Woh Pathhar Todti Mahila: Women Workers at Construction Sites

तोड़ती पत्थर
वह तोड़ती पत्थर;
देखा उसे मैंने इलाहाबाद के पथ पर-
वह तोड़ती पत्थर।

कोई न छायादार
पेड़ वह जिसके तले बैठी हुई स्वीकार;
श्याम तन, भर बँधा यौवन,
नत नयन प्रिय,कर्म-रत मन,
गुरू हथौड़ा हाथ,
करती बार-बार प्रहार:
सामने तरू-मालिका अट्टालिका, प्राकार।
चढ़ रही थी धूप;
गर्मियों के दिन
दिवा का तमतमाता रुप;
उठी झुलसाती हुई लू,
रूई ज्यों जलती हुई भू,
गर्द चिनगी छा गई,
प्राय: हुई दुपहर:
वह तोड़ती पत्थर।

देखते देखा मुझे तो एक बार
उस भवन की ओर देखा, छिन्नतार;
देखकर कोई नहीं,
देखा मुझे उस दृष्टि से
जो मार खा रोई नहीं,
सजा सहज सितार,
सुनी मैंने वह नहीं जो थी सुनी झंकार
एक क्षण के बाद वह कॉंपी सुघर,
ढुलक माथे से गिरे सीकर,
लीन होते कर्म में फिर ज्यों कहा-
‘मैं तोड़ती पत्थर।’

Nirala’s poem brings alive the image of scores of women workers at construction sites who we often come across in cities. The construction sector, it is said, is dominated by male workers and women are known to be moving out because of rapid mechanization; however, there are a number of activities which are carried out by women and still lie in their domain. Unskilled in nature, these activities involve back breaking labour such as head loading of bricks, mixing large quantities of cement and sand and breaking bricks/stones into smaller pieces. Notably, most of these women are migrants from rural areas, bearing triple burden of earning for their family, maintaining a second home away from home (cooking, washing and cleaning) and nursing their children. All of this without the social support network of the Dadis, Nanis, Buas and Tais who are otherwise around in villages to lend a helping hand. It is not uncommon to see infants lying around work sites, wrapped in tatters, calling out for attention.

Mobile crèches, a concept pioneered by an NGO, started as a response to the plight of children of women laborers, bringing them nutrition, education and motherly care. More importantly, these crèches provided a clean and safe environment to an erstwhile neglected group of children. Last week I visited Delhi Mobile crèches and got an opportunity to visit one crèche myself.

Housed within the construction premises, the crèche was a living example of true grit and determination of people who had identified crèche facility to be the most significant of services to the women toiling in the sun (rightly so) and gave it their hundred percent. Organised around three units – crèches for infants (0-3 years), Balwadi for toddlers (3 to 6 years) and a unit for non-formal education for the older kids – the crèche attended to the needs of different age groups separately. It maintained personal records of each child, provided malnourished children with extra nutrition and monitored their growth. Each of the crèches aimed at 100 per cent attendance of the enrolled children. The intervention stood as an excellent example of a simple yet powerful idea…an art that was perfected and then executed with great passion. No wonder while it took a lot of convincing and cajoling earlier, women were now comfortable leaving their children in the crèche.

Most members from the crèche team, however, share that things haven’t changed much for the women at these work sites. They continue to live with the same vulnerabilities, struggle for equal and fair wage practices and a dignified treatment; often neglecting their own health and well being. The poem and the crèche facility both share the same life span, of more than 40 years. But between then and now the imagery remains the same and so does the issue; things haven’t changed much, indeed.
Amrita Sharma, Aajeevika Bureau
Poem by – Suryakant Tripathi Nirala

(This blog is dedicated to the inspiring work being done by Mobile crèches, their team, and especially to Vijaya who has been with the Delhi MC initiative since its inception, salut to the spirit and dedication)

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