Women Collective’s Participation in Gram Sabhas. An Attempt to Redefine Citizenship

By Family Empowerment Programme

When Mr Modi was being bestowed upon the award for the clean India programme, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a video was playing in the background. A quote from India’s founding father flashed on the screen saying, “Sanitation is more important than political independence”. Though Gandhi did hold sanitation as a central principle for his idea of a self-sufficient society, however, what he meant by sanitation was much broader than a superficial attempt to clean our cities, forced construction of dysfunctional toilets in the villages and half-hearted attempts to actually clean country’s vital rivers. The danger here is that Gandhi has come to offer to everybody what they would like to understand them to mean.

To quote Gandhi, on his dream of a self-sufficient village, “Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, every village will be a republic, or panchayat having full powers.” To reinstate this dream, Gram Sabahs were incepted by the 72nd and 73rd amendment in 1992 and 1993 respectively and were envisioned to be vibrant bodies for people to come together to make decisions of allocation and expenditure of public resources. This dream came closest to Gandhi’s dream of Swaraj (self-rule) as it saw people exercising their agency in their political life. Ironically, contrary to this dream, gram sabhas have become another instrument to push down the central agenda of constructing dysfunctional toilets and prohibiting the use of plastic.

Much has been written about the harassment, violence and intimidation that went into declaring India Open Defecation Free, however, this article aims to highlight a deeper issue at hand. The article describes how the village institutions have become just another tool in the hands of the government to provide handouts to people and push the central agenda, in doing this they are destroying the very soul of these bodies. It goes on to draw the experiences of a federation of 12000 women’s right-based groups, called Ujala Sangathan, operating in the Adivasi, Aravalli region of Southern Rajasthan that has been able to fight their way in and make a small opening in the corrupt and top-down scheme of affairs.

Gram Sabhas being reduced to pet agendas of Plastic Ban and Swachh Bharat In a Gram Sabha in Lohagarh panchayat of Dhariyawad block, Pratapgarh district, 150 members from the panchayat had come to discuss their everyday ordeals related to lack of water supply, inaccessible roads, dysfunctional schools and Aanganwadis. The Sachiv (panchayat secretary)- after dismissing a majority of these demands as falling outside the rule book- joined his hands and peacefully urged everyone to construct toilets in their houses. When Sajju bai stood up and asked, “there is no water, what should we do after constructing these toilets”? Sachiv snapped at her saying, “I cannot get water to wash your behinds”.

In Tirol panchayat of Gogunda block, when Kishan Lal along with few other members reached the Gram Panchayat on 2nd October to attend the Gram Sabha, they were greeted by two panchayat officials. These people had to come on their own, without receiving any information from the panchayat. Before anything was discussed, the gram sachiv hustled them into signing the register and urged them to leave. When asked to read the details of the register, Sachiv reluctantly read, “The discussion has been around the ban on plastic. People were made aware of how plastic is leading to an increase in pollution and turning into a hazard for our villages”. This was followed by everyone taking a pledge to not use plastic from then on. While, what happened in Tirol and Lohagarh, is an example of the regular gram sabha, these platforms are only being utilized to publicly shame people for asking legitimate questions and putting up their demands.

A regular Gram Sabha meeting’s trajectory looks something like this- dates of the meeting not disclosed, the agenda of the meeting not discussed, signatures obtained either discreetly or forcefully. Moreover, the agenda for these meetings remain pre-decided, which often echoes the centre’s baseless agenda. In this case, the agenda was ‘ban on single-use plastic’, a few months ago, it was ‘toilet construction.’ Gram Sabhas were made to break away from the conventional meetings that did not involve citizens, instead to be the downfall of such a situation is pushing of universalized schemes that neither aligns with people’s needs nor fulfils them. These are often accompanied by numerous varied eligibility criterion, leaving both the panchayat administration and the citizens in perpetual confusion of managing hundreds of schemes, accessing their benefits and manoeuvring the corruption.

Citizens’ attempts to participate and collaborate are mostly met with uncertainty Gajendra, a social worker in Bokhada panchayat (Gogunda block, Udaipur district) exclaims, “before the Gram Sabha, I went to the Sarpanch’s house, to the panchayat office, and even phoned the Sachiv to ask about the date of the gram sabha.” The panchayat officials kept delaying the date and his enquiry was met with uncertainty every time he tried. It was only the night before the gram sabha, Gajendra was told that the meeting will happen in the morning at 8. He rushed to the meeting in the morning with a group of 50 people. “We could have brought more people, if only we were informed a bit earlier,” he said. These 50 people, however, were able to push for their demands related to water, employment and ration.


Photo 1Gajendra (second from right) is attending the gram sabha in Bokhada panchayat, with members from his panchayat. Citizens in Bokhada were making demands on a better functioning of the public schemes, fair payment of NREGA wages, providing water supply for the tribal hamlet as well as preparing women as hand pump mistri.


The most common argument given by panchayat officials is that the people in the village do not come for the meetings even if we call them. However, these stories provide evidence which suggests that whenever citizen’s group has proactively tried to participate in a dialogue with the panchayat, they have met with nothing but defeat. People were either not informed about the gram sabhas or were informed very late. Those who were finally able to make it to the meetings were either faced contempt, abused, were shouted at or simply challenged for being illiterate.

In Lohagarh, during a Mahila sabha (a mandatory meeting that takes place with women, before the gram sabhas), when Kanka bai stood up after mustering all her courage, to say that her hamlet does not have a hand pump, Sachiv asked her if she knew the distance between her hamlet and the one that has a hand pump. Kanka bai hesitatingly replied, “it takes us one hour to get there, but I don’t know the distance”. Sachiv snapped at her saying, “I am asking about the distance”, this made Kanka sit down, feeling ashamed, in front of 150 people.

Women’s Collective brought forward some positive results                                         

Few members of the Ujala Sangathan, a local women’s collective that functions in six Adivasi blocks of Aravali (Southern Rajasthan), had decided to actively participate in the gram sabhas this time. To keep the women’s issue alive and bring it to the fore, many samooh women had also called for a Mahila sabha beforehand. Bhuri bai says, “it is usually men who go to these panchayat meetings. They only talk about issues that concern them, such as road. But if women go to these meetings, we will present issues that affect the majority of the families”.

In the last one month, almost 14 Mahila sabhas took place in almost 15 panchayats, most of these panchayats had a presence of Ujala Sangathan. Their presence had led to a discussion which went beyond what popularly translates as Vikas (development) in the village; providing for physical infrastructures of roads, schools and hospitals. Instead, they brought the focus back to the functioning of these institutions which often eludes village level discussions, parameters which could be said to associate more closely with the principles of the Human Development Index.

IMG_20190205_142556Ujala Sangathan members from Salumbar and Dhariyawad block, discussing issues in a Mahila meeting, before the Gram sabha. Bhuri bai (on the extreme right), later in the Gram sabha raises the issue of domestic violence in her village.

Bhagli bai in Myala panchayat, during one of the Mahila sabhas, talked eloquently about the dysfunctional schools in her village. She asked the Sachiv, “we have one teacher over 150 students in the government school in our village, how do you expect all the children to receive proper education then?” Invoking other women to speak up, she said, “our kids are served milk without the sugar and only one chapatti during the mid-day meal”. She calmly asked the Sachiv to enquire if the government is sending only this much quantity of the food to the village, and if that was not the case, she demanded that every child should be fed properly. Bhuri bai in Budel panchayat was able to include the agenda to shut down the liquor shops in their village as it was the major cause for domestic violence in most families. Similarly, Malki Bai in Malpur raised the issue of irregular NREGA payments and the corruption that scheme is smeared with. Another important demand was about timely vaccinations of children and pregnant women.

To sum up their demands, the Ujala Sangathan women went for wholesome demand making, asking for a better quality of life, where their families are well-fed, have access to education and have a safe and peaceful environment to live. Some of these demands required a new policy formulation but the majority of them were just asking for improved implementation of the existing schemes.

