Sunita Ben, 25, is from a tribal district, named Dahod. She has been working in the Industrial area of Narol, Ahmedabad since she got married. Soon after the wedding, she and her husband started working at a “Boiler” of a well-known textile company in Narol.
Each and every factory in Narol has a boiler, and they are critical to the functioning of the machines in the factories. A boiler consists of a furnace in which coal or wood is burnt to produce steam, which then powers all the machines in the factory. Usually Sunita ben works for long hours during days and nights (more than 12 hours shifts), and contractors don’t allow anyone to meet them as per the instructions given by the company owner.
Her life is completely restricted to the factory’s premises 24X7. She lives in a makeshift home right outside the boiler. “We are grateful to God for gifting us nights, otherwise how else could we have taken the much-needed rest,” says Sunita ben. Her powerful words convey the kind of hard work; she puts in during day and night carrying the heavy coal ‘tagara’ or wood dust ‘tagara’ (full of coal more than 40 kg) to fill the boiler that literally runs all the machines in the factory. She is not provided with or trained in using any kind of safety gears or devices at their working place. During the intensive Ahmedabad summers, to make ends meet they are forced to work at the boiler which emits extra heat making things even more worse.
Mangli Ben (35 years) from the same village (Chhasiya) of Dahod, has been working at the boiler in Karnavati Company in Narol for the last 12 years. She says, “I spent 12 years of my life working and living inside this factory. Still I am not on the payroll of this factory or am I identified as a worker.” She started her work at the wage rate ₹180 at her beginning days now she is getting ₹270. During the last 12 years, her wage has only increased by ₹90, and the hard fact is that she is still not recognised as a factory worker even after spending her whole days and nights inside the factory.
Lalita Ben (22 years), another adivasi woman from Dahod also works as an unskilled worker in one of the boilers in Narol. She and Sunita Ben are neighbours in the village. They are living in the same place Shahvadi of Narol but still, they don’t get time to meet here in Ahmedabad. She is also working at the boiler of a company in Narol. She says “Our shift keeps changing every week and night shifts are scary for us as we feel extremely unsafe in the factory. We have to take our kids along while we go to work and we keep them in a cradle made of clothes close to the chimney of the boiler where we work”. Her testimony speaks volumes about the kind of physical risk these workers and their children face at the factories.
This is not just the case with three migrant women in Narol. Sunita ben, Mangli ben and Lalita ben represent the unheard voices of a sizeable population of more than thousands of adivasi women migrant workers toiling hard at the boilers in unsafe and vulnerable working and living conditions. Ultimately it is their hard labour at the boiler that creates enough energy to run machines in the innumerable factories in the industrial hub of Narol. These adivasi women are vocal about their concerns, and now it is our responsibility to respond to these concerns as a society.