Voices Against The Day: Seven Young Workers from Gurgaon

GurgaonWorkersNews – Newsletter 31 (October 2010)

We spoke to seven young workers from Gurgaon about village and urban life, about work and hope. They are in their early twenties, part of the new generation of workers in urban India. They work in textile and automobile factories, as rickshaw drivers and cleaners in guesthouses. The conversations touch upon the question of gender, religion and other identities thrown into urban social transformation. They ask the question of social power against the current state of being.

*** Woman Textile Worker

I have just slept. I was injured so I went to sleep after I came back from work. I got injured from the [sewing] machine. The needle went into my hand. The thread was stuck in the machine. When I tried to remove it, I accidentally moved the machine with my foot and my hand came under the machine. The company provided no treatment. Many people get injured like that. There are more accidents in the night.

There are about 3,000 workers in the factory. Many are women. About 1,500-2,000 must be women. They do all kind of work. Everything – operator, sewing also work as hand operators. I am an sewing machine operator. I sew only one part, the arm of a shirt. In one shift I have to sew at least 80 pieces. If I don’t meet the target, the line keeps moving. Nothing happens. The clothes are exported, but I don’t know where to.

I am 17. I have worked in this factory since six months. Before that I worked in another factory. Brown, they produce medicines. I like to work in the export line, because making clothes is clean work. In medicine – don’t ask. Like there is a lot of glass. When it breaks, it cuts into the hand. We have to wash the bottles. Then the drugs powder – if it comes on your hands or face, they burn. It damages. I worked in that factory for two months. It was my first job. I left it, because I did not earn much money. Rs 2500. And I had to work a lot. My bones used to hurt. Then I had to work with medicines. I did not like it. I felt claustrophobic.

The money I earn, girls who are younger than 18, do not get jobs. But I was desperate, and I told a lie at the job. It is so difficult in my family. There is no one to earn except me and my older sister. My father lives, but he has knee problems. He does not work. I have a younger brother. We are educating him. My sister and I – by working. So I said to them at work that I was 19. So they gave me work. Otherwise they would not have let me.

It is normal for women to work there. Women workers have been there from the start. The atmosphere in export is good. There is no harassment, in fact there is pressure on the men to behave themselves. So nobody says anything. Yes, we talk a lot, men and women, but nobody forces anybody. They can talk in the factory. In our canteen too, boys eat on one side and the girls eat on the other side. But they work together. Because they make even women work very hard. And women are getting ahead of men. Women even do the work that men cannot do, they work harder. The employers think that perhaps women will not resist.

The biggest problem is that of the toilet. There are so many women and men working in the factory, but only 2 or 3 toilets. So there is always a queue. When we do overtime, the advantage is that we get double the money. For 2 hrs work we get 4 hrs money. If we work on a Sunday for 8 hrs work we get wages for 16 hrs. For a 8 hour day, I earn Rs 4200 per month. I give all the money to my family, I keep about Rs. 400-500 for myself. The rest I give. Our real salary should be Rs. 4500. But the company is not giving it. The company gives 4200. From Rs 4200, Rs 500 go into pensions. So after the cuts, we get about Rs 3600. From that I keep Rs 300 for transport, I keep Rs 50 – 100 for my own costs. If everybody joins, something an be done about the wages. I cannot do anything alone. Together we can ask for he wages that are our right. We talk that when our grade is Rs 4500, we should get it. We should get the perks. Like today, when I got hurt I went to get medical aid. They did not do much for me. Just gave me half a tablet. Then I went and got myself a tetanus injection. And I got medicine myself, and so it became better. I paid myself. 50 Rupees.

Question: Is there a union in the factory?

A.: Union?

Question: Union – how do you say it? AITUC for example?

A.: Unity [Ekta]? There is unity. If anybody puts pressure on us, then not one person alone, but everybody protests. If somebody shouts, we all answer back. We are all united. The supervisor shouts because if we do not give him the piece, we do not produce, we do not meet the target, he will shout. If a piece is not right he will shout. We just say, “what we did not do in this hour, we will do in the next”. Or “We don’t know what is going wrong”. So we correct him. There is same unity between men and women.