Photo 3Ujala Sangathan members along with women from the village, present their demands on a chart paper in front of Sarpanch and Sachiv, Khajuri panchayat, Salumbar block, Udaipur district

Redefining Citizenship and bringing the power back to people                                 

Ujala Sangathan women came together around nine years ago, so as to create a platform and a support system for women, in the high migration areas of Southern Rajasthan. This group, which comprises of 12000 women now, and functions in six blocks of the state, went through a collective journey of demanding their rights from the village heads, and fight the corruption in these village institutions. They also created a space for themselves within their households which often remained seeped into patriarchy and for whom the limelight used to move with the male migrant moving to the city.

The collective act of Ujala Sangathan has proved that their status of citizenship is not something that is bestowed upon them by the state, but something that they practice themselves. This could only become possible for a Sangathan of Adivasi women- who could only be heard murmuring in whispers when talking in front of a  public official- by creating a space for them to organize, plan, protest, express dissent, and to hold their representatives accountable.

However, as described in the stories in this article, such acts of dissent on part of the citizens are only met with anger and contempt, making them lose faith in their power of political participation. Gandhi’s idea of self-rule (Swaraj), seem to be a practical way out of the administrative mess that we have created, which the Ujala Sangathan has seem to achieve only minutely. If a process like this is practised where citizens are trusted and encouraged to participate, each and every member can become a responsible citizen, collaborators in the process of self-governance, having their own vision of development, Piplantri’s story (a gram panchayat in Rajsamand district) is a successful example of that.

In not doing so, we incur a higher risk of losing massive amounts of money in implementing schemes that don’t resonate with people. Gram Sabhas can be used as a potent tool to contextualize schemes like Swachh Bharat and modify them as per people’s needs. This would help the country save a lot of money and gain respect in the international arena.

(This article is an outcome of collective efforts and experiences of the Women’s Empowerment Team at Aajeevika Bureau, a public service organization working with migrant families in Southern Rajasthan. This team comprises of 20 brave and fiery people who closely work with the members of Ujala Sangathan, and has been instrumental in bringing a substantial change in the lives of these women, and in return, have let that process change their own lives. The article has been written by Drishti Agarwal, and she solely remains responsible for any error in this piece).

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What women voters from Southern Rajasthan want from the upcoming government is not a new policy handout but a sound implementation of the existing schemes.

By Drishti Agarwal, Family Empowerment Programme



Ujala Sangathan members, showing their Demand charter, which they presented to the M.P candidates of BJP, Congress and Bhartiya Tribal Party in their region. Harshavada panchayat, Kherwada block, Udaipur district. Photo credits: Drishti Agarwal 

“We have three basic demands for our village; water, ration and employment”, says the women, in Barwada village of Gogunda block, Udaipur district, as they prepared a demand charter to present to their M.P candidates. Women from the Ujala Sangathan; the local workers’ collective in Southern Rajasthan, met in their panchayats, to discuss their problems and what is it that they collectively want to ask from the upcoming government.

In a time when a plethora of promises are being made by both the BJP and the Congress government, SC and Tribal women from the six blocks of Southern Rajasthan, who depend on manual labour as their major source of income, have three basic demands from the upcoming government; water, food and employment. These women access work either through the local contractors and private work sites or through the government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGs). This comprehensive yet simple portrayal of their problems shows that a new set of schemes or a path-breaking innovation is not what rural India is looking for but the better implementation of existing schemes and policies.

In this phase of exchanging electoral power, Adivasi women from rural Rajasthan are asking pertinent questions about what has been delivered by the previous government, which caste and class have been at the forefront of receiving these benefits and what yet remains to be done. Their basic demand is to revamp the provisions that favour a few ‘rural elites’ and replace it with a more accessible public provisioning system.

Putting up a fight

In Chitravas, Sayra block of Udaipur district, Pavni Garasiya says, she spends an average of 7 hours collecting water for her family. Her hamlet has two hand pumps, but both of them are concentrated near the ward panch’s house (who is from the same caste as hers) and is very far from the 15 garasiya (ST) households that are situated on a hill. She and her samooh members have been asking the panchayat to make one hand pump near their fala (hamlet) for one year now, but there is no response. At most, they are told that there is a severe water crisis in the village and nothing can be done. Women from Pavni bai’s fala looks through this tactic as they argue that why does the Ward Panch or the upper caste families living near the panchayat samiti has a hand pump and not them. Even after repeated attempts, Pavni bai and her samooh have not received any support from the panchayat. In this case, the administration’s neglect towards arranging water in the ST hamlets reiterates the age-old practice of women fetching water and it further normalizes it. It is also a reflection of how the caste and class structure has been maintained by the administration by favouring a few.

In a recent report published by Oxfam, women’s unpaid labour (caring for children and home) comprises 3% of the national GDP, but remains largely unrecognized and undermined. Pavni bai’s case can be analyzed in this light, where 7 hours of a rural woman’s day is being spent on fetching water for the whole family. This also resonates with Jayati Gosh’s findings in her PhD thesis on Women’s work in India; absence of basic amenities in the rural households is an important factor for an increase in women’s unpaid work. Thus, neglect towards the basic public provisioning system reinforces the normality around women’s unpaid work and the importance being given to policies that have a direct implication on women’s time and labour.



 NSSO survey, 2012, showed that in rural areas, an average trip to take water takes 20 minutes, with a waiting time for 15 minutes. Several such trips are required to meet the household’s water requirements. Photo credits: Noel

It is not just the poor condition of public provisioning that the Ujala samooh women are raising their voice against but they are also commenting on the unfair payment delivery system under the public works scheme and demand for its removal.

Currently, women from Pavni bai’s Hamlet takes a narrow rocky terrain to transport water from the nearby panchayat. All the 25 women from Pavni bai’s hamlet were working on levelling the same narrow rocky path, with nothing but spades. The group has been working since past 15 days from 6 a.m to 2 p.m at Rupees 120 a day, in the sweltering temperatures of April. “There is no provision of ‘Napti’. The mate asks us to take turns in building the road. Everyone receives the same amount irrespective of the labour we put or the time we spend”.


Pavni bai works at a narrow rocky hill, along with 15 other women from her panchayat. Due to the rocky nature of the land, it is difficult to measure each individual’s work. Since the provision of ‘Napti’ is a badly implemented surveillance system which demeans the labour of a tribal household, Ujala Sangathan women make a demand for removal of this system. Picture credit: Saloni Mundra 

Pavni bai’s struggle in Sayra resonates with the Sangathan women in Bedawal, Salumbar block. The group met 10 days before the Rajasthan Lok Sabha elections, to discuss their burning demands. Among many things, such as a functional primary school, Aanganwadi, Phulwari, NREGA shines as one of the most important demand.

Women criticized the ‘Napti’ system under NREGA because of its nature. They argued that such a system of measurement is not appropriate for the terrain they live in. “It is not just the measurement of the road that you work on that should count but the intensity of labour that is required to work on that rocky path”, says Bhuri bai, Sangathan member from Bedawal, Salumbar.

The samooh further criticizes the Napti system as it calls for more surveillance on part of the women. The samooh collectively ask that in none of the government job there is such a system of surveillance for the employees, so why do the Adivasi women have to be subjected to it, (According to a report published in the Indian Express, women account for  65% of the NREGA workforce in Rajasthan) especially when it is maintained by a rather corrupt NREGA mate and not by the people themselves. They look at the system as demeaning and ask for doing away with the system. The group raises serious questions about the dignity of the workers under NREGA and how not paying them even a minimum wage yet maintaining a high degree of surveillance, sets an example for distorted employment.

Challenging the popular understanding around NREGA being only about digging trenches, they asserted that the scheme helps them build useful infrastructure in the village. This was also accompanied by a demand for a minimum wage for the workers.

Doli bai, another leader, expresses her dissatisfaction with the public works scheme. She compares the NREGA work site with that of a private work site, which in her opinion is far better as they receive 200 rupees there, while NREGA only fetches them 150 rupees per day. “We also get to work under shade in the local work site, while in NREGA we work in the biting heat since 6 in the morning. Who would like to work in such a condition?” In the demand charter prepared by their group, their prime demand was to do away with the ‘Napti’ system, provision of shade, a crèche and the implementation of a minimum wage in NREGA.

