Dharavi Leather Industry: Casual Wage Workers
Director: Richa Hushing
Duration: 00:31:27; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 30.466; Saturation: 0.147; Lightness: 0.274; Volume: 0.069; Cuts per Minute: 2.194; Words per Minute: 65.972
Summary: Processing leather from the animal hide is traditionally a community based occupation. The community who work on the animal slaughtering and extracting the hide is called Chamars. The word is often used as degrading abuse to depict the stigma attached to the job. Mostly the community was not involved in the lucrative part of the leather trade i.e. selling fine leathers or leather goods. But in a metropolis like Bombay such social stigma gets weakened under the pressure of livelihood. It seems the workers who work in the leather industry of Dharavi are not necessarily bound by the traditional community based skill. They are just simple casual labours who are hired and fired seasonally. The work has not only transcended the community binary but has also got non-institutionalised to some extent. Though traditionally a male bastion, slowly women workers are making entry into the trade. As the casual workers are mostly migrants from disperse background and different regions and language groups there is almost no possibility of them emerging as a work force. Hence as far as the situation of the workers is concerned the job condition in the leather industry is similar to the sweatshops.
Ambient shots of a colouring unit of Dharavi leather industry. It is the terrace of the tannery in the event 'Dharavi_Tannery Nagnath Leather Processing Workshop' in this site. This clip portrays the drying process of the leather, exactly after what we saw in the other file. The process also reminds one of the drying of pots activity in the Kumbharwada. The terraces on the single storey structures are immensely important for the survival of the units. The proposed redevelopment of Dharavi shanties into multi-storied buildings will affect these two industries irreparably. But unlike in Kumbharwada the tannery structures are not architecturally sophisticated. For example in this particular tannery there was no built-in staircase to the terrace. Whereas every structure in Kumbharwada has well built stair cases and steps to move from one level to the other. This could be due to the fact that Kumbharwada is a settlement of artisans who belong to the same community. Whereas the people involved in the leather industry does not have any single identity or community affiliation.
The multi-storied buildings in the surrounding are mostly built around 2001 as part of the SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority), the earlier avatar of developing Dharavi crusade. This tannery is one of the few which survived the onslaught of development and real estate in the 2001. The tannery which was located next to it has vanished and presently a bank stands in its place. The bank is Abhudhya Bank, a national cooperative bank. Most likely, in the next phase of development this national bank will make place for a swanky multi-national outfit.
The terraces in Dharavi also compensates for the lack of open space in the ground. The children fly kites, women gossip and old people rest on the terraces.
slum rehabilitation authority
Woman: … The prices have gone up…
Q: Tell us; what you were saying about prices of rice has gone up…
(the woman runs away)
Q: So you will not talk if we switch on the camera?
Male worker: They will not talk in front of the camera…
Q: (to another woman) You tell us… about price rise…
2nd woman: I do not know…
Q: Never mind.
A: … If I talk to you… if you ask me then I will say only the things that matter to me.
Q: I want to know about things that matter to you. For 15 years you have been… what have been the gains and the losses…
A: There is no gain. Whatever comes goes away in eating and drinking… time pass be. In this business there is not much earning. What to earn and what to eat… there is so much price rise. Nothing gets saved. Even if something is saved if one does not come to work for a week or seven days it goes away. The salary always leads to deficit. How to spend, I live in rented place… how to pay rent…
Q: Tell us one thing… what is the situation of rented places in Dharavi?
A: Whoever lives on rent are in bad situation. There are talks about MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and development authority) people building houses that they will give us residents… but they will give it to people in buildings, who have their own residence. Why would they give it to the workers, who live on rent?
Q: How many places in Dharavi are on rent?
A: Well, almost 50% live on rent... the workers. There is nothing for them. They are asked to vacate the place every 11 months. After every 11 months we need to look for another place. What to do… we have no help. Some people have visited… asking you live on rent… what is your situation… what do you get from landlord etc. We get nothing from the landlords. They just take rents and after 11 months ask us to vacate. Then we look for another place…we go to another place and live there for 11 months. Thus we never come out of the status of being tenant. We have migrated from the villages to earn, to eat. The price goes on rising, the expense goes up… can't even go to the village. Once a year we go to the village, take loan from here and spend there… stay there for 10/15 days or for a month. Then come back… then again earn, eat and survive…
Q: How long have you been in Dharavi?
A: In Dharavi for 15 /20 years.
Q: Still you live on rent?
A: What to do… when I came in childhood… that time the situation in our village was pathetic…
Q: Which village?
