ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cheap Lives, Costly Commerce

Poor and migrant labour pays the price for India’s “enterprising” cities.


Indian cities have witnessed terrible fire accidents, including in hospitals where it would be safe to expect that safety and other aspects would receive close attention. Fancy restaurants, pubs, eateries and small hotels have been sites of terrible fires that have destroyed lives and damaged properties. The list is long. But, the votaries and celebrants of rapid urbanisation, which dismisses all laws on safety and environment, carry on regardless. In fact, the “ease of doing business” becomes the norm and workers are supposed to be grateful that they have jobs, never mind the circumstances. The idea is not to “encumber” the enterprise owners with laws for workers because then the workers will be the losers if there are no jobs.

Ironically, India’s poor and the working-class residents of cities and towns are often praised for their ability to live, work, and commute in the most trying circumstances. Their “resilience” is often praised for the vibrancy of cities like Mumbai and Delhi. It is a horrific thought: Did the 43 labourers, who were asphyxiated to death in the fire at Anaj Mandi in Delhi on 8 December 2019, fall victim to a system that celebrates vibrant cities as centres of growth and sources of jobs? However, the lead question is whether these labourers had a choice at all but to be a part of this system where poor workers, and especially migrant labourers, are expected to work almost round the clock without any thought to their safety or even basic comfort. Those who lost their lives in the tragedy were mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They worked and lived too in the factory and made bags, caps, and garments. This unit was located in a congested residential area in the country’s capital.

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Updated On : 17th Dec, 2019
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