Raghav_Labour Day

 ‘During a May Day rally, construction workers from Gogunda block Udaipur district, rallied across the town, asking for various demands from their political representatives. Increasing NREGA workdays from 100 to 150 remained as a primary demand for women. Photo credits: Raghav Mehrotra’

Women as a voter, as a citizen

Ramu bai, from Bhabhrana, Salumbar block, who has been fighting for the ration in her village since 2016. She and other people from her village sit on a dharna every year as the ration dealer makes false entries in their ration cards and deny them their due. She does not silently accept the feeble excuses given by the ration dealer but keeps questioning him for the irregular quantity. She says that unless everyone in her village will receive the full quantity of ration, she will not sit silently. (Here is a glimpse of Ramu bai sharing her experience of fighting the village system) She beautifully explains the process she would follow if necessary. She says, “if the ration dealer refuses to listen, they will go to the Sarpanch. They elect the Sarpanch by giving their votes.” She asks, “If we women, do not give our votes, how will he become the Sarpanch?” There are 100 other women like Ramu bai who have been putting up a fight; some successful, some consistent, against the corrupt panchayat members. However, with increased knowledge about their rights and their power to the vote, the Ujala Sangathan women are better able to confront the Panchayat officials.

When the question of ration was posed to the Ujala Sangathan, they said that the given quantity is not enough. The mandated quantity of 5 kgs of wheat per person in Rajasthan is not enough as one person consumes at least 40 kgs in a month. Moreover, in a state like Rajasthan wheat alone cannot sustain people’s nutrition. In a study undertaken by Aajeevika Bureau, on Child Malnutrition in Rajasthan, it was found that out of those surveyed, over half of the mothers were found malnourished and about one-third of the tribal children were severely so. The study finds that the limited scope of the PDS and its poor implementation acts as a significant cause for this. Women’s voices and demands to increase the scope of the PDS to include pulses, oil and sugar in the ration basket resonates with the suggestions made in the literature.

Political Hyperbolism

As the whole nation witnessed a frenzy; fueled by WhatsApp forwards and empty yet catchy sloganeering, around Lok Sabha elections being only about one personality, the countryside was also not unaffected by this fever pitch enthusiasm. To echo the mainstream media and the countless WhatsApp forwards, many women said that the elections were Modi’s elections and that the policies introduced (repacked) by him were very useful.

However, at the same time, a place like a Ujala Samooh became a reflective place for people to think and critique, where one person keeps a check on what the other believes in. It is to the credit of an inclusive space like a samooh, that women reflect whether the Swachh Bharat was really useful when there is no water to drink in the villages, or if the Pradhan Mantri’s Awas Yojana (Housing for All) has reached everyone, when clearly those in the Gameti and Bhil bastis of Gogunda block (Udaipur) haven’t received any benefit since 2014, mostly because they did not have 10,000 rupees to pay a bribe.

What remains to be done is that these critiques and demands need to infuse with the promises of the party candidates. The reflection should be done both ways and space should be created for their voices to be heard, instead of having exhaustive long rallies for the M.P candidates where there is hardly any space for citizens to put forward their demands.

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हिम्मत से बड़ा कुछ नहीं

सांधना कुवंर राजपुत, Family Empowerment Programme

ना डर है ना झिझक है,
बस आगे बढने की ललक है।।

यह कहानी है मुंगेड गाँव, सबला तहसील में रहने वाली चम्पी बाई की, जिन्होंने अपने जीवन में आयी सभी चुनौतियों का डट कर सामना किया और असल में एक ‘चेम्पियन’ की तरह उभर कर आयीं. यह आजीविका ब्यूरो के द्वारा बने उजाला समुह सें पुर्व से ही जुडी हुई थी. चम्पी बाई ‘महिला सशक्तिकरण’ की एक असल मिसाल हैं! इन्होने न सिर्फ कानूनों की सही जानकारी प्राप्त की बल्की खुद ‘नरेगा मेट’ के रूप में प्रशासनिक ढाँचे को सुधारने की भी कोशिश की. अब यह अपने जैसी कईं महिलाओं के लिए एक उदाहरण की तरह खड़ी हैं.

चम्पी बाई के जीवन में चुनौतियां कम नहीं थी. पति की मृत्यु हो जाने के बाद घर के सभी सदस्यों  की जिम्मेदारी इनपर आ गई है; दो बच्चे (दोनो ही दिव्यांग है, बोल नही सकते, चल भी नहीं सकते), सास ससुर, और एक भतीजा. जब जिम्मेदारी आई तब घर में कमाने वाला कोई नही था। मुश्किलें बढ़ती गई। चम्पी बाई के पास खुद की पुंजी के रूप् में 8 वीं तक पढ़ाई और उजाला समूह का साथ था। । पंचायत में जाकर मेट के लिए आवेदन किया, मेट बनी और मेट बनने के बाद महिलाओ के साथ काम भी करवाया। पंचायत और गांव वालों की तरफ से आनी वाली रोक-टोक और चुनौतियों ने चम्पी बाई को मजबुत बनाया।

पति की मत्यु को ज्यादा समय नही हुआ था पर घर से बाहर निकलना एक मजबुरी थी. एक तरफ सामाजिक रिती-रिवाज के चलते कई प्रकार के बंधन से महिलाओ को जुझना पडता है। इन सभी समस्याओं से चम्पी बाई भी गुजरी। कोई सहारा नहीं बना और गॉव वालो ने कई प्रकार की बातें बनाई पर चम्पी बाई ने किसी की नही सुनी ।


मेट का काम किया, मजदूरी की और एक बीमा कम्पनी के साथ जुड़कर आरडी (बचत) का काम किया। इन कामों से हुई आय से चम्पी बाई ने स्वयं की जमीन खरीद कर अपना घर बनाया, स्कुटी खरीदी, चलाना सीखा। चम्पी बाई बताती है कि, “पहले ऐसा कभी नही सोचा था, लेकिन अब मैं अपनी पंचायत में काम करती हूँ। गॉव की महिलाओ की मदद करती हूँ“, महिलाएं भी अपनी समस्या लेकर चम्पी बाई के पास आती है। नरेगा भुगतान, पेंषन जैसे काम अब चम्पी बाई करवा स्वय करवा देती है। चम्पी बाई ने हाल ही में अपनी जानकारी को बढाने के लिए स्मार्ट फ़ोन भी खरीद लिया है ।


चम्पी बाई कहती है कि, “घूंघट में कुछ नही है और हिम्मत से बड़ा कुछ नही है। हिम्मत से ही आज मैं नई शुरूआत कर पाई हूं।”

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ग्रामीण आदिवासी महिलाओं के उभरते चेहरे

Preema Dhurvey, Familly Empowerment Programme


Salumbar meeting 2

26 फरवरी 2019 को झल्लारा और सलूम्बर पंचायत समीति के 15 पंचायतो की 26 आदिवासी महिला लीडरों ने सलूम्बर आकर राजनैतिक मूल्य व आने वाले चुनाव को लेकर आजीविका ब्यूरो द्वारा आयोजित एक दिवसीय कार्यषाला में भाग लिया। इस मीटिंग के दौरान महिलाओं ने स्थानीय प्रषासन के साथ हुये अपने संवाद के अनुभवो को साझा किया। ये सभी महिलायें फले व गांव स्तर पर बने उजाला समूहों की लीडर है। साथ ही ये अपने गांव के लोगो के लिये उनके राषन, रोजगार नरेगा, स्कूल और आंगनवाडी के सही संचालन के लिये प्रषासन के साथ संवाद करती आयी है। गांवों में सरकारी स्कूलों की दयनीय दषा को देखते हुये बुडेल की भुरी बाई कहती है कि षहरों के स्कूलों में 30 बच्चों पर एक षिक्षक की व्यवस्था की जाती है पर गांव में 150 बच्चों पर एक या दो षिक्षक मुष्किल से होते है।
मीटिंग के दौरान अपनी वोट की ताकत को समझते हुये महिलाओं ने कहा कि गांव में अगर सरपंच और सचिव नरेगा, राषन जैसी महत्वपूर्ण कानूनों का सही संचालन नही करते है तो हम अपने वोट से सरकार बदलने की ताकत रखते है” महिलाओं से उनकी इस ताकत के बारें में पूछने पर मंजू मीणा, (अरियावत फला, बेडावल पंचायत) ने कहा कि” भारत के नागरिक होने के नाते हमारे पास वोट डाल कर सरकार बदलने की ताकत है और ये ताकत हमें संविधान से मिली है“।
वही भगवती बाई (डामोर फला मातासुला पंचायत) ने हाल ही में हुये कष्मीर पुलवामा हमले के उपर अपना मत जताते हुये कहा कि “भले ही हमले के लिये पाकिस्तान को जिम्मेदार ठहराया गया हो लेकिन षहीद हुये जवानो के परिवारों के लिये मोदी सरकार द्वारा दिये गया मुआवजा काफी है क्या?”  ये वे चुनिनदा महिलायें है जिन्होंने अपने ही नही गांव के बाकी परिवारों के लिये भी समय-समय पर आवाज उठाई है। साथ ही भ्रष्ट प्रषासनिक अधिकारीयों का भी डट कर सामना करती आ रही है। मूलभूत अधिकारों के प्रति एक अच्छी समझ और मत विकसित करके ये महिलायें अपने गांव ही नही बल्कि पूरे देष के ग्रामीण लोगो के लिये उदाहरण बन कर उभर रही है।