I have one girl friend in the factory, named Bharti. Here in the basti [workers dwelling], I have only neighbours. Here, I do not want to make friends. They talk nicely in front of you, but criticise at the back. They criticise me. If I tell them something private they spread it everywhere.

I would like to be somebody, although I did not get any education. Some profession, some office job. If I get such a job, it would be nice. Here, I go fresh in the morning; but come back tired. I get tired working.
Perhaps my parents will get me married in 1 or 2 years. If not here, then with somebody from the village. What those other people ask me to do and what they don’t let me do – they must decide. If I get married, will I be allowed to see my family? I will not be able to see how my parents are. I would like to stay with them. Our present situation should change. I should work well so our conditions become better. Yes, I would like to work after marriage, because the inflation is so high these days. So if there are 10 people in a family if they all don’t earn, the household will not work. It is so expensive. The house cannot run on one salary. That’s why I wish if after marriage, I am allowed to work I will work. I don’t want to live in the village. I have never been to the village. I don’t know what it is like. I cannot do the work of a village.

*** Rickshaw Worker

I live in Gurgaon since ten years. I drive a bicycle rickshaw. The conditions were better 10 years ago, but now they are very bad. Because the numbers of people have increased a lot. The work we used to do for Rs 2000, now people are doing for Rs 1000. So it is bad. People come from West Bengal, Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh…

When I first came to Gurgaon, there was nothing here. There were not such big houses, not so many houses, not so much rent. We paid Rs. 200, 300 or maximum Rs 500 for rent. Landlords used to beg us to take the house on rent and were ready to do everything for the tenant. Now, when I want to rent, people say they have no room, even when they do have empty houses to rent. Because we cannot pay them the rent they want. We can pay Rs. 1000 – 1200. But Rs 2000 – 4000 how can we pay?

Most workers rent their rickshaws, the rent is Rs. 1000 per month. We earn Rs. 4000 – 4500. So Rs. 3500 are left. We pay Rs. 1.000 for the rent of our shacks. The shack costs Rs. 1000, but you can also get a room for Rs. 1000. To live in a brick-room is difficult because there we have to cook on gas fire. We cook on wood fire. For gas we need a cylinder. We don’t get a cylinder because you need a ration card. Also, they don’t give you any place to put the auto rickshaw. This is why we live in shacks.

Some tension goes on between old people and newcomers. For example you come, I say “Rs. 50 for the fare”, while another rickshaw driver will come and say, “Rs. 20?. So how should it work? There will be tension. When the fare is Rs. 50, why should we take Rs. 20? A minimum rickshaw fair? Nobody talks about this. Because we do not have a rickshaw union here. So nobody talks about this. So if we do not get Rs 20 per kilometer, it is no use.

Sometimes the police make raids. They say “this is an illegal immigrant”, but they are just ordinary workers. The trouble we have with the police is that we park our vehicles everywhere on the road. The police does not let us park on the road. If we park in front of a mall, the guards complain and the police beat us with batons. We have to bear this.

But what can you earn in a different job, for example in the factory – Rs. 2000 to 3000, maybe Rs 3.500. But nobody gets more than that. How can with survive with that? In the factory one works for 12 hours. We work about 10 hours. And in the factory there is an owner and a supervisor. We work when we want to. But yes, there is tension: no passengers, no work.

I think it will become worse in the future. The situation is so bad now. In 2-3 years it will be completely bad. People will be forced to starve. The rice we used to eat for Rs.10 a kilo, we eat today for Rs. 25 a kilo. After 2 years it will be Rs. 30 or 40 for a kilo. Our rickshaw fares are not going up. So if we will not starve, what else will we do?

What can we do about it?. We cannot go to the police. If we complain to the government, they do not listen to us. If we, 10 or 100 rickshaws, jam the road, and ask the public to increase our fares, the police will come and beat us up, because we do not have a union. If there were a union, if even two rickshaws block the road, no car will pass them.

