Monday, October 13, 2008
HAMAL PANCHAYAT - CRUSADING FOR CHANGE
Despite many efforts since independence, almost 90% of India's labour is in the unorganized sector. Working in farms, industry and commerce, they are among the most exploited of India's people. Neither do they get paid for days they are sick or injured. Yet, as movements like the Hamal Panchayat show, the improvement of worker conditions can only be obtained by a rights-based struggle for dignity and against exploitation.
Called Hamals in Maharashtra, manual load carriers are the backbone of commercial activity in every city. In Pune, there are over 14000 Hamals engaged in regular work.The Hamal Panchayat acts as a security blanket for porters, offering them basic economic facilities. In the narrow streets of Bhawani Peth is the office of the Hamal Panchayat, an organisation that works for the development of the porters of Pune, Maharashtra.
Vaman Chavhan, 65, never imagined a house of his own, leave alone formal education for his children. After all, Chavhan was a hamal, a porter/head-load carrier, the poorest among the community of unskilled labourers. As a daily wage labourer, earning between Rs 80 and Rs 100 per day, Chavhan may not have otherwise hoped for security. Like Chavhan, there are several other hamals who have got access to basic housing, education and medical facilities.
The panchayat has taken adequate steps to provide them essential facilities like banking, medical care and housing. It also started a community kitchen known as Kashtachi Bhakar where nutritious food was served at a nominal rate of Rs 5. Started in 1974, there are 12 kitchens now where almost 130 women from hamal households are employed for cooking and serving. These women, too, derive wage benefits of Rs 100 per day for eight hours of work. With this organisation constantly striving to improve their lot, hamals have found in it an ally who is willing to take some burden off their shoulders.