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Policy Demands for Prevention and Control of Silicosis in Stone Related Industries of Rajasthan

Compiled by: Priyanka Jain and Santosh Poonia (based on Aajeevika Bureau, Dunu Roy, Kotda Adivasi Sansthan and Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh’s inputs)

Grinding Pink Dust .jpg

In photo: Toxic, silica-dense dust released from carving of pink stones. Dust is directly inhaled by worker operating the hand-held machine, in absence of dust-control measures. Work performed in a small, home-based unit in Pindwara (Sirohi) on piece-rate payment to worker, who obtained the contract for this work through layers of sub-contracting and middle-men. Carved stones finally procured by religious trusts and societies for temples being built across different parts of the country and overseas. Photo credit: Yuvraj Dhir

The thrust of the Silicosis response policy in Rajasthan needs to urgently shift from identification and compensation of victims to prevention and control, with industry regulation as the central, entry point into the policy.

Following are the policy demands from our group of workers, activists, lawyers, doctors and engineers who have been working on the ground to bring safety to the Silicosis-prone temple-building industry in Pindwara, Sirohi, Rajasthan (these policy insights have been framed broadly, to extend to the ground realities of other stone related industries of Rajasthan such as mining, stone crushing etc that are also proven to be silicosis-prone).

  1. Launch state-wide mapping exercise to identify Silicosis prone industries.
  • The mapping should include both upstream industry activities such as mining, and also the downstream activities such as processing, crushing, carving etc used for various industrial and consumer purposes. A thorough methodology should start with identifying silica-rich stones and then tracking their production value chains. Such a starting-point would ensure that any industries that remain unidentified can be brought under review.


  • Industries (both upstream and downstream) that have been identified through the value chain tracking should be checked for Silicosis prevalence through health screenings of workers. Where high prevalence is found, industries should be notified and included in the last of hazardous or dangerous activities under relevant Acts such as Factories Act.


  • The exercise should include an estimation of the workforce of the notified industries. This would require household surveys in the catchment areas of where the workforce resides, feasible especially where workforce is local. (Note: depending solely on official data of registered workers would lead to a severe underestimation of workforce, as most of the stone related industries identified so far as Silicosis hotspots in Rajasthan, have a large segment of informal workforce that remain unregistered).


  • Map and develop list of factories and units within the notified industry through a mapping exercise, including data points such as no. of workers, readings on dust levels, registration details and employer contact details. These mapping and estimation exercises are critical because lack of information on industries and workforce severely limits ability to roll-out effective implementation of policies. Civil society organizations in Rajasthan have developed well-tested survey and mapping tools for such activities, which can be used as samples and references.


  • The data generated through these exercises should be centralized and managed by the state level Silicosis Programme, but should be shared with local levels of administration too for evidence based implementation in a decentralized manner.


2. Once an industry is notified as hazardous or dangerous under relevant acts such as the Factories Act, all units would mandatorily need to be registered (information from industry mapping exercise would facilitate its implementation).

3. Based on total workforce in notified industries, State government needs to provide for adequate number of Factory and Safety inspectors (using a ratio such as 1 inspector for 1000 workers). Ensure regular inspection of factories for compliance with safety and pollution standards, including well-developed, industry specific norms such as: (i) use of dust-control technologies to keep dust levels under safe levels; (ii) compliance with guidelines on factory floor practices or work stations required for reduction of exposure of dust to worker; (iii) regular training and support provided by employer to worker on use of safety measures adopted by the unit; and (iv) use of closed-loop system to ensure that the captured dust is not disposed off untreated, leading to pollution of surrounding ecosystem.

4. Provide for progressive but strict punitive action such as heavy fines and closure of factories in case of violations. Authorize Labour Inspectors to invoke first level punitive measures, and progressively authorize authorities such as District Health Officer[1] and Labour Commission to order closure of factory for gross violations with safety and pollution standards. (Note: industry compliance with safety of often treated by policy with an incentive-based approach. The punitive measures remain unclear and inadequate. Instead, a stricter system using punitive measures are needed for industry compliance is required for effective prevention and control of Pneumoconiosis diseases).

5. Provisions should be made to allow trade unions, workers, advocates and NGOs to file complaints against units that violate safety provisions to the Labour Department’s Grievance Cell, invoking the process of factory inspection for safety and pollution control.

6. Another strategy for ensuring industry compliance with safety standards is to remove barriers to employer provided compensation under Workmen Compensation Act. The biggest barrier to filing cases under WCA is the ability of workers to establish employer-employee relationship given the irregular and undocumented manner of employment in such industries. Notifying the industry as hazardous or dangerous would also imply that employer must maintain records of all workers including on-roll and contractual workers (such as daily-wage or other non-regular workers). Spot assessments and other strategies need to be used by inspectors to ensure that records are maintained and workers are not kept off-books.

7. For hazardous industries, piece-rate system of payment needs to be urgently prohibited. The system creates a perverse incentive for poor workers to resort to production methods that are faster, cheaper and dirtier, to increase their meagre incomes. One of the strategies to control this practice is for employers to reflect payment made to workers in their records, including any work that has been sub-contracted out.

8. Inclusion as notified industry would also help to curtail the wide-spread industry practice of sub-letting and sub-contracting. These practices dilute employer accountability by outsourcing hazardous work to informal, unregistered units where safety standards can be violated in absence of laws and by falling out of the scope of all regulatory bodies. Inclusion as notified industry would imply that principal employers can sub-let work only to units that are registered and comply to safety standards. This would decrease the incentive for sub-contracting itself, reducing fragmentation of workforce, making regulation and enforcement feasible.

9. To further strengthen these structural changes in hazardous industries (that are expected to have a positive impact on safety compliance), the state legislature should debate on the possibility of holding principal employers as well as the industry segments that hazardous industries supply to (such as sanitary ware manufacturing industry that procures stone powder from Beawar, and temple trusts that procure stone carving work from Sirohi) legally responsible for violations of safety standards in their supply chains. This would ensure that the onus of dust-control is shared by large employers, companies and establishments. These segments should bear the costs of shifting the industry to cleaner practices, reducing the burden on small employers and contractors down the sub-contractual chain, who typically operate on smaller margins and are cost-sensitive.

10. Industries notified as hazardous should be strictly required to conduct 6-monthly employer provided medical check-up (as required by the Factories Act for example). The policy must place the onus of early identification and cure on employers.

  • A SOP should be developed by the Pneumoconiosis Board for such check-ups,(suitable for early identification) including lung function tests and chest X-rays.
  • The doctors hired by the employer for such a medical check-up should have appropriate qualifications such as the 3-month course of Associate Fellow of Industrial Health or a specialized training in occupational health (could be provided by the state Silicosis programme to ensure availability of well-trained MOs for such check-ups).
  • The state level Pneumoconiosis programme to develop an online, data management system (categorized by notified industry), where employers should be required to upload the results from medical screenings on this system. This would also provide updated data on prevalence and help assess if disease control strategies are proving to be effective.
  • Finally, strategies and avenues should be developed for the costs of treatment (including transportation) of early signs of Silicosis should be borne by the employer (and not deducted from worker’s salary).

11. In case of downstream activities such as stone crushing and carving, the hazardous production activity is being conducted in and around rural residential areas. Strategies should be developed to ensure safe distance of production activities from residential areas.

