Hawkers in the City of Gold

At 3 am in the morning today they picked up all our belongings

I was asleep, as they took it all away

We don’t have a license to hawking in the city, so they say

But then Munna has been carrying this gun without license for years now

 In Delhi, those men raped that girl last night

There was no one to see or protect

I am told, the police was busy cleaning up the city of a bigger menace, I see…

 If I had the money I would have paid the municipality wallah and the police

Well, no wonder they come to us 

Somebody told me that the bribe we hawkers give is more than the municipality’s  budget


This morning at 3 am in Vakola, Santacruz east, all belongings of hawkers selling vegetables and fruits were picked up by the local administration, while the hawkers were asleep. None of the hawkers had a license and had been threatened with strict action, to vacate.

In Mumbai, hawkers are perceived to be a public menace. They are blamed for encroaching on public spaces leading to traffic jams and crowding up of the city; so it’s alleged. Citizen’s associations file cases against them and advocate for their eviction. Almost everyone thinks that they should go home, to the poor villages of the poor states they came from. I’ve observed school children taking out processions against them and vouching that they’ll never buy from a hawker.

I vouch not to buy from Phoenix mill. Sorry it’s a Mall now.

I wonder if there is any parallel between the hawkers and the mill workers of Mumbai’s Manchester era. Mumbai’s much famed mills were swallowed up in a wave of modernization of the city. There are several theses on what happened – how the owners cheated the workers declaring losses, how they were supported by the local administration and the state in usurping public land and selling them, and how the unions fought a losing battle. At places relics of the struggle remain…a painful reminder of the crushed, evicted, abandoned workers in the city of gold…

What happened to them, those tens of thousands of workers and their families? How many of them hung themselves like in the movie City of Gold, how many turned criminals like Neru and died and how many somnambulant Ranades still dream on of a favorable Court verdict.

…..Crushing the mill and its workers, rose malls which shine so much, that it hurts.

And then, there are tea plantation workers, about who I’ve been reading lately. How they suffer under tripartite agreements between employers, the state and the unions – agreements which are a result of arm-twisting –agreements which allow employers to pay Rs. 68 or less per day to workers – agreements in which the state is a co-conspirator.  I am told that minimum wages legislation does not apply to plantations. Well, the Chay does taste bitter*.

And then, I think of what my maid Ashwini said in the morning – that she can never dream of a different life… that the poor will always remain poor.

Hawkers, mill workers, tea pickers, weavers, factory workers of England from the industrial revolution era…there is music in my head which plays on…from the movie city of gold…it smells of defeat and of inevitability……

– Amrita Sharma (Aajeevika Bureau)

*reference to a recently published article in EPW – “This Chay is bitter: Exploitative Relations in the Tea Industry” by Sujata Gothoskar” December 15, 2012

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2 Responses to Hawkers in the City of Gold

  1. Santosh Poonia says:

    Amrita ji the blog is very telling, I have read second time after understand Basant Dhoble’s terror. Administration and Govt. awaked after one hawker death (Bali chadne ke bad). Finally Basant Dhoble has transfered from Wakola police station to control room, now hawkers in some piece.

  2. Migrantscape says:

    Dear Santosh, the death of a hawker during the eviction drive is something very painful. My maid Ashwini happened to witness the mourning of his family. But, as I think more about the subject, I am not sure if Vasant Dhoble is really the perpetrator. He did try and bring in a lot of order in the region and was doing his job. What has happened now – politicians moving in and getting his transfer done is not a solution. They should have come in long ago if they really meant change. The more important questions on acknowledging and establishing the rights of these hawkers to the city is still unaddressed. Meanwhile, the mission against hawkers will continue to grease many palms, help politicians score points through petty politicking….These drives will resume soon, very soon.

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