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.