Farmers protest hits daily wagers at Labour Chowk in Bahadurgarh
Rajan Awasthi is just back after a session of back-breaking work -- he and his friend had unloaded 75 cement bags from a truck near Pandit Shree Ram Sharma in Bahadurgarh, about a kilometre away from the Tikri border where farmers have been camping since the past 47 days to protest against the three farm laws.
The two men were paid ₹3 per cement bag and they each had a little over ₹100 to show for their effort. Until a few weeks ago, Awasthi was making over ₹600 a day and currently, he is glad of any work, even one that pays a pittance.
Since the past 47 days, scores of daily wagers like him, who usually wait at the labour chowk near the Metro station to find employment, are struggling as the farmers’ road blockade has killed opportunities.
Labourers say they now have to wait for hours on end at the Labour Chowk and even then, only a handful manage to find work that was plentiful before, given the numerous factories and warehouses in that part of Haryana, not far from the Delhi border.
“I found this work after four days of unemployment. Many other daily wagers have left for their homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh after waiting for a couple of days in the hopes that the farmers would disperse,” Awasthi said.
The biggest problem is that very little raw material is arriving in this industrial area because of the closure of Rohtak Road. “Some trucks still bring in goods via the inner roads, but a distance that was covered by these vehicles in five minutes earlier now take three to four hours because of the jam that often builds up on these narrow roads. Many truckers have refused to ferry goods because of the jams,” said Praveen Chillar, who deals in construction material and often hires daily wagers.
Factory owners said while a few businesses have temporarily downed their shutters, the arrival of material at factories that are open has dipped to as low as 30%.
“I would earlier hire nearly a dozen wagers daily. Now I need just two or three a day because of the dip in business,” said Subhash Jangra, accounts manager of a factory dealing in iron and steel goods.
Three to four daily wagers squat outside this factory daily in the hopes of finding work, but most will go away disappointed.
“This factory is among the few that hires labourers like us, but they will need only a few of us. Most others are able to make do with their own staff,” said Bhure Singh, a daily wager who said he hasn’t had any work for a week now.
“Now we know that most of our days will be spent squatting here with no luck. It is better than staying home and being scolded by wives for not working,” said Kali Charan, another wage earner.
The workers said they do not grudge the farmers their protest, but they are finding it hard to take this hit after a prolonged period of unemployment during the lockdown just months earlier.
“Unlike the farmers, we don’t even have lands to go back to and cultivate. We don’t have a system of minimum wages. It all depends on the demand and supply. Right now, there is very little work and lots of people to do it,” said Ajay Pal, a daily wager.
The only silver lining is the free food at the langars organised by farmers. “I have my breakfast there and leave for home after having dinner. It had reduced the quarrels back at my home,” said Pal.
Agitating farmers here said they try to ensure that none of these workers is turned away from langars. “Us farmers know the hardships of these labourers. So, we have been cooking much more than what we would have needed for our small group. We cannot give up this protest, but we are trying to lessen their problems,” said Harminder Singh, a farmer from Katera village in Firozpur.