A: In Karnataka, Bijapur district. Under that circumstance I used to earn here and send it to the village. Slowly-2… got married and had children… all of them started living with me… parents were in the village… I had to send them some money too… What can be done with the salary of 4 to 5 thousand
Mostly male workers with a few stray women workers work in the unit. Our attempt to make a conversation with the women has failed. Not only there was a language gap (the women wage workers are generally Kannada or Telegu speaking from the South India region), the women were also unused to the environment of the public place. They were only two days old in the work and it appears to be their first encounter with the professional world. Though they knew working Hindi they were embarrassed to make a conversation in that language which is known to be the language of 'outside world' that they don't belong to. It is also interesting to look at these women in the context of the women workers in Kumbharwada. (Please see related files on women workers and Kumbharwada in this site). As the Kumbharwada women work in what can be called their community occupation, they are usually articulate and confident across class. The women in the leather industry are migrant and working in a skill based industry that they are not familiar with. So they are unsure of their status and that makes them appear timid and hesitant. The lack of security in terms of being part of a broad community network makes these women uneasy and unsure even as workers. That brings us to the logic of number. In Kumbharwada women have traditionally been part of the work force. The sheer number of women visible in the workplace makes the Kumbhawada women a noticeable entity. Whereas the leather industry is traditionally a male bastion with all its animal slaughtering, primitive process of tanning and deals of exports. Currently some women are hired as casual workers only because the male workers are quitting due to the economic crisis that is plaguing the industry. In the present circumstances the industry owners are forced to employ the women wage workers as only they would agree to work in such low wages that is in offer at the moment.
maharashtra housing and development authority
Q: What is the situation of the leather industry in Dharavi?
A: Leather industry is not running… whatever little is there that's it… what else is there.
Q: They said 3 /4 establishments got closed in short time…
A: Got closed means… the situation is like that. What else to do? Leather has become expensive everything is expensive, you don't get skins. Now skins come from out of town, now the items from Chaina are on. Because of China items the market for Dharavi goods have collapsed.
Q: China item?
A: Yes. China farm goods come now… belts made in China farms. Do you know belts, bags, ladies purse and suitcase… lots of Chinese items comes here. Due to that the leather has gone down.
Q: How is that?
A: Theirs run better. The Chinese goods run better in Bombay. Dharavi leathers do not sell well, it comes expensive. Theirs are cheaper. What to do. Nothing can be done. Whatever happens; happens. Chinese goods sell… they are available cheap. Goods of Rs.1 are for 50 paisa… whatever is of Rs.100 is sold in Rs.50… so poor people will buy that only. They cannot take the expensive ones. Whatever is available in expensive price is also available in cheaper rate. Expensive one will last for four more days and cheaper one will last for four days less. But ultimately it amounts to the same thing. Just take two of those instead of one of this. This plastic chappal is available for Rs.50 and that one is of Rs.200. there is nothing in this. Earn here and finish it here. Eat up as much as you earn and leave it at that. What the children eat, wear and study… only that matter. What else to do in this small salary. Can I do something? 2 /3 children, wife, rent… what to do… what will I eat, earn or save? For poor the Govt. too does not do anything and nothing happens. So many leaders come and go, hang around here, make promises during the election, talk big and then forget everything
Q: The election is coming?
A: Yes election is coming, the leaders will start coming. Now it is their need so they will come… when it is our need then we will go. It goes on like that…
Q: Are there women working in leather?
A: Women… there is lot of weight, they cannot lift it, in leather they cannot lift the heavy weight and in colouring it is hard. Ladies will do ladies' work and the gents will do gents' work.
Q: Still there are some women here…
A: Still… they are kept for odd jobs… the employer has taken them. There is a dearth of male workers… so they do small, odd jobs. Ultimately they too need to survive… who would give them wages for sitting at home. They work for 8 hours and go away.
Q: Is this business comfortable for women?
A: It is not comfortable. That is why they are taken for 2 /3 months a year and then sacked…
Q: What about their earnings?
Q: What about them after the 2 / 3 months?
A: There is only that much work for them. It is like that for everybody… for us also it is the same. When there is leather work the labourers are hired. There is no permanent job. For us also… there is work for 6 months and then closure for 6 months. We go to the village for the 6 months… then come back and get into the work. It is like that?
Q: You get paid per month or per week?
A: We get paid per month. The ladies get paid per week. Some gets per day. Each gets according to their jobs.
Though the leather units in Dharavi have received the industry status long time back (trading license is required to manufacture and supply for export deals) the employment policy is still that of an unorganized sector and piece meal jobs. Moreover, since the women are considered as unskilled labourer their job security is even less.