[1] Similar to the District Health Officers authority to close down restaurants for violating hygiene standards.

Rajasthan is the most responsive state in the country with respect to identification and compensation of Silicosis victims, having certified about 1961 persons with Silicosis and released about Rs. 40 crores as compensation. But this is just the tip of the iceberg as over 13,000 certifications remain pending with the state and lakhs of workers are still lining up for screenings across the state (see Rajasthan Silicosis Portal here for details).

The Silicosis epidemic in Rajasthan is far from over and it cannot be solved through compensation of victims. It is neither fiscally sustainable, nor can 5 lakhs of rupees cannot compensate for a highly, preventable death of a young worker and the devastation it causes to the family. The policy emphasis in Rajasthan needs to drastically shift towards prevention and control of Silicosis in its stone related industries. However, this agenda is not possible to advance without strictest regulation of industries involving hazardous processes of unsafe exposure levels of workers to silica dust. 

The policy orientation vis-a-vis Silicosis needs to realign from ‘worker’ to ‘industry’, and from ‘notified disease’ to ‘notified industry’. What does this mean? Silicosis is a ‘notified disease’ under the Rajasthan Epidemic Diseases Act of 1957, which acknowledges the fatal and pervasive nature of the disease in the state. Yet, the industries and production processes due to which workers contract this untreatable disease, such as stone-carving for temple-construction, are not notified as ‘hazardous’ under relevant acts such as the Factories Act of 1948. 

In the current policy and governance paradigm, the onus is hugely on the worker to cope with the governance machinery’s constraints and requirements – its immense paperwork and delays, in order to prove that he/she has a notified disease (through a certificate from the Pneumoconiosis board). The burden of proof lies on the worker to demonstrate through the process that he or she in fact have the disease and have all right registrations (such as with BoCW or in Rajathan Silicosis Portal) to be eligible for relief and compensation. Meanwhile, there is no onus on industry for early detection, treatment or compensation of victims. Moreover, they continue enjoying impunity over non-compliance with safety standards. 

As the state response machinery advances, these burdens need to urgently shift from ‘notified disease’ to ‘notified industries’, such that the latter have the liability for safety, prevention of disease, early detection of disease among its workforce and bearing the costs of treatment. On the other hand, administrative requirements that sick and poor workers have to go through to access relief and compensation needs to reduce with industry’s responsibility kicking in as soon as workers shows early signs of Silicosis. The policy framework above suggests pathways to do this. 

Silicosis cannot be controlled without strictest industry regulation. This in turn is complicated by the free reign industry has been given to deepen perverse practices such as moving away from standard forms of employment towards irregular and temporary employment; of sub-contracting dirty work to small, home-based units; of keeping workers off-the book. All of these structural features of the labour market deepen the occupational health crisis facing the workforce. These features hugely inhibit the state’s ability to regulate industries, which have gone a long way in fragmenting the workforce and production processes, making them ungovernable.

Ability to regulate for safety or any other labour right is further put in doldrums by systematic hollowing out of regulatory bodies such as the Factory and Safety department, Pollution Control Board etc. In such an ecosystem, control and prevention of Silicosis is not possible without a concerted effort to identify hazardous industries and use policy as a tool to curtail practices and correct structural features that are obstructive to safety and health of workers.

In summary, prevention and control of Silicosis in Rajasthan’s stone related industries require a policy commitment and investment in:

(1) Mapping of hazardous industries including upstream and downstream segments (including data collection on total workforce, nature and scale of each industry);

(2) Including silicosis-prone industries and production processes found through the mapping exercise as ‘hazardous’  under the Factories Act (or other relevant acts), bringing all its units under regulatory ambit (irrespective of unit size);

(3) Use the data collected on workforce in hazardous industries to provide for adequate no. of factory inspectors at the state level (1000 workers to 1 inspector ratio) for regular inspections; and finally but very importantly; 

(4) Instead of incentivizing industry to shift into cleaner practices, use progressively strong and strict measures of heavy penalties, revocation of license, closures of facility and jail terms for repeated and gross violations of safety and health standards;

(5) If trade unions, workers, advocates, NGOs to file complaints in the Labour Department’s Grievance Cell against any factory or unit for violations of safety standards, immediatedly invoke the factory inspection process;

(6) Remove barriers that workers face in filing legal cases against employers (through WCA, ESI etc) due to lack of documentation establishing employer-employee relationship through spot assessments and factory inspections of employee records;

(7) Identifying legal and policy avenues to restrict labour market and industry practices such as piece rate payment and sub-contracting;

(8) Developing standardised protocols for employer-provided medical check-ups in these industries which ensure that doctors trained in occupational health check workers for relevant diseases through lung function tests, X-rays etc making it harder for them to circumvent accountability through unrelated and generic medical check-ups for headache and stomach aches;

(9) Use the digitisation euphoria in the country to ensure that hazardous industries submit the records from the medical check ups for early detection of disease to a centralized, state-level data used to monitor changes in prevalence of disease in the industry (but make the data available across state machinery for decentralized implementation); and

(10) Ensure that the policy orientation does not criminalize and penalize the small employers and petty contractors lying at the bottom of the value chain, but find legal and policy avenues to shift costs and liability to big industry players (such as big sanitary ware producers that procure stone powder from Beawar’s small stone crushing factories; or rich religious trusts and temple societies that procure articles from small, home-based stone carving units in Pindwara) for adopting cleaner practices in their supply chain. 

These policy changes might seem overwhelming. But analysis of the compensation burden on Rajasthan state government reveals that policy change is actually the easier route. The Rajasthan Silicosis Portal’s district-wise summary report shows that 5327 certified victims are still to receive their due compensation. This amounts to a whopping figure of Rs. 266 crores (based on a total relief package of Rs. 5 lakh per victim), in addition to the Rs. 40 crores that have been disbursed recently. 

This Rs. 266 crore figure does not even include the compensation of Rs. 3 lakh due to the families of around 1900 certified persons, which will become due when the victims die (which will unfortunately be soon). 

Moreover, over 14,000 are already registered in the portal and are pending screenings. Lakhs of workers across the state are lining up to register on the portal and go through the screening process. So the compensation burden on the state is piling fast, looking to run into a over thousand crore of Rupees within the term of the current Ghelot government (unless the government halts the screening and certification process to avoid these liabilities)!

It is undeniable that it is much much cheaper, wiser and humane to go through with the policy changes and seriously regulate hazardous industries. 

For a background on Silicosis in temple-building, read here and watch this video.

To support the initiative to prevent Silicosis among temple-carvers, see here.

Follow our campaign #GodlyButDeadly #SilicosisFreeTemples on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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The Caste Architecture of India’s Temple-building Industry

By: Jibitesh Sahoo and Priyanka Jain

Temple Design.jpg

In Photo: Temple-designs supplied by Sompuras for stone-carving factories in Pindwara (Sirohi, Rajasthan) to implement. Photo Credit: Shubhadeep Ghosh

India’s temple-building industry is now proven as a major Silicosis hot-spot. The latest figures reported by the Sirohi Health department (in Jan 2019) reveal that over 1400 of its workers have been certified with Silicosis, a fatal, incurable disease (another 400 certified since we quoted 1000 certifications here). All of this in one block of Pindwara in Sirohi, Rajasthan, which is the biggest hub of stone carving work for temples. What is the value chain of this industry? What are the contractual relationships in it and does it have any interaction with caste and tribe segmentations?

The value chain of the industry kicks into action when a religious trust decides to build a temple. This trust could be huge and powerful or be a non-descript, town-level temple body. From the globally powerful Swaminarayan Trust, to the important Delwara Jain Trust to the smaller, town level religious bodies, they all flock to Pindwara’s stone-carving factories to fulfil their temple-building aspirations. The stone-carving factories in Pindwara, on the other hand, report receiving such assignment from temples being built from New Jersey to London to Jharkhand. 

another large scale unit.jpg

In Photo: Articles being made for temples at a stone-carving factory in Pindwara. Photo credit: Shubhadeep Ghosh

Once a trust decides to build a temple, the most common next step is for them to contact a Sompura. Largely based in Gujarat and Rajasthan, Sompura Brahmins are famous as temple-architects. Historically, Sompuras used to carve the stones themselves with hammer and chisel for temples. Then, it was considered to be a highly artisanal and skilled form of work.

