The naka markets all over Mumbai are where contractors come to find cheap skilled and semi-skilled labour.
Every morning, the men and women gather,stand around in clumps, talking, having chai and sometimes, a smoke. They are obviously waiting for someone or something to happen. Welcome to the naka markets of Mumbai. What is on offer here is not goods but services. Each of one of them, man or woman has a skill, some are plumbers and some masons, some can fix your fused geyser and others can seal a leak on your wall. They are waiting for work. In an hour or so, the contractors would stop by and pick the skill they want to employ for the day. The lucky ones will score a day’s pay; the others will return empty handed.
Raju Salve,President of Ekta Kaamgar Sangathna said “Men get Rs 400 to 500 and women get Rs. 200 per day.” Parvati, a migrant worker at the Turbhe Naka, said, “Many of the people here come from Bihar because there is no work there. Contractors mostly prefer men for work because they are ready to work even for Rs. 200 and these people think that the men can do more work.”
One more case of sexism? Perhaps. But it is also because women are generally hired in order to carry bricks or to do other ‘unskilled’ labour as they do not have the skills needed, says Salve.Even here, it is assumed that due to their weaker physical frames, they will not be able to do the heavy lifting that men can do.
Turbhe, north Mumbai, has several naka markets. The one at Turbhe East adjacent to the Turbhe railway station was where Roop Singh, a labourer from Karnataka was waiting. His sturdy limbs, dark complexion and rugged hands were a sign of the hard work that he did in the scorching heat at construction sites. He said, “I came to Mumbai 15 years back. Earlier I used to do small labour work at construction sites. Later, I learnt to do mason work.” That day, Roop Singh did not get lucky. He is just one story there are many such labourers who have to struggle everyday to find work. And competition is tough and often works to the detriment of the worker and the benefit of the contractor.
The naka system is the best for casual employment for migrant workers. Salve added that “Some labourers come on a seasonal basis too. When there is no farming work in their native place they come to Mumbai to work. Apart from working at construction sites they also do odd jobs like shifting of goods. The labour market being an unorganized system of employment, where people are exploited.”
There are many schemes and laws that have been passed for the welfare of the labourers. It is difficult to estimate whether these schemes and laws actually prove to be beneficial for them. Many a times these workers are not even aware of their rights and these welfare schemes. Laws that are passed on paper should also suffice on a ground level. There is no point in having laws that cannot be implemented. The institution of naka markets has great potential but only if they are backed by appropriate policies.
Blog Post by Mamta Kalambe and Aquila Khan. This post was first published in Marginalia 2014-15 by SCM Sophia. Adapted by Leading Lines.