Mess at Manesar Delights Singur Unemployed
“It’s divine justice,” said a young man in Singur, referring to the incident at Manesar (Gurgaon), where Maruti factory workers resorted to violence, in which a General Manager was killed.
It’s a rainy morning in the village near the abandoned Nano factory. Several young men are playing cards. A few of them had received training by Tata Motors when the carmakers had plans to set up the small car factory in 2006 and expected to be employed by the company. But today most of them are unemployed or in their own words, “do odd jobs as and when we are required.” For instance, they may be called to work on construction sites as unskilled labourers on a daily- wage basis.
“Divine justice?” was our shocked response.
Tata Motors pulled out the Nano project from West Bengal and shifted to Gujarat after the TMC, then in the Opposition, backed – and some would say stirred up – a people’s movement comprising angry Singur farmers who did not want to give up their farm lands – and their livelihood.
Sure, at that time rumours had floated that rival carmakers were funding the protests. Those rumours have now revived and many of Singur’s residents seem to actually believe that money changed hands between Tata’s competitors and protestors.
“It is because of them (says one of them, naming a rival carmaker) that we are in this mess,” said another young man. “The ghosts of the past has come back to haunt them.”
Interestingly, not a single one of the 480 men and women who received training by Tata Motors has been employed by any car factory. Yet, by the time the Tatas had pulled out, they had acquired skills in such jobs as assembling and fitting car parts, driving factory vehicles etc.
Only six members of this trained lot moved out of Singur to work in other factories. Three went to Pune and three more to Sanand, both Tata factories.
Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival
“One day I want to be able to proudly proclaim my profession when I introduce myself to people, just as you are doing right now,” Rachnan told me. “That is why I have come here all the way from Hyderabad,” she smiled. Rachna is a sex worker. She is here to attend the six-day Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, which kicked off in Calcutta last Sunday and which has brought sex workers from 30 countries from across the world, all literally walking the streets with one common message, “Sex work is work too.” They also took out a freedom march in Salt Lake, close to Swabhumi, the venue of the conference.
Bejewelled and decked up in their glittering costumes, the procession was a riot of bold colours and even bolder attitudes. Part of the XIX International Aids Conference which began in Washington DC last week, the festival in Calcutta is being co-hosted by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Global Network of Sex Work Projects and All Indian Network of Sex Workers. Interestingly, the US does not grant visas to sex workers so they could not attend the Washington conference.
For all the reputation that Calcutta has for being conservative and with all the mud that is thrown at it for everything from being filthy to lazy, our city is one that knows how to stand up for freedom. Trina, a Russsian sex worker, spoke about how they were cheered by the people on the road, when they walked past. “We felt welcome and wanted to be here in Calcutta.”
“Soliciting or renting rooms to service customers is illegal,”explained an organizer but, ironically, sex workers are not. “What’s the point of legalising a profession unless you can practice it?” The Calcutta festival, therefore has certain goals. These are, ‘the right to move, work, have access to healthcare, participate, organise and be free of violence and discrimination.”
“Here it feels like we will achieve it,” Uganda’s Sania said. “Alone we feel vulnerable and don’t think we can.”
She broke off midway to start clapping cheerfully as the entire group burst into a song – a medley of world’s languages. Amidst the laughter and infectious happiness, it was evident that in their unity they were ready to break down the barriers of age-old mainstream stigmas.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
“Not all auto drivers are bad,” said Swapan Haldar, who drives a three-wheeler and prides himself on being a “law-abiding citizen.”
Referring to the negative spotlight on auto drivers since last week, when a woman was whisked away by auto drivers and molested and her husband roughed up when they protested against rash driving, he lamented that “all of us are being clubbed together with those rogues.”
The truth is, for most Calcuttans, “auto drivers” are a law unto themselves, known for their rude behaviour, rash driving, arrogance and attitude. All of them also belong to unions which are patronised by political parties.
But Haldar is pained at the unfair assumption that all drivers go to the same finishing school. He looks after his old mother and when his daughter was born, he explained to his wife, who had wanted a son, that “girls are precious.” He is sending her to school and saving up money by driving an auto.
I have met other such exceptions. Once as I was driving my car, I found an auto driver stop before me at a red light. Springing out of his three-wheeler, he ran across the street and put a coin in the outstretched hands of an old woman who was begging on the other side of the road, ran back and started his auto just as the lights were turning green.” I would say 50 percent of auto drivers are rude and 50 percent kind. Just like the rest of us.
Pranab-Mamata Reality Show
The new found camaraderie between Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee has received mixed reactions in Calcutta. While most feel that it is good political manoeuvring by Mamata Banerjee to first agree to vote for him and then accept his invitation to attend the swearing-in, others have branded it “typical of Mamata’s whimsical politics.” Perhaps the most amusing comment came from a friend, a sceptic who calls himself a realist. “The whole thing is scripted. It was all planned to create drama just like the reality shows.”
To our question, “What would any of the players gain by it?”
He said, “Oh, don’t you know? It’s a pact between the media and the politicians. The media bosses say, ‘You keep the drama alive and we will keep your image alive.”
A rhyme doing the rounds through SMS:
“Pranab holo President
Bangali, kintu non-resident.
Height is not tall
But he belongs to the right dol (political party)”
If Sex work is legalized, then it would also mean that it should be treated as a commercial service and taxed at standard rates. And needless to say, the service should be provided with a bill and the workers should be subjected to Income Tax. And like any other service, they (service providers) should be subjected to various regulations by local authorities -like local hygeine/health regulators, labour regulators, labour laws etc etc. Now all this means a lot of bureaucracy and also lot of compliance to government statutory laws . How many of the sex workers and the NGOs who support them, are ready for all this? (And how many of them even have a PAN card or EPF account or pay taxes currently)?
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