Last 2-3 decades have witnessed two important shifts – a boom in temple-building in the country and the introduction of machines (cutters, grinders, drillers) in this sector. Factory owners report that there is growing demand to build more, bigger and grander temples with quicker turn-around times. Meanwhile, the introduction of machines has made the work dirty and hazardous, with heavy release of deadly silica particles from the mechanical carving of silica-rich, white, red and pink stones (that Jain and Hindu temples are commonly built from). With high risk to deadly Silicosis, the carving work has now transformed into cheap, dangerous and unskilled work, unfit for Brahmins. 

Stone Curver Looking.jpg

In Photo: Carving in progress with machines that release silica-rich, extra fine dust. The worker using the hand-held machine inhales large volumes of this dust, for 7-8 hours a day, given the lack of dust-control mechanisms in stone-caving factories.  (Photo credit: Yuvraj Dhir)

With these shifts, the Sompuras restructured their position in the industry into becoming powerful intermediaries. Now, they have become advisors of the temple-building process. They do not perform the carving work anymore but have maintained the role of designers of temples. For religious trusts, these designs are not just beautiful floral patterns or images of heavenly beings. For it to be temple-worthy, it must be pure and holy, and developed by Brahmincal gatekeepers of divine designs.

For lending their purity to this building process, Sompuras charge the Trusts a hefty 5-10% of the total temple-project budget. Ultimately, this fees is drawn from religious followers and donors of such temple trusts, including lay families and individuals who have no idea about the Silicosis epidemic caused by the industry’s carving process. 

While shifting out of the carving work, Sompuras trained local labour in Pindwara to perform this work. Over a period of time, Pindwara emerged as the biggest hub for such stone-carving, especially with the setting up of Swaminarayan’s own stone carving factories here (that directly employ around 5000 workers today and many more through sub-contracting).

Sompuras have become the window through which temple-trusts access and manage stone carving factories. The common practice is for Sompuras to visit the factory once or twice a month to supervise the process. Some factory owners shared that they have full understanding and knowledge of how to design and carve the stones themselves and do not need the mediation of Sompuras, who charge them 5-10%  (in addition to the fees Sompuras get from the Trusts)! However, work independently managed by factory owners and carved by Adivasi and Dalit workers will not be considered holy enough for temples, without the touch and approval of Sompuras, who maintain their Brahminical hold on the whole process with utmost strictness. In case a stone carving factory manages to obtain a direct contract from a temple-trust, they would nevertheless need the approval of a Sompura before the trust would accept their consignment. For this, they must pay the Sompuras hefty fees.

The boom in temple-building industry has created employment for about 15,000 Adivasi and Dalit workers in Pindwara, but strictly keeping them in the lowest rung of hazardous and precarious work. Despite the multi-crore projects, there are no signs of effective dust control measures in the stone-carving factories where work is commissioned by them.

The relationships in this industry have a clear caste heirarchy – 3 out of every 10 of the Adivasi, Dalit stone-carving workers in Pindwara are dying due to Silicosis, while the Sompuras Brahmins have intensified their power and assumed a doubly profitable position, leveraging their age-old authority as Brahmins.

Statue of God curving.jpg

In Photo: The carvings become holy and be-fitting a temple only after a Sompura has given it the ‘final touches’ over the carvings produced by Adivasi and Dalit workers. Photo credit: Yuvraj Dhir


The temple-building industry’s caste lines are deeply etched and it does not entertain much flux. The Workers’ Right Centre and Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Union that has been dedicatedly working on this issue for last 3 years in Pindwara, report that despite Adivasis working in this industry for over 3 years, they are yet to find even one Adivasi that has been able to move up the value chain beyond a petty contractor. Even owning a small stone carving factory has remained firmly outside the ambit of this community. 

The Union asserts that the temple-trusts and Sompuras have full knowledge of the deadly Silicosis epidemic caused by the work they commission. The Union leaders argue that they know of what is going on in their value chains, but continue to ignore it or blame the workers for the disease. Despite meetings with them at the District Collector’s office a few times, there has been no serious effort to invest and deploy technology that can be used in the small to medium sized factories where work is ultimately sub-contracted out to.

In the closed-room discussions of temple-trust and Sompuras, even stone-carving factory owners of Pindwara have very limited power. Work contracted to them is increasingly on adverse terms – moving to piece rate, smaller margins and higher competition. Ultimately, the cost of all of these is passed on to workers, some of them taking up the work on piece rate in the backyards of their homes. 


The industry structure is telling of its power dynamics. Factory owners, contractors and workers share that the math of the industry works as follows – for a temple of 1 crore, the religious trust would spend about 30% paying fees to various actors involved in producing the carved articles, pillars and statues of the temples. Of this 30%, 10-20% is usually the Sompura’s cut. The rest of the 20-10% is divided across a long chain of employers, sub-employers, petty contractors and the workers at the bottom. This is why the daily earnings of a stone-carving worker can vary at lot in Pindwara, from Rs. 200 to Rs. 500, depending on how many layers of sub-contracting they lay buried under. Despite the smallest cut, the heaviest toll is borne by the workers, due to extremely high exposure to deadly dust, with no social or job security either in return[i]

A dive into the temple-building’s industry value chain reveals that it is structured to reproduce the age-old Brahmanical authority of supposed custodians to God. It is underpinned by labour relations that are just as ancient in their degree of exploitation. Except this time, the extraction is concealed by fragmented value chains.  



[i] A factory mapping exercise conducted by Aajeevika Bureau and Kotda Adivasi Sansthan in 11 panchayats of Pindwara (by Aajeevika Bureau and Kotda Adivasi Sansthan) revealed that only around 8% of the stone-carving workers are covered by ESI and PF.  This is hardly surprising as only 8% of the workers are on-roll, with 50% working for daily wage and about 42% on piece-rate.

The insights shared in this blog are based on a value chain mapping exercise conducted by Jibitesh Sahoo, with the assistance of Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh.

Watch this video and share to spread awareness on the issue on Silicosis in temple-building industry.

To support the Centre and Union’s initiative to prevent Silicosis in this industry, see here.

Follow our campaign #GodlyButDeadly #SilicosisFreeTemples on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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ये जंगल क्या वापस नहीं आ सकते? और वो लोग?

By: Amrita Sharma, Centre for Migration and Labour Solutions, Aajeevika Bureau


In Photo: Southern Rajasthan used to be an area of lush tropical forests with many water sources and natural bounty. Deforestation, mining, depletion of water table and severe climate change has converted the area into a semi-arid geography, slowly converting it into a desert (read more here). Forest-dependent Adivasis have therefore been forced to take up hazardous forms of manual labour as the mainstay of their economic survival (photo credit: Priyanka Jain).


ये जंगल क्या वापस नहीं आ सकते?

नहीं !

और वो लोग

वो भी तो वापस नहीं आ सकते


बाबा के दोनों बच्चे उदयपुर में एडमिट हैं

उन्हें सांस की बिमारी हुई है

पत्थर गढ़ाई का काम करते-करते

आठ-आठ घंटे पत्थर का पाउडर गया है फेफड़ों में

आजकल मशीन से गढ़ाई में  पाउडर भी तो उड़ता है

जो बिमारी 20 साल में होती वो 1 से 1.5 साल में हो रही है

कैसे बचते

सभी साथियों की तरह वह भी बीमार हैं

कोई अस्पताल तक पहुंचा, कोई घर पर खाट पर है पिछले पांच सालों से

ऑपेरशन के बाद डाकटर ने सीने में पाइप लगा दी ताकि वो सांस ले सकें

सैकड़ों दवाइयों की जो बोतलें हैं बच्चों के खेलने का सामान बनी या उनको शो-पीस की तरह एककोने में लटका दिया

आदिवासी घरों में में शो-पीस….सैकड़ों ड्रिप की बोतलें


दो औरतें घिस रही हैं पत्थर आठ घंटे रोज़…खरर… खरर… खरर

“दो दिन लगते हैं एक पत्थर को चमकाने में” कहती हैं

और वो पत्थर लगेंगे मंदिरों में, चमकते पत्थर

खरर… खरर… खरर … खरर

“कमाने के लिए काम करना हीं पड़ता है…और फिर यहां और कोई  रोज़गार कहाँ, पत्थर गढ़ाई केसिवा” वह कहती हैं .