How to make a union? Suppose you are the representative from here. You could tell all rickshaw drivers to pay Rs 500 or Rs 200 per month. All rickshaw drivers in Gurgaon would then deposit Rs. 100 or Rs 200 per month with you, and get a certificate, with the fare for each area on it. So if the police bother you, you show this certificate. If they still don’t listen, you leave the vehicle there and ask the union to intervene. There is a union in Bihar, also in Bengal, but not in Haryana.

*** Guest House Workers


It is now two and a half years since I came here. For a job, for work, to earn money, this is why I came here. One person can earn Rs 2000 – 3000. In the village getting a job is not so easy. To get a government job you need a lot of qualifications, backing, money, everything. We do not have this. If you cannot get a government job, in the village there are no companies. What can you do there – some work in farms or in houses. It is not permanent. It is temporary. You work for one day and then sit around for a week. This is not right.


I came in 2000. I have been here for 9 years. First I was small. Now I am grown up so I should earn a little more. I think I will not stay long here. I will go back to my village. It is better in the village than here. Here no one respects you. In Haryana, Gurgaon, if a Bengali makes a mistake they get beaten up. We cannot live nicely or easily here. So I do not like it very much here – in Haryana, in Gurgaon. Yes, 9 years ago it was even worse. In the village what else could my parents have done. They did farming. We still have a little land, but now my parents live here.


When I came first, I came with a friend. He used to be here, then he went to the village and brought me with him. I found a job after two – three days. It was a company. A small one. A guest house. Yes, cleaning in the guest house. Yes, I found work fast because my friend took me.


When I came, as I was small, there was no work to be found. That time, I was 10 years old, and people did not give work to small kids. An uncle had come to Gurgaon earlier, he brought us here. When we first came to Haryana, there were no big flats. It was like a forest. And we too lived in shacks. We did not have a flat. Now we have a flat. Gurgaon has become such a nice city. It was not so nice before. There weren’t many roads. My parents went to the village some days ago and have returned, and will go again. My father does cleaning jobs here. In the village there is not so much smell, not so many cars, not so many roads.


I have come to Gurgaon for the first time in my life. When I came here, I had not been to such a big town. I thought I would get lost. I did not know what I would say if someone spoke to me. That time I did not speak any Hindi, only Bangla. If somebody asked, “What is your name?” I used to think, “What should I say?” Because I am a Bengali. My language is Bangla. Now I do not have any difficulties. All the other Bengalis who are here have some relative, but I until now, I do not have any relative – only friends. No relative by blood.

Here the habits are a little bad, because the Bengalis drink a lot, quarrel with their wives and do not talk to each other with respect. If there is one vacancy here, there are ten young men who want to have it. So what can you do? So which one of the 10 will get the job? So there is always this danger about jobs, a lot of difficulty. How much salary do we get? Rs 3000-4000. What can you do with Rs 3000-4000? Nothing. We have so many expenses. Just the rent for one room is Rs. 1500. To work in a call centre, the first thing you need is qualifications. And the qualifications that you need, I don’t have them. You need at least a Bachelor. And the BA should be in English Honours. But there was no English in my village. There is no Hindi, either. Only Bangla. We learn Hindi after coming here.

There is a big difference between a guest house and a factory. The work in a guest house is a little easy. You don’t have to work that hard. We work in an air conditioned room not in the heat. We can work freely. Nobody is there to watch. Factories are full of the noise of the machines and there are many people. So it is difficult. In a guest house, the supervisor should have a minimum qualification of a B.A. And without a B.A.? – You cannot earn anything. If you live alone, it is very hard. I have taken another person in my room. So the rent is reduced to Rs. 700 – Rs. 800. If you take one more person, it becomes even less.

I have come here for many days – not a lifetime. After living here for a year or so, I will go back to my village, and live with my parents. Then I will come here again for 6 months – 1 year. But we don’t want to stay here permanently.

N. and me, we are friends, he is Muslim, I am Hindu. But people who are not friends think “this person should not talk to me, should not touch me”. “It is not good to meet with them”. They think like this in the village. It is less here. It does not work like that here. Here the friendship works. Like in the village, if I go to somebody’s house they stop me. They say, “Don’t come in, don’t touch me”. It happens a lot even today. I think differently. He is a good friend of mine – that’s what I think.

