May 19th, 2016
This is third part of the story, for the first part kindly visit the link: The Vicious Cycle Of Minimum Wage And Child Labour & Second part: Abandoned By The Men Of The House, The Women Struggle, While Their Children Are Forced To Drop Out Of Schools
Inefficient implementation of fair wages
The Minimum Wages Act 1948 has undoubtedly given both Central and State government the rightful jurisdiction in fixing wages. Although, the act in itself is legally non-binding, payment of wages below the minimum rate amounts to forced labour which is theoretically punishable by law. However, a ‘living wage’ as defined by the constitution of India should ensure basic standard of living in addition to health, education, comfort and dignity. In order to address growing concerns, a tripartite committee was formed in 1948 to conceptualise an efficient system with respect to facilitating fair wages across all industries. According to the committee, the wage should guarantee sustenance and efficiency apart from other facilities. However, under this particular law, the wage rates differ owing to standard of living, capacity of industries and supply-demand chain across states, sectors, skills and occupations. As a result, the government has been unable to achieve uniformity with respect to minimum wage rate across the country. The complexity of the law has led to enterprises and corporate organisations taking full advantage of the numerous loopholes within the structure. Estate workers are paid anywhere between Rs 88 to Rs 120 per day. And, our constitution believes that this is enough to earn a decent living which will also guarantee dignity amongst many other things!
At the end of the day, the ones who suffer the most are those who are chained to the bottom of our disillusioned hierarchy. Kanmani’s voice wreaked of helplessness for her only mistake was to be born in the lower stratum of the society. Her eyes burnt with rage as she said, “I work tirelessly from 8 am to 7.30 pm everyday. My hard work is worth Rs 120. And, I am yet another worker in the labour pool. I am not educated and people like me can only opt for such jobs – one that doesn’t require you to have a face or a voice. I don’t know what it feels like to be happy; I’ve never had happiness. My husband left us when Mari was just six. Every day I go to the cardamom fields and Mari goes to the garage. That is our routine and may be it will remain the same till we die. We are always running in different directions to earn some money. We don’t find the time to stop and enjoy life or even share a moment with each other. Mari always gives me whatever he earns, and if he ever wants to buy anything for himself, he seeks my permission to do so. He doesn’t have any bad habits unlike other kids,” said Kanmani as she spoke in hushed tones.
There was a hint of pride in her voice. Unlike all the men in her family, her son was different. He was her saviour and she was his divine spirit. There was no room for dreaded despair between them for they’d relinquished their sorrows a long time ago. No longer could they differentiate between angst and reality. This was life. And, that’s all they knew; that’s all they ever had. Held by the wisps of a bond so resolute, at every dawn as the morning sun broke through the clouds, the mother and her child strengthened their resolve to survive, thrive and exist with honour.
“The job at the cardamom fields is all I have. And, this runs for six to seven months a year. I have nothing else to do after that. Every time the season ends, I am concerned about our future. I worry if we will have enough to feed the little ones. My mother, Angaleshwari, still does construction work to support our family. At this age, she lifts bricks and carries containers of mud on her head just so that her children and grandchildren don’t go to bed on empty stomachs. We couldn’t do much for her and yet she sacrificed everything for us. My life is pretty much over. It passed before my eyes and I have no regrets whatsoever. My children are good human beings and I only wish well for them. I hope they take care of me when I grow old and weak. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have the strength to struggle anymore. The only thing that’s keeping me alive is the hope that some day my children will prosper in their lives,” said Kanmani as her voice broke into a sob.
She told us that everyday as Mari leaves for work, she advises him to be calm and patient. Even if some one loses their temper at the garage, she tells him to treat them with kindness. They cannot afford to lose a job in this household. If money wasn’t an issue, she would have taken care of him all by herself. She would have ensured that he got a decent education. “I don’t need anything, neither money nor property. My joy begins and ends with my children. I always try to share what life has taught me with my kids. Mari is quite knowledgeable and he understands everything but my younger one is a bit immature,” explained Kanmani. We saw Mari fiddling with the collar of his shirt as he struggled to keep the goat in one place. He soon burst into a fit of giggles. At heart, he was still a young boy. We asked him why he decided to leave school so early in his life. Was it the love for automobiles or was it to lend a helping hand to his mother? In a firm tone, he replied, “It was for my mother. She could use the extra hand. Besides, even if I had money, I wouldn’t want to go to school. I don’t like studying. I love cars and I’d want to better my skills at handling automobiles.” He also showed slight interest in learning English. Despite harsh circumstances forcing him to become the self-made individual he is today, we noticed that Mari was never ashamed of who he was. He only strived to grow stronger as a mechanic and evolve into a better human being. Today, Khaja has become his teacher and mentor. He treats him like his own son and sincerely hopes he excels in whatever he does.
We once asked Mari if he had any friends and if he missed having someone to play with. He had a befuddled expression on his face as he replied, “No. I don’t have any friends. I have a lot of work to do. Where is the time to play?”Deprived of a normal childhood, the garage had perhaps become his playground where he could use his tools to embark on an adventure with the engine and wheels; to escape reality for a few moments where he didn’t have anything or anyone to be worried