Hirawan Kumar went to Pushpathur in Tamilnadu from his village Dhanauji in Bihar at the age of eight. “There were financial problems at home so I had to go” he said. As he got older, and better at his job as a construction worker, he started getting a higher salary. Now at the age of 25, he earns about 16,000 rupees per month.
When the lockdown was announced, his factory was not shut down for very long, it reopened very soon and work restarted, however, the wage was much lower. He got half of his usual wage and he was working the same amount.
“My family couldn’t survive on half the income, so I decided I would return to the village and find a source of income here,” he said. However, his employers asked him not to leave.
He also did not get his wages. The company would give the contractor money to pay the labourers, but the contractor would take a picture as he gave them the money, as proof for the company, and after the picture, he would take away the money. “This behaviour is what led us to take such a drastic step. At a time when everyone was finding it hard to make ends meet we were being exploited”, said Hirawan.
He contacted the district collector to return home and she visited the factory to speak to the labourers. One of them said that they weren’t getting adequate wages, so after she left the contractor’s, men beat the labourers up with lathis. “I put myself in front, asking them to stop. I begged them to stop, saying I would do anything for them, but after this incident, we all lost all faith in our employers and decided to leave”. Luckily for them, the district collector was able to obtain tickets for them to return home.
Hirawan and his companions left Pushpathur beaten and bruised, without any money, without any guarantee, and with a broken heart, telling themselves they would never return to this cursed land again.
When I spoke to Hirawan, it had been a month since his arrival at his village and I asked him if he will go back and his answer was heartbreaking. “The last thing I want to do is to go back but unfortunately I don’t have any other option. In the one month that I have spent here, I have earned less than 2,000 rupees. If I don’t go back, my family will die of hunger, so I have to and I will go back.”