Thursday, August 16, 2018

Answers, anyone?

Shehzad drives an auto-rickshaw in Bhopal and has a daughter in school. Last year all the children were asked to open a bank account through the school, which he did by providing them the necessary documents. A sum of Rs. 400 per year is to be transferred by the Government into each student's SBI account for purchase of school uniforms. The money was transferred and the full amount immediately deducted by the bank as penalty for not maintaining a minimum balance required for a metropolitan bank branch. In spite of repeated requests by Shehzad that he does not have the money to keep two bank accounts running (one his own and one joint with his daughter), and that he had not asked for the second account, the money has not been refunded.

Sheila works as a domestic help and lived in Bhopal till last year when she moved with her husband to Bairagarh when her slum was demolished as part of the city's replanning. Her son has joined a school there and the teacher wanted a bank account opened in her son's name through the school. Now the boy's identity documents are all from Bhopal - birth certificate and Aadhar card. So are hers and her husband's. They own no ration card. The teacher refuses to open the account saying a bank account cannot be opened till they show proof of living in that locality, ie in Bairagarh. As the family is squatting on some land near a forested area, they have no address there. Sheila said she does not need her son to have an account and will do without the Rs. 400 assistance annually, but the teacher will not hear of it - every child must have the account she insists. And Sheila says she is helpless as the son was born and the Aadhar card made when they were in Bhopal. Things are at this stand-off now.

Meanwhile Chintamani in Hyderabad is unable to get her granchildren into a Government school as they do not have an Aadhar card and the school refuses admission without one. Her son is an alcoholic, not bothered about the family, the daughter-in- law and she work from dawn to dusk as domestics to keep the house going. Meanwhile the grandchildren, 5 and 6, are out of school. I thought no services or facilities were to be denied for want of an Aadhar card till the Supreme Court gives its decision, but the Government school authorities think otherwise. Or am I mistaken?

Anyone with any answers for these parents, please write in.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Two men

Patients attending the clinic yesterday at the 90 foot road in L ward of Bombay came with a variety of complaints. One woman probably had malaria and looked sick. A man with hypertension and heart disease; one with chemical dermatitis due to working with paint; several with skin infections. All of them looked tired and were thin, most wore clothes blackened by the grease and dirt at their workplace, most had calloused hands and grimy fingernails. But Vishal (name changed) looked unlike the others. Fresh-faced, very  young, clean, he had come to Bombay from Bahraich district in Uttar Pradesh 2 months ago after his 12th standard examinations to join his brother in the Kajupada slum, to earn Rs.7000 a month for working 12 hours a day and sometimes longer.
I asked him why he left his studies and came here, and also why for such a low wage. He looked at me in silence for a few seconds, and then said his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed weekly injections (chemotherapy, perhaps), each of which cost them Rs. 10,000. There was, simply put, no  Government facility nearby where they could access free cancer treatment, so they had to travel over 300 km to the Kamala Nehru Trust Hospital in Allahabad for treatment. There was no money, so Vishal had to stop thinking of applying for college, and travel to Bombay to earn what he could to pay for the treatment, along with his brother. 
The cancer is disseminated, he told me  - his mother had not told anyone about it till the festering wound became too much to conceal. 
I explained as gently as I could that for someone to survive disseminated breast cancer is not easy. And told him that whatever happens, he must try and go back to studying as soon as he can. 

I wonder if he will ever be able to. 