*** Automobile Worker

I am just coming back from work in the company. I have just done the night duty for 12 hours. I am a VMC operator. Vertical Machining Center – it is designing and modelling work. It is dyeing work. From the dyes, models are made, and then production is made and after production it goes to the press shop. The main client is a company JCB – they manufacture diggers. We make a part for them. And also for Hero Honda and Escort.

About 450-500 workers work in the factory. About 200-250 are permanent. I am employed directly by the company. Among the subcontractors the rate is Rs. 4,200 for 8 hours and they give around 3,500. I earn Rs. 9,000 per month. For 8 hours plus 4 hours overtime daily shift. One week night, one week day shift. There is forging work in the factory, so the furnaces are on and there is fire. This is hard work and the workers have problems. There is a lot of work. The factory runs for 24 hours, even on Sundays. After 12 hours work, I sleep for 4-5 hours and sit with my family. I just have to go to work and eat and sleep.

I work on a CNC machine. After you set it, it runs by itself, and you don’t have to do anything. I have done a diploma in machining. It takes about 2 years to get this diploma. The course costs about Rs. 30,000. With a diploma you can get a job for Rs. 8,000 – 10,000 for 8 hours work. I worked there since 3 months. Before that I was training. The actual work can be done without doing the course, but it would take time.

My father works for the Electricity Board. So he is the only one who does not live in Allahabad. His brothers still live there. My wife still lives there, too. I am a Brahmin, but in the factory there is no difference between castes. Here in the bastis [workers dwelling], people think according to castes and this makes a difference. It makes a difference in terms of eating. We eat separately. We don’t eat meat whereas people of lower classes eat meat. I like it when people mix and eat together. That is correct.

*** Textile Worker

The first time, after I came from the village, I found the environment in the city strange. Finding a job is difficult; I came here to work for 7-8 months and then go back and come again. In the city, the ways of living and eating are strange. There is no time to eat or sleep. You get up to go to work, have a shower to go to work, eat to go to work. Nothing is left for one’s own life.

I had learnt sewing work for 2 years in the village. I was 12 years old then. I was 14 and a half years old when I came here. I did not come to the city on my own. I had a relative – my father`s uncle’s son. I came with him. He taught me the work for 7-8 months. I lived with him for 3-4 years, after which I started to live separately. Since then I have been in this place.

The first job was hard. For 6 months I worked continuously from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. No, there was no holiday. Because of that I had health problems – breathing problems. I had to be treated for 1 year. I spent more than I earned on my treatment. Now I am alright. After 6 months I worked in another factory J P Export until I was 15. Then I was 15. Then I worked for 2 years in Liliput Kidswear. Now, since 1 year, I have been working at Unistyle Image. I worked in 7-8 factories altogether, in the last seven years the wages did not increase. I was never made permanent – it has been just like this. I am 22 years old now.

In a year we work for at least 10-11 months and spend one month in the village. And that too – we go for a week or 15 days every 3-4 months. We go for one week and then come back. It is not convenient. There are some people who go back to the village after 5 years because nothing changes there – it remains the same. So people go home according to their need. Those people who have a relation to the village, because of parents, they stay in the village for 2-4 months. They work only for 6 months. Those who do not have money they go to the village after 9-10 months or 4-5 years. Somebody who comes from Bihar, it is difficult for them to go back every 3 months. He earns Rs. 3,000 and can save Rs. 1,000 or Rs. 2,000. The train fare costs Rs. 1,000 or Rs. 2,000. So he won’t go. My village is somewhat close. It costs only Rs. 150, so I go often. But for those whom it costs Rs. 500 – Rs. 600 and it takes 36 hours, they do not do this so often.

Somebody who is old – 45 years, they can’t do much work so why should anyone harass them? And the older you get, the less capable you are of working. Now, when I am 40, I will not be able to see the sewing, I will be practically blind. Because the threads are fine – it is detailed work. So I have to think what I will do after this. We’ll see. Some people go back to the village and do farming.

