Dharavi migrants take up odd jobs for survival as factories shuttered

Published on Aug 07, 2022 11:13 PM IST

Mumbai: Around 250 small-scale factory units in Dharavi have shut down after the Covid-19 outbreak, rendering over 13,000 migrants unemployed

Dharavi migrants take up odd jobs for survival as factories shuttered
Dharavi migrants take up odd jobs for survival as factories shuttered
ByLinah Baliga

Mumbai: Around 250 small-scale factory units in Dharavi have shut down after the Covid-19 outbreak, rendering over 13,000 migrants unemployed. The pandemic has had a disastrous effect with the disappearance of small-scale factory units mainly in the tailoring, embroidery and leather industry in Dharavi.

Spread over 2.5 sq km, Dharavi has a population density of 2.27 lakh people per sq km. It is home to about 5,000 GST-registered companies, plus many more that are unregistered.

There are estimated to be around 15,000 single-room ‘factories’ in Dharavi, which is also a hub for international exports, with an estimated annual turnover of $1 billion. During the lockdown, about 1.6 lakh of its residents left the city for their hometowns and a majority of them, who since returned, were greeted with shuttered shops post the third wave.

Many migrants who were skilled labourers either had to learn a new skill or give up on their expertise that is usually passed down generations as a family heirloom.

Asif Bhamla founder of NGO Bhamla Foundation is among those helping migrants by upgrading their skills and scouting for jobs for them.

Meraj Husain, CEO of Bhamla Foundation, who counsels migrants during weekends, told HT, “250 factories and small industries have been shut down in Dharavi. Every factory had 40-50 labourers from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand working in them. Over 13,000 labourers are rendered unemployed. We are finding other jobs for them.”

Husain said that literate labourers are employed as clerks in offices. “We are also shifting them to small factories coming up in Vashi,” he said.

A labourer from UP, who worked as a tailor in a factory named Rain Basera before it shut down, said, “There was no chance of survival for small and medium-sized factories. Labourers are not getting any work and are seeking training in other skills. Many I know have returned to their villages in UP and Bihar. Those educated have managed to work in offices. Some have become construction labourers for Metro work. A few have put up tea stalls in Dharavi. I only know tailoring work and do not have any other skills.”

The factories that earlier housed factories are now being used as residential premises.

Mahfoj Ahmed Ansari, who worked as a karigar, is now delivering courier services after his embroidery factory shuttered. “At 40 years, I don’t have any inclination to learn a new skill. I used to earn 600 a day. Now I earn 1,500 a week doing odd jobs as a helper and delivering parcels. I even work as a coolie sometimes,” he said.

Mohammed Hasnain (37) another labourer who worked as a tailor before selling his machine said, “I prefer to continue with tailoring. I am not going to change my job. I am trying to get back my sewing machine to restart tailoring work.”

Activists believe that if Dharavi labourers disappear, the circulatory urbanism network of various villages in India would also be affected. “When migrants returned after the third wave, they did not have a bank balance to sustain. During the lockdown, it was a hand-to-mouth existence for them. They have sold off their sewing machines and had to vacate factories. The rents have gone up and it is unlikely they will open them,” said Husain from Bhamla Foundation.

“We help them find jobs as clerks or office boys if they are educated. Some of them from UP are experts in vegetables and want to open up vegetable stalls,” said Husain.

The labourers eat in a bisi system, where women of Dharavi prepare three homecooked meals a day and charge on a weekly basis. “It costs 400-500 a week in the bisi system while eating at a restaurant costs 1,500. Instead of daily wages, we gather money on a weekly basis. This is how we are surviving,” said Hasnain.

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