दामी खड़ी है काले कपड़ों में पंचायत आफिस के बाहर

कुछ कागज़ हाथों में दबोचे

“पति के इलाज का कोई परचा है, अस्पताल में दाखिल किया हो तब का, जिसमें लिखा हो कि उनकोक्या बिमारी थी…नहीं तो Xray भी चलेगा”

उसने पकड़ा दिए सब कागज उन साहब को

“इसका पति और बेटा दोनों हाल में हीं चल बसे” साहब ने बाहर वालों को बताया

“दोनों को सिलिकोसिस था”

“कोशिश कर रहें हैं की विधवा पेंशन मिल जाए, और पालनहार स्कीम से जुड़ जाये, कुल 3000महीना घर पर आ जायेगा

कागज और मिल जायें तो सरकार से २ लाख का मुआवजा भी दिलवा सकते हैं”


ये जंगल क्या वापस नहीं आ सकते?

नहीं !

और वो लोग

वो भी तो वापस नहीं आ सकते 



Read more here. Watch this video and share to spread awareness.

To support the initiative to prevent #Silicosis among temple-carvers, see here.

Follow our campaign #GodlyButDeadly #SilicosisFreeTemples on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Posted in Migration Musings | Leave a comment

Charter of Demands by the Bandhkaam Mazoor Vikas Sangathan and Aajeevika Bureau for improving the work and living conditions of migrant women in Ahmedabad’s construction sector

The Bandhkaam Mazdoor Vikas Sangathan, a registered trade union of migrant construction workers in Ahmedabad, and Aajeevika Bureau, issued the following Charter of Demands to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), Labour and Employment Department- Government of Gujarat and Gujarat Building and other Construction Worker’s Welfare Board (BoCW) in May 2018. These demands are based on an in-depth field study undertaken in Ahmedabad in 2017-18, and urges the state to improve the work and living conditions of migrant women construction workers in the city.

The demands are as follows: 

Identity and Recognition

  1. Presently, women construction workers don’t enjoy the identity of an independent worker and thus lack access to their wages. This is because of the recruitment and payment system called “jodi-based wage labour” wherein the male worker negotiates the work arrangements and receives wages on behalf of the female worker. As stipulated in the BoCW Act of 1996, the Board shall ensure that employers maintain registers and records documenting the names, work performed and wages paid to all workers including women workers employed at the site, so that this invisible workforce is formally recognized as workers in the construction industry.

  1. Women workers perform the most menial, laborious and mechanical tasks at the worksites, while also performing additional care work like cleaning and serving tea. In spite of this, in many cases, they are paid less than male workers, between Rs. 30 to Rs. 50, both at the labour nakas and construction sites. To deal with this injustice, the Labour Department shall enforce the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976, providing for equal remuneration for both men and women construction workers for equal work and for prevention of discrimination on the ground of sex against women in the matter of employment.


Housing and Basic Facilities

  1. Most of the women construction workers live with their families in informal settlements under flyovers, on pavements and open public/private plots in different parts of the city. Through their hard labour, they have been significantly contributing to the growth and infrastructural development of Ahmedabad. Due to lack of basic facilities like safe drinking water and sanitation, women are forced to put in extra labour and time to manage their households. As they are legitimate citizens of the city, AMC shall ensure that these workers can access safe drinking water, sanitation and health facilities in the city, so that the labour burden of women workers can be reduced considerably.

  1. Even after occupying these informal settlements for more than 25 years in different parts of the city, none of these settlements are recognized as notified or documented slums by the AMC. So it is necessary that AMC shall undertake an exercise to enumerate, officially recognize and document all informal settlements where women construction workers have settled in the city.

  1. Workers have a legitimate claim to these informal settlements, which they have established through their significant contribution to the growth of the city. Respecting these claims, AMC shall not indulge in eviction drives and if at all eviction is carried out for developmental work, due procedures shall be followed and workers shall be provided with an adequate rehabilitation package.


  1. At construction sites, workers are forced to live either inside the half constructed buildings or in sub-optimal make shift arrangements, which don’t qualify to be called as Labour Colonies. These conditions are extremely challenging for women workers, as they have to bear the brunt for the absence of sanitation and drinking water facilities. As stipulated in the BoCW Act of 1996, the board shall ensure that employers provide temporary, free of cost accommodation to all workers employed at the site, with separate and adequate cooking, bathing, washing and lavatory facilities.

  1. As women construction workers use firewood as the means for cooking, they are forced to spend greater amount of time on cooking and thus it increases their labour burden. To reduce their work intensity, Gujarat Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board shall provide cooking gas facility with a cylinder of 5 kgs in the name of women construction workers.


Workplace Safety and Social Security

  1. Majority of the construction sites lack the basic parameters of safety like display of safety instructions, systematic safety inductions and use of safety gear. This creates an unsafe work environment for all workers especially for women who perform the most laborious and risky tasks of lifting and carrying heavy stuff and children who roams around the site unattended by their parents. As stipulated in the BoCW Act of 1996, the board shall ensure that employers appoint a safety inspector with required qualifications, set up a safety committee with equal representation of workers and management, provide suitable and sufficient scaffolding, safety nets and prevent danger from overhead electric wires.

  1. Due to immense economic pressure to earn, women workers are forced to work at construction sites even after 8 months into their pregnancy. There are numerous instances of miscarriage due to work intensity and many times, delivery happens at the construction site leading to death of infants and extreme cases of bleeding. To improve this scenario, the Gujarat Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board shall provide maternity benefits to women construction workers as granted to formal sector employees since the introduction of the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act of 2017 (26 weeks of maternity leave).



  1. As a result of multiple demands on the woman worker’s time, she has not been fully able to cater to the nutritional and emotional needs of the infants. To reduce their work burden, as stipulated by the BoCW Act of 1996, the board shall ensure that employers establish crèches in construction sites wherein more than 50 workers are employed for providing childcare facilities for children under the age of 6 years.

  1. Women construction workers living in informal settlements and construction sites are completely outside the purview of National Urban Health Mission. It is important that ASHA Workers shall make regular visits and provide the much required reproductive health care support and vaccinations to women workers and nutritional care to children.

Physical Security

  1. Construction sites are unsafe spaces for women workers as there is high incidence of sexual harassments and exploitation. To make them women-friendly spaces, the Labour Department shall ensure that employers setup an Internal Complaints Committee with civil powers of enquiry and conciliation at construction sites, which have more than 10 workers, as stipulated in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013.

  1. Women construction workers living in open spaces constantly face issues regarding their physical security. Even when they are ill, they can’t stay back in their settlements without men being around as these spaces are unsafe. This forces them to go for work despite suffering from major health issues. To make these spaces women-friendly, AMC shall set up Women Resource Centres (WRC) in these informal settlements wherein women workers can come, sit, relax and seek medical counselling.
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The Smiling Man is Gone


In Photo: Late Durgaram, stone carver and Silicosis patient, with his children (taken in May 2016)

by Priyanka Jain, Aajeevika Bureau

I met 30-year old Durgaram and his children in May 2016. It was obvious that he was in acute pain and had become immobile given the advanced stage of Silicosis that his affected lungs had reached. Nevertheless, he smiled courteously through our meeting, with his children running about and giggling as I spoke to their father. Ironically, these smiles made me deeply sad, because it was all too obvious that Durgaram only had a few more months to live.

Durgaram belongs to the Garasia Adivasi community of southern Rajasthan. He contracted Silicosis while working in the temple-building industry’s stone carving factories in Pindwara (Sirohi, Rajasthan). He worked in over 200 such factories, in a span of 7 years, visiting places like Bangalore and Jharkhand for fitting the carved stones in the temples being built there. Durgaram said he would have preferred to be a farmer like his father who grew enough wheat to support the family for the whole year. But with the setting up of JK and Binani cement factories as well as Wolkem stone crushing units in Pindwara, the ground water depleted severely and now most families can only grow a little bit of corn, once a year.

