The few thousand rupees that a daily wager gets after six or seven months come as a joyous moment to the whole family. This paltry amount helps them navigate their way in the coming months; they suffice themselves with the sum that is not equal to the branded shoes, shirts or dinner of well-off persons. Though the amount barely makes their ends meet, they do not stop describing it as “Achen hund gaash” (light of their eyes). Yes, a little amount for their hard work of months, and a small hope of getting permanent “noukri’’ (job) brings hope to their families, they fanatically intensify their work without thinking about the dearth that following unpaid months bring to their lives.
A single regular employee with many other daily wagers are posted in different areas and most field work of different departments like public health engineering (PHE), power development department (PDD) and so on is handled by casual laborers. The regular ones are kept as supervisors, who often keep away from the duty and enjoy every opulence and take undue advantage of their subordinates. Casual laborers/need based workers run against the clock and perform every dispensed job. It is daily rated employees who restore water supply in glacial cold or the scorching summer; in blowing wind or other disaster like situations they do not creep in illuminating the cities, villages, and towns. They sacrifice their lives on the electric poles while repairing power lines despite knowing that, department disowns them in case of any mishap and their families are left to fend for themselves.
“Of the more than 294 casual labor victims of the PDD, 175 have lost their lives and more than hundred victims have been rendered permanently or partially disabled. In the past few years, about 300 cases of tragic accidents on duty were recorded in the department of PDD. Out of these 300 cases, 294 were casual laborers, said a protesting casual employee” (GK March 13 2017).
On the 6th June 2017 , al Kashmir Reader carried a story of two power development department (PDD) employees being electrocuted in Sopore town of Kashmir while repairing a faulty line. The executive engineer PDD solely ignoring the death of casual laborers of his department referred to permanent employees only. He refused to explain the cause of electrocution of the daily rated employee, and did not utter a single word about him. Ranjeet Kumar of Bhaderwah, another unlucky daily wager of (power development department) committed suicide on 18th of this month, as he was not paid for several months, according to his relatives. There are several other examples where these unpaid laborers have laid lives in assistance of their people.
When a regular PDD employee dies on duty, his family gets a job under SRO 43 but unfortunately, there is no such provision for casuals. The pathetic and ugly part of their awful life story is that, their desensitized bosses are not satisfied with the untiring work of these poor fellows and they are used for domestic work as well. In society, they do not get ample respect; parents do not prefer them for a marriage of their daughters, they cannot take debt from people when they are in great need. Despite all this, these ill-fated workers have no frontier of assisting people, apart from serving the public, departments. In India, cows and temples are used to get votes; Pakistani politicians use Kashmir and other things. Similarly, Kashmiri politicians take votes in the name of these starving daily wagers. They are the hens who lay golden eggs for many but feed themselves from leftovers of others. Many among them have turned white and are about to retire, but are still working vigorously with many hopes inside; they have a hope of withdrawing wages on monthly basis, hope of running their family affairs smoothly, hope of sending their children for higher education, hope of renovating their broken houses and so on. They cannot leave their service, as they have given youthful life to it, now they are unskilled, weak, and helpless, where will they go now? Who will hire them?
—The author is studying law at Kashmir University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org