Normally I earn Rs 5,000 – 6,000. I pay Rs 850 for rent. We are three, so my rent costs are Rs. 300. For food I manage in Rs. 2,000 – Rs, 2,200. If you smoke and drink, those expenses can be increased as much as you want. But I live simply so I manage within Rs. 2000. If we fall ill, there is no telling how much money we will need. One does not know what the doctors will charge. If someone earns Rs. 6,000, he can save Rs. 3,500. I have to send some money back home.

The government has been raising the daily wage, but the wages you earn from piece rate have been coming down. And I have so far worked on piece rate. Seven years ago, the Delhi rate for 8 hour week was Rs, 3,200; now it is Rs.4,550. For example we can say that 20 years ago, all workers were permanent. Perhaps 10 years ago about half were subcontract workers. Now perhaps 80 per cent of the workers are subcontracted. But compared to earlier times, the earnings have gone down.

Previously, the machines were run with the feet. Now there is a computer machine in which we do not need to cut the thread. The computer machine is safer and faster. Whereas with the previous machines we could make 7 pieces, with the new machines we can make 10. We can make 3 pieces more. Where you got Rs 12, you can now get Rs. 36. The problem is to have to sit 16 hours in one place. It is a difficult situation but we are forced to sit there because the company puts pressure on us. If we don’t do it, we will have to leave the company. So we do it in order to be able to live. The atmosphere between the workers is okay, but sometimes there are tensions. Some workers get more work and others less. It is piece rate so if someone gets 10 pieces while another one gets 20, and so the workers will talk why someone got more pieces.

To improve their lives, the workers believe in one thing only – that what is written in their fate – just that will happen. This is their only target. If they are fated to do 12 hours work, then it is useless or beyond their thinking to ask what they can do about it. Life has not improved, rather it has become hell. And it is deteriorating because work is decreasing- There is one company that is being closed down and everything is being sold. In the next 3-4 years, work will decrease and the situation will become very bad. We will move from company to company. 15 days here and then move. We will manage to earn our bread but where we used to get Rs. 5,000 – 6,000 we will get Rs. 4,000. Finding another job is difficult because you have to learn the job. When you see another person doing it, you think it is nice work but as soon as you get in, you find out that it is rubbish work.

The workers feel angry, but there are supervisors standing there all the time. And they have no shortage of workers. If one leaves, there are 10 to take his place. If you do not meet the target, they will remove you and somebody else will take your place. And the workers are always changing – nobody is permanent. Today you come back from work, but there is no guarantee that tomorrow you will have the same work. So it is pointless to think about the future. The workers here keep going on in these conditions. If there is little space to breathe, he wants to cope there. So there is no hope because we do not know what will happen tomorrow.

In 7 years, this is the only factory I have been to where workers stop working, because they offer to pay Rs. 10 per piece and we say this is too little and they say they will not increase it. So we stop work. Then through negotiations, they increase it by Rs. 1 or Rs. 2 or Rs. 4. When we see that this will give us Rs. 200 – Rs. 250 more, we start working again. Recently they offered Rs. 28 for a piece. We stopped working so he increased it to Rs. 32, then offered Rs. 35. We still did not work so he eventually offered Rs.37. In this, there are 50 people who do the sewing. They were all involved.

In total about 100 workers work in the factory of which 50 are tailors, 20 ladies who cut thread, 15-20 in ironing, and helpers. The tailoring craftsmen fought for their rate, the others did not take part. They are mostly subcontractor’s workers. And they also tell us, “You are craftsmen. If you leave here, you will get another job. We will have difficulties in finding a job. We are fine the way we are.”

We were not too afraid to go on strike. Our work is so insecure that we, who work in piece rate, we don’t know when they will throw us out. Some people did fear that they might lose their jobs. But we work on piece rate so that if there is no work tomorrow they will get rid of us anyway. That is why when he refused to give us the rate we asked for, we asked him to settle our accounts. As he was preparing to release us, the man in charge of production came and said he would give Rs. 37. So the work started again.

No, there was no leader. There were 50 craftsmen. When it was lunchtime at 3 o’clock, all the craftsmen went outside and talked with one another that the rate was low and it should be raised otherwise we should stop working at 3:30. So everybody went inside and stopped working. When the supervisor asked us to work, we said “First increase the rate”. There was no need for a leader. And there was no agreement with the management, only with the contractor. The management says they do not have anything to do with us. The owners have nothing to do with us. We are subcontract workers so the subcontractor comes and talks to us. There are two subcontractors. They talk to the management. The management never talks to us, whether we work or not.