Last night, traveling home from the airport in Bhopal, I asked the driver, a young man, where he was from. He had come to Bhopal three months ago from Ashoknagar where he had been with a travel agency for three years. The owner had eleven cars. When I asked why the move, he said he had had a quarrel with the owner. I did not ask anything more, but then Sushil (name changed) told me what had happened. He had not been paid for two months, he said and when he had asked for his wages, the owner had laughed and said he did not need the money urgently as he was not married. 
I kept begging him for two months, said Sushil - I had my rent to pay, I had to eat, I was supporting my family. When he did not pay me for the third month, I was very angry . When I was driving him somewhere, I stopped the car, pulled him out, and hit him. I hit him with a stone on his head, then with a stick on his back, then I ran away.  
How is the owner now? I asked after a few minutes. 
He got up and drove himself home, and lodged a police complaint. I had to go to Ashoknagar two days ago to appear in court. I explained to the judge what had happened, and the judge said I should have lodged a complaint, not beaten the owner. The next hearing is six weeks from now. 
I told him the same thing- that beating up someone is not the answer, that next time he loses his temper he may kill someone and that will land him in jail. 
Sushil told me he is from Rewa district, his father was a contract labourer for the railways and died suddenly of a heart attack some years ago. He is the oldest and has to provide for the family. From his wage of Rs. 10,000 a month in Rewa he had to support his mother and siblings. When he was not paid, he had to beg the owner of the rented room where he stayed, not to throw him out. He felt ashamed to do this, as well as for the fact that he was not able to send money home. He himself ate once in three days, and survived on cups of tea in between. 
Now in Bhopal he earns Rs. 12,000 a month as a driver, and has taken a one-bedroom flat on rent in a multi (Government built multi-storied houses). The multis have a parking space where he and 12 other drivers keep their cars at night and the colony has a security guard arrangement, so the cars are safe. He is delighted with the running water and electricity, though he has to spend Rs. 2500 on rent each month. His home is open to anyone who comes to Bhopal from Rewa  for Government work or looking for a job. 
Why should they spend money on staying at a hotel when they can ill-afford it? he asked. I can help them this way. At present he has a family of four from Rewa staying in his flat - The woman has a preterm baby (7 months) and they have come to Bhopal for the child's treatment. They need to be here for at least 2 weeks, and I have given them the key to my flat - they can come and go as they please, and cook their own food. 

Would you judge this young man?


Saturday, February 24, 2018

A tale of two migrants in Surat

Ramesh Kumar (name changed) is 19, and from Panna district in Madhya Pradesh. His high school certificate states he is Ramesh Kumar Lodhi.  Two years ago, after passing his 12th standard examination, he came to Surat and found work in a factory that makes razais with synthetic fibre. He works one of the machines that produces the fibre, which is then sucked away through a pipe and taken to where the razais are made. 

Fibre produced by the machine is sucked into the pipe seen at bottom right.

On 20th December last year, he was trying to clear out the mouth of the pipe that was clogged with fibre, when his right hand was caught in the machine, as a result of which he has lost all fingers of that hand. The owner refused to pay him any compensation for his injury. I met him two days ago, when he told me he had gone to the Civil Hospital in Surat for a disability certificate but was denied it as his Aadhaar card says he is Ramesh Kumar but does not state his caste. This, despite his Aadhaar card being made in Surat. Ramesh already has an Aadhaar card in in his hometown in Panna district, but like many migrants, he has another one in the city where he works, as otherwise he has no access to any service, including a job, a bank account, or a local SIM card for his phone. (So much for the unique ID of Aadhaar!). Here, though, in spite of having a local Aadhaar card, he was denied the certificate as it did not carry his caste name. When I met him and his father - both are severely underweight - they were still in shock at the turn his life has taken.( The Medical Superintendent agreed to issue a certificate, but only after the Aadhaar card can be validated against another ID proof).

Like Ramesh Kumar, Subhash Gouda (name changed) was also a migrant,though he had moved to this city ten years ago from Ganjam district in Odisha, working in one of the many powerlooms here, producing synthetic textiles. Working twelve hour shifts with no days off, living in crowded conditions, on a poor diet, he was one of the many thousands drawn by the need for a livelihood. He developed tuberculosis and had begun treatment in Odisha, but found it impossible to continue medication here - was it paperwork? was it the time needed to access services? - after working the night shift for 12 hours in deafening noise, most workers sleep the whole day and wake up only in the late evening when the Government hospitals are shut for the day. Those in the day shift start work at 7 am and come out of the loom sheds only at 7 pm - again with no time to go to the hospital. his wife told us that he wanted to get better and each time he was home (once a year), he would start treatment, but it would stop once he when to Surat. As expected, he got sicker and sicker and yesterday developed sudden breathlessness. He was rushed to the hospital where he died within the hour, and was cremated soon after. He was 28 years old.

I saw a photograph of him laid out on a stretcher after his death. A young pale face with straight hair falling over his forehead. I wondered how many thousands and hundreds of thousands like him live and suffer and die, far away from home and family. And thought of his wife and children in Odisha who will never see him again.