This created a need for him to shift out of farming and he entered the stone carving industry. His uncle also worked in this trade for 15 years. However, during his uncle’s time, the industry was still using manual tools of hammer and chisel. About 10 years back, machines were introduced to expedite the carving process. The stone typically comes from Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and are the famous stones of Rajasthan, that temples builders love to use (see here for news report that Ayodha’s Ram Mandir will be made with Rajasthan’s stones). These stones have very high silica content and carving them releases deadly dust, that is directly inhaled by workers like Durgaram. The dust goes directly into their lungs, given the absence of any effective dust-control measures, which the temple-building industry has failed to invest in, despite its multi-crore projects across the world.

By late 2015, Durgaram started coughing intensely, accompanied by chronic exhaustion and difficulty in breathing. He had to stop work because it became difficult for him to even walk more than a few hundred meters. He shared that he had seen many deaths around him of young men like him. Yet, when he started working in this industry, he did not think that he could meet with similar fate: ‘log marte rahte hai yahan, lekin maine jab kaam shuru kiya, toh uss samay aisa nahin laga ki meri sehet bhi kharab ho sakti hai. Iske baare mein koi baat nahin karta, koi kuch batata nahin hai. Jab khaasi shuru hui aur saas phoolne lagi, toh bhi samajh mein nahin aaya ki yeh pathar ke karan hai. Yeh ab samajh mein aa raha hai’. (People around here die often. But when I started working in stone carving, I did not think that I would fall sick too. No one talks about the perils of this work, no information is given about it. When I started coughing and became breathless, even then I did not realize that its because of the stone. I understand this only now). When Durgaram told his employer about his sickness, he asked him ‘to go home and rest’, a local euphemism used by employers to wash their hands off workers who show signs of Silicosis.

Durgaram died in December 2016, and since then his widowed wife, Sopi Devi has been raising their small children, surviving on wages from MGNREGA. In Pindwara, instead of the guaranteed 100 days of work, most families report being able to obtain only around 25-30 days per year. Sopi Devi has to depend on erratic and very poorly paid forms of local labour to make ends meet. She has made several visits to the District Officer to get her children covered in the Palanhaar scheme, but has been unable to put together the mandatory documentation required for it.

Unfortunately, Durgaram and Sopi Devi’s story is not unique. Aajeevika Bureau and Kotda Adivasi Sansthan’s study on the issue highlights that just in 11 panchayats, 700 children have lost their fathers at the young age of 34 years (median). All of them used to work in stone carving factories. Justice remains elusive for these families and the young, widowed mothers continue to depend on the benevolence of extended family or the business of local moneylenders to be able to put some food on the plate for their children.

3 out 10 stone carvers are battling the fatal occupational disease of silicosis in Rajasthan’s Pindwara block. A quiet epidemic of over 1000 dying workers, some as young as 19 years, marks the life of labour in this region.

Dispossessed of their rights over forests, the Garasia adivasis of Pindwara have been alienated from the very material basis of their existence. This process of primitive accumulation has converted them into a reserve army of workers for the local temple-making industry, donned by religious funders such as the Swaminarayan Trust of the Akshardham temple fame.

As they grind and cut silica-rich stones, the labourers absorb the toxicity of degraded work, inhaling large volumes of deadly dust, while carving beautiful temple pillars to satiate the religious fervour of the country.

In Pindwara, religion cleverly masks capitalist accumulation – these young men do not enjoy the status of a ‘worker’, the production is not considered an ‘industry’. ‘Yeh toh bhagwaan ka kaam hai’ – ‘This is God’s work, it doesn’t need any protection?’, chirp the employers.

Couched by obscure value chains that lend total impunity, factories shed labourers as soon as they show the first sign of illness. The very category of ‘worker’ in Pindwara has come to embody a state of exception, where life itself is suspended without repercussions. 

Read more here. Watch this video and share to spread awareness.

To support the initiative to prevent #Silicosis among temple-carvers, see here.

Follow our campaign #GodlyButDeadly #SilicosisFreeTemples on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Posted in Migration Musings | Leave a comment

Mazdoori aur Makaan: How access to housing finance is helping optimize migration choices

By Anjani Gupta and Rupal Kulkarni, Shram Sarathi

The lack of access to finance to complete construction of a house often prompts migrant families to make sub-optimal work choices (Read here: Unfinished Houses, Unfulfilled Lives). But what does happen when migrant families are able to complete a pakka house?

Prakash Gameti, a tractor driver from Gogunda commutes from his village to nearby towns driving tractors to deliver construction material. He took 3 years to construct his house till about six feet. Prakash is one of nearly 150 migrants benefitting from a pilot program called Poorti (or home completion). Poorti offers migrant families housing loans of up to 60,000 rupees with advisory services by a skilled mason on structural safety and cost estimations. The program aims to reduce the time and cost taken by migrant workers to complete the construction of a pakka house, making it liveable.

As a result of the program, Prakash was able to complete his house within 20 days, which would otherwise have taken him two years in his assessment. When asked what impact did this have, Prakash mentions that earlier, he would return home before dark, always worrying about his family living in an unfinished structure. With a complete house, he is now able to work an additional two hours per day, increasing his annual incomes by 10,000 rupees. But what is more important, as Prakash points out, is that by working overtime, he now becomes eligible for cash advances from his contractor – a pre-approved line of credit whenever he needs it. For Prakash, the complete house helped increase incomes, but more importantly became a crucial productive asset. For him access begot access.


For Prakash, a tractor driver, a permanent house improved his ability to choose the number of hours of work and increase incomes by 10,000 rupees a year

An impact assessment of workers like Prakash who were part of the Poorti pilot demonstrates strong income effects through pakka housing and multiple pathways to achieve this.

In fact, 36% of families that had completed construction noted an increase in time spent at work that is directly attributable to stable housing, while 45% said it is at least ‘likely to increase’ in the future. This is significant because even an extra hour a week, a few nightly or overtime shifts, or a few extra days at destination (e.g. Ahmedabad or Surat) can increase income substantially. Indeed, around 72% of families with permanent houses actually reported that income either increased or was likely to increase as a consequence of home security. Furthermore, having a pakka house improved the migrant’s perceived credit worthiness in the community, further improving financial access for these households.   A pakka house therefore is a crucial social resource for such families.

Fateh lal, another client of the Poorti program, used to work at a chocolate factory in Ahmedabad earlier. He gave it up and returned to his village, reluctantly accepting a wage cut of 100 rupees per day in local work, just in order to complete the construction of his house.  With a complete house now, he has plans to return and estimates that he could earn additional incomes of up to 30,000 rupees per year depending on the number of days he is able to work. From daily commuting, he has started being away from home for five days at a stretch, hoping to gradually reduce the frequency with which he comes back home.

For long duration migrants like Fateh lal, the ability to stay away from home longer, significantly reduces costs and improves the potential to earn. Firstly, taking fewer trips back home out of compulsion yields savings on transportation costs. Secondly, and this is fairly counter-intuitive, migrating can be more cost effective, and housing that enables more migration can therefore be very beneficial. Specifically, some contractors or employers in professions like kitchen work or cooking, tent-pitching and painting, provide workers with accommodation and food at comparable wages. With these expenses eliminated at home (from not being there), going away for longer can also mean lower costs as workers are able to rely on contractor or employer provided shelter and food, thereby increasing savings.


Fateh lal hopes to migrate back to Ahmedabad for longer periods now that his house is complete. With the money he saved on housing, he plans to install a tube well for improving farm produce

“34 x 18 ft” says Fateh lal in a precise tone, when asked if the Poorti program helped him in any other way. The program helped him decongest his family’s living space by over 612 square feet. For him, the mason’s cost estimate provided as part of the advisory services, was key. It helped visualize his finances for the next three years and determine how much of it could go into housing and how much was left for other needs.

For most migrant families, having a pakka house is the top most social & financial goal. Families are often unable to even articulate other big needs, in the absence of a permanent roof over their heads. In contrast, respondents in the Poorti impact study expressed a number of priorities going forward, including investments in agriculture, setting up local businesses and ensuring their children remained in school for longer. When the same families were asked if these would still be their priorities in the absence of a pakka home, the response was overwhelmingly ‘no’.

Multiple pathways through which housing improved incomes emerged across the 45 migrant families that were surveyed – diversified incomes through dedicated spaces for livestock, improved health indicators, decongested spaces for better educational outcomes and so on. The most significant pathway however was the direct impact that secure housing at source has on the ability to choose work and wages & make optimal migration choices.

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