We won Rs. 100 for every 12 hours. Once the rate is agreed it stays the same for that production [order]. Because the orders are for 2,000 – 4,000 pieces. What is being made now, there are 12,000 pieces and for these pieces the rate we have agreed that will apply. But the biggest problem is that there is a vast supply of workers. So it is difficult to think how to do this. With us it was that we were making the full piece. In other places it is done in a production chain so you cannot do it. With the full piece you can stop work. In many such factories, which work on piece rate, this kind of thing goes on constantly. There is always disagreement over rate and they increase the wages by Rs.2 – Rs.4. And the workers manage to get something. But the trouble with piece rate is, today there is work and tomorrow not whereas those who are on salary, they get it regularly. But it evens out. The salaried workers earn Rs. 5,000 and we earn Rs. 5,000. But in piece rate there is tension and there are targets.

The labour power, when the workers want it, everything is possible, but they have constraints – there is a wife and kids. When we stopped working for 4 days our wages were increased. If everybody became like this, conditions can become better. But if the workers have a tiny breathing space, they try to manage within that. So how can you talk to them, they are not even prepared to think like that. And one cannot hope that there will ever be a revolution. What should I say? If the worker unity happens we will see. This is a very old tradition and it will take time to get rid of it.

*** Textile Worker

In the sewing department 300 craftsmen work – we are tailors. Then about 250 in pressing, then about 150 in the cutting department. Normally at 9:00 in the morning we start and at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. they let me finish. Normally on Sunday, they don’t let me off. No holiday in a week, not even in a month.

It is very simple. If we work hard for 16 hours, we go straight to bed and sleep. We eat and drink whatever is there – hot or cold – and go to sleep. If we feel exhausted, we go and get a medicine for bodyache and go back to our job. If you don’t turn up for the job, you will get thrown out. If you get there in time, they enter your attendance, then they make you work. And suppose you worked till 2:00 a.m. through the night yesterday, your body hurts – it does not matter. They get the same amount of work from you.

With the body, it is that suddenly my stomach started to hurt. I took a tablet and went to the company. I sit at my machine, but if output is less, this does not suit him. He wants to get maximum work, according to the target. He wants to have as much target from me today as he had yesterday.

There are many complaints. They do not give us clean water to drink. By drinking dirty water we catch a cold, or get a fever and headache and many things go. Also because of the lack of hygiene in the toilets, we get health problems too – malaria, tubercolosis or something else. If you work 16 hrs non stop, without proper food and rest, it is simple – you will get tb.

The body does not co-operate. How can the body co-operate, because you take 16 hours work from it. If you work with the body properly and give it proper rest, there is no problem. But it is very simple. We get Rs 4000 – Rs 4300 salary. If the company does not give us overtime work, just Rs. 2,000 is the cost of our room and food. If on top of that we take away Rs. 500 for other costs, then Rs 1000 – Rs 1500 are left. And we cannot do anything with that. So we do overtime in the interest of earning more money.

It is not a rule to work till 1:00 a.m. I can finish early. The situation as it is in my house. In my family, I have registered my children for school and college. To educate them and keep them well, to clothe them, I will have to work, even though it is a lot of stress for me. It might kill me but I will keep working. It is like this. For others, for our parents – for their poverty, to give them money for food, this is why I must earn.

My heart says, “Okay, let’s work till 1:00 a.m. because we do not get double time but single time. Three hours overtime is not enough. We must put in 6 hours. So we have to stay back until 1:00 a.m. When we work till 1:00 a.m. we will fall ill, and have other problems with the body. And so the money we earn with overtime, will get spent on medical problems. So our need is that the salaries should be better. If it is now Rs 4,000 it could be raised to Rs 5,500. Then we will have no need to do overtime.

I see that one year after starting a company the owners can buy three other companies, and think about putting in more machines. So much profit they can make.


  1. Adv Mini Mahew says:

    these stories need telling… now more than ever.

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