under scrutiny for not taking adequate measures to provide relief to labourers amidst the pandemic.

When the author reached out to the municipal corporation for a statement, it denied responsibility, saying, "The workers need to have some merit and strength to get jobs, they cannot just get it like that. They lack skills, which is why they are not getting jobs. We cannot do anything about it until we get orders from the district commissioner".

All attempts to contact the district commissioner went unanswered.

"In this situation, what do I eat, and what do I provide to my family?" a visibly disturbed and emotional Rakesh Jatav said.

While Jatav is finding it difficult to arrange two meals a day for his family, he has also been under pressure from the landlord to pay Rs 4,000 rent. But he has another problem to face: the education of his children. His two kids attend the local government school, which has shifted all classes online.

"Look at my phone. How am I supposed to get a smartphone with an internet connection when I can barely able to afford food for my family? And even if I get a smartphone, which child gets to study using it? It seems like all problems of the world conspired to hit us all at once," he says.

To complicate matters further, there is a clear gender divide when it comes to lobbying and organising jobs for migrant labourers.

"When the men scuffle amongst each other for the one job that comes by in weeks, where do you think we will fight? We are always left behind," says Kamti Singh, a woman migrant labourer.

Sharmila Jatav, another woman migrant worker, had a lot to chip in about Gurgaon's labour union.

"All the members of the union are males, and they have hardly accounted for the problems faced by women labourers during the pandemic. For me, earning even a bit ensured that I had at least some savings that I could call mine. But now, I feel clueless about my future," she says.

When Nishant was asked if he would come back, he let out a laugh and said, "Maybe, I am not built for this city. The poor will always be poor, no matter how much we dream otherwise."

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