Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains!

Madhupura market in Ahmedabad, one of the oldest and biggest market yards of Gujarat is a major hub for migrant workers. The migration flow to this occupational sector, from arid districts such as Pali, Jhalore and Sirohi in Rajasthan, though quite traditional, is replete with problems – these migrant workers perform low-end chores, live and work in hazardous environments, and lack any form of official documentation in spite of spending their entire lives carrying heavy loads on their bare shoulders.

There have been many incidents in the course of my work with them, which have exposed the vulnerable condition of these workers. One unforgettable incident took place a few months ago, in which two migrant workers were beaten up brutally by the police, accusing them of theft. The incident involved a theft of around 20000/- in cash, from the tea stall of Amrasingh Poraji Rajput. Subsequent inquiries by the police led to the implication of the owner and one of the workers, both of who were arrested without even registering a case. Both were beaten up badly and had to undergo treatment in a private clinic. When the workers in New Madhupura market came to know of the incident, they put a halt to their work; the market closed down entirely.

This kind of public mobilization and stoppage of work had happened for the first time in the New Madhupura market. This inspired support from the workers of the Old Madhupura market as well, who had already been mobilized on account of the unionization efforts of our Aajeevika center. When our Union leaders learnt of this incident, they called us for support. Since the matter was critical and demanded urgent attention, we wasted no time in attending to it. When we reached the spot, we realized that the issue had assumed great proportions. More than 100 workers, along with the victims had gathered in the centre of the market; the victims narrated their story to us. There were heated discussions regarding the treatment meted out to these workers. Five of our Union leaders took the lead in talking to the market administration and invited us also to be a part of the discussions. The market administration conducted a detailed discussion on the issue; our presence there also lent a lot of weight. They called the police station and made enquiries regarding the arrest, and finally decided to give medical compensation to the workers who had to undergo such a traumatic experience.

This was a big boost for our nascent Unionisation work in the area. This also lent a lot of strength to the issues that we were trying to raise. In a large meeting the same day, I addressed the workers and appealed to them to join the Hamaal Suraksha Sangh, the Union that our centre is promoting. Madan Singh Rajput, President of the Union, also addressed the workers and described the importance of being a member of the Union. Many other union leaders of Ahmedabad were also present in the meeting. This also helped in spreading the fire to other markets; and presented us an opportunity to take our work to the New Madhupura sugar market as well. Our Union leaders anchored the mobilization in these markets and the efforts culminated in a large Sammelan of migrant head loaders, through which we also formed a committee for our Union. Responding at the right time in the right manner to the police atrocity helped strengthen our efforts; helped instill a new realization among the workers about the criticality of organizing themselves. Here is hoping that these efforts go a long way in ensuring dignity and security to the lives of these vast numbers of migrant workers.

– Rina Parmar, Aajeevika Bureau

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