Q: Do you want to say something special? Somebody is listening to you
A: If somebody is listening… we do not want anybody to hear us and we don't want to hear anybody. There is nobody to hear us. You too will hear and then go away. What is there to tell you? Even if you hear me out you will think it is better to forget it. That the poor man has said whatever came to him… what is there. I earn my living and survive… let it be. If you ask something I can reply. What can I say? You come in such odd time that I can't even think of what to say. We work hard the all day and then eat food and sleep. If someone asks the next morning what have you eaten last night I would not be able to reply. That is how tired we get. Why so tired… that is the situation. Nothing is left in this situation. Earn each day, eat it up each day… just live the life like that. Situation is very bad. Price rise is high… an ordinary match box was available in 50 paisa and now it is Rs.1. What is there? How many days a match box last? Not even a day. From 25 paisa the match box has become 50 paisa, after that it should have been 75 paisa… but it has directly become Rs.1. Think accordingly how expensive the vegetable must have become. In this price rise the poor cannot survive… so the woman also works, the man also works and whoever small children are there they too go to work. What to do? The household just does not run. In Bombay everything is so expensive. So… If you don't work you will have to starve. If you beg people will say you have hands and legs you earn. Who will give you charity? These days nobody gives alms even to the lames and blinds. While giving if it is Rs.1 then it is ok… but if you give 50 paisa 25 paisa then even they will abuse you. They say What wrong with you… don't want it and return your money.
The male worker talks about his frustration. Though he willingly gives interview, he is non-hesitant about his distrust for the media people. Off late Dharavi has received lot of attention from the media and the academia. Hordes of students, researchers and media people, both from India and abroad, arrive at Dharavi to understand either the third world urban exotica or the depth of poverty or document the landscape and so on. The media attention has often worked against the interest of the ordinary inhabitants of Dharavi. In the best of cases it has created a mild interest about the plight of the Dharavi residence in the face of market driven development schemes. But such mild intervention has always proved too meek in front of the politician-builder nexus. As a result the people have grown suspicious about the intention of the media.
A: Situation is hopeless. Look people migrate from villages, come from Bihar and other places… poor people drink a lot, they are addicted to alcohol. If there is prohibition on alcohol then the homes of poor people will improve. All these smaller (informal) places that sell alcohol… the country liqueur, hath bhatti (domestic distilleries)… the rich also goes there and so do the poor. Whole day they work whole night they drink and then go home to fight with the wives… nothing to eat, no fish, and no mutton. Then the wife will also sleep hungry, so will be the man and the children. Stop that and everything will improve. Poor will be rectified, they will save money. These days the drunkards are in bad shape. Earn in the day and then drink so much that lie down on the road… at home the wife waits thinking my husband is going to come back now… who will come… he is lying on the road. In the morning he will come with a swollen face… somebody will be badly beaten, somebody would have got robbed of all the money that he might have got as wage the previous day… then at home the wife would abuse… there are lots of problem due to alcohol. A prohibition will help the poor. That much money will go to their households. He will earn 100 Rs. and drink for 50 Rs. and then sleep on the road… the balance 50 Rs. will also be robbed by someone. At home the wife will say – give me money… you had gone for work where is the money… then she will abuse. Then she will feed him and send again to work… he will again go to work… it goes on.
A: The people who live on rent are in lot of difficulty. They need to think a lot… how to earn, how to pay rent, children's education. Children cry… the school ask for clothes, shoes, this, that… the children come and ask the parents. Parents do not have that kind of money. Even if you send them to Municipality schools it is the same there too. Private schools are also the same. Children's expenses wage workers cannot handle… so they study little bit… till 6th, 7th or 10th standard. With our wages we cannot… so it gets stopped… automatically. Because we cannot bear the expenses. Then they start doing odd jobs. So he will not go forward. He will remain poor. Without any support how can he go ahead? If the parents can earn decent, if the salary is good they he will be educated. If the child is good then it is good. But if the child turned out to be bad then the whole effort is wasted. The company that he keeps if that is good then it works out well. But if they too are of the same lot then the child becomes worse. Then parent's efforts get wasted. That increases the tension at home… what's the point in spending money on children's education. After all there is no help for us from any quarter. That is why our children remain at the bottom of the ladder. Big people become bigger and small ones become smaller. This is the general situation.
Currently almost 50% of the population in Dharavi settlement lives on rent. On one hand large numbers of recently migrant wage workers have no other choice than live on rent. Also some middle class people come to Dharavi to avail housing on cheaper rent. On the other hand with the decline of the local economy more and more people are renting out a part of their houses. Many shanties have erected a tiny attic for the purpose of renting out. Another interesting thing is that though the rent for those tiny attics are as poultry as Rs.500/- per month, the one time deposit (security money) for the same could be as much as Rs.100,000/- to Rs. 200,000/-. But the issue is that in the present redevelopment scheme there has been no provision made for these people who live on rent. They will be the worst affected under this scheme.
Today people can not rent a place in Dharavi… the wage workers, not for sure.
Silent shot of the worker who gave interview, working at the colouring machine. He stands against the burning light wearing white clothes and handles the brown leather sheets. In the foreground is a huge baniyan tree. The knotted roots of the tree create an interesting ambience. It is heartening to note that the tree is part of the workshop structure and it was allowed to grow through the roof of the room. Such accommodation of nature within the industrial space is not common to see in more sophisticated set up.