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Ahmedabad migrants "made to work, live" amidst machines inside Narol garment factories in subhuman conditions

Counterview Desk
A recent study by Aajivika Bureau, an advocacy group working among Ahmedabad’s migrant workers, who come from the tribals belts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, has found that many of them live in “sub-human” conditions inside the garments factories operating of the Narol industrial belt of Ahmedabad.
Pointing out that there are around 2,000 garment units in Narol, of which 35 are big, the study, based on investigation by Nivedita Jayaram, Sangeeth S, says that especially in the small to medium factories, having 10 to 50 workers, the workers have to work in “specific, small, marginal and low end activity like raw material refining, stitching, washing, dyeing etc.”
Giving the example of a cotton garment factory, the study, titled “Settlements of the Un-Sedentary: A study on the living conditions of seasonal labour migrants in Ahmedabad city”, says that its 20 labour migrants, who come from Barmer in Rajasthan, are not offered any separate space to live.
“The factory doesn’t have spaces for connecting different activities, like sleeping, cooking, bathing, and all of them are performed between machines”, the study says, adding, as they live within their workspace, their “normal work hour is 12 hours a day for a wage of Rs 300.”
Pointing out that workers are either not paid any overtime, or are paid very little of it, the study says, during the “high demand season, these migrant even work for more than 18 hours”, because of which they face a large number of “health concerns like sleeplessness, exhaustion, and chemicals entering their food and water.”
Noting that they are subjected to “workplace hazard”, with an open drain flowing “inside the factory right next to where they live”, the study says, families also live “next to the boiler”, hence “their children face the risk of falling into the boiler anytime.”
In another factory, the researchers find, there is a “heterogeneous mix of workers from UP, Rajasthan, Odisha and West Bengal”, because of which there is “a high degree of cultural friction”, adding, “Not only that the Odiya and Bengali workers are discriminated against in getting the worst kind of work, they also end up staying in the worst kind of spaces within factories.”
Comment the researchers, the design of factories in Narol is such that they are carved out for work, yet have many kinds of inconveniences that comes from lack of facilities at the workspace, which get “reproduced in the living space”.
The study insists, the larger issue they face is, “Work starts co-opting your entire life. The fine line you have between your work life and personal life becomes very blurry. And when you work for more than 18 hours, and when the owner makes you work at the middle of the night, the worker no more sees it as an invasion of his basic rights; it becomes extremely normalized.”
Estimating that around 1.3 million seasonal migrants come in Gujarat to work in cities as also agricultural farms of big landlords, says the study, they particularly form a huge reserved army of cheap labour feeding mainly the construction sector in Ahmedabad and other major cities.
Apart from living in factories in “sub-optimal conditions”, the study says, “They live in a variety of living arrangements in Ahmedabad ranging from squatting on pavements, settling in temporary shelters, to living on the shop floor inside factories etc. In all these living arrangements, basic parameters of security and wellbeing are unmet.”

Whither night shelters?

“One of the buzz-words when you talk about housing for seasonal migrants is the Rain Basera (night shelters”, the study says, adding, “In our informal mapping we realized that only 26 among 44 Rain Baseras in Ahmedabad are operational and only four of them are being used by seasonal labour migrants.”
It adds, “Even in these four Rain Baseras, migrants are able to access this facility through a contractor having networks with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. Majority of migrants, who are women and have migrated with families, didn’t get access to these spaces…” Also, “the design of the Rain Baseras is not tweaked according to the needs of seasonal migrants.”
“The Gujarat Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board (BoCW) has also tried out some pilot housing projects for seasonal migrants. One of them was the distribution of tent-houses to people living in temporary shelters besides the railway track”, the study says.
It regrets, “But this project didn’t take off because it was poorly designed and people living in temporary shelters had better houses than these tent-houses. Their temporary shelters were constructed in a way that they are airtight from below, preventing entry of animals from outside. But the tent houses distributed by the Gujarat BoCW were open from below.”

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