Summer is the time migrant labourers go back home for a break, but this time, some of them stayed back in New Delhi to “vote for change” in the Lok Sabha elections on Sunday.
“Every year we go back to our respective hometowns/villages for a break in April-May. This time we decided to stay back because of the elections. We don’t have voter cards in our respective homes but in Delhi. If we had gone back, we would have missed the chance of casting our vote,” said 43-year-old Rajesh.
Asked why they feel voting is important, 52-year-old Pappu said they have suffered enough in the past few years and “if I had gone home without voting, I would also have lost my right to complain about the government and lack of opportunities for people like us”.
While Pappu, who lives in Ghonda, was working at a garment shop in Chandni Chowk which was sealed last year, Rajesh, living in Karawal Nagar, was working in a small firm which stopped production after the 2016 demonetisation.
“Things were good before that (2106). We were earning well. My family was staying with me in Delhi. After I lost the job, I was forced to asked them to shift back to Barabanki (in Uttar Pradesh). Now I am staying here with other men. There is no fixed job now. I am still looking for a stable job,” Rajesh said.
Pappu, who reveled he was working in the shop since 2002, said, “Now suddenly they say it is illegal. It was there even before I was working in it. I was there since 2002, how can suddenly they say that it is illegal. If it was, why they (authorities) were sleeping till now.”
“Initially, we were told that we will be relocated. That is also not happening. With the kind of money we earn, we cannot afford to sit at home for more than a week. Now it has been months. It is not easy to find a job that is respectable. Now I am pulling a rickshaw here. I have a family of six in Bihar. They all are surviving on the money I send,” he said.
Another labourer in Seelampur area said the lack of jobs in the national capital is surely a sign of danger.
“I came here (Delhi) in the early 1990s. It is not that there were always good options for people like us to work even then, but the good part was that there were options. At least you can go back to your home with some money in hand. I am not going home this summer as I don’t have any money. My family will expect me to bring things. I don’t want to go home with an empty pocket,” he said.
“Since the past two-three years, it has been almost impossible to survive here. Most of the people have returned home. I don’t have any land and so can not even think of farming,” said 49-year-old Boomi Ram from Bihar.
Mohan, who lives here with two of his family members, said that the lack of jobs is increasing exploitation.
“Earlier, it was easy to find jobs as there were options. Now, at times, we keep searching for a job for months and cannot find one. This has also increased exploitation. The jobs where we were paid Rs 400 or 500 per day, now we were offered Rs 200 or 300. They say there are others who are ready to work even on lesser money. This is pure exploitation,” said the 29-year-old, who works as a carpenter.
Mohan and his relatives said that they will vote for a change this time. Asked what do they expect from a new government, they said they want some decent job options at least.
“We want work. We can earn for us and our family. Give us work. People come to Delhi or any other big city for jobs. There are no jobs in our hometown. If there were no jobs even in big cities, where will we go,” they said.
For 35-year-old Santosh, hailing from Rajasthan, the lack of better-earning options is also pushing the next generation into poverty.
“My father did not have money for my education. I wanted to provide education to my children. But without a stable job, I don’t see that happening. Sending my children to a decent private school is a dream. I can see that without education, some 20 years later, there will be more Santoshes. I wish that the government should see that too,” he lamented.
All the seven constituencies in Delhi went to polls on Sunday. Votes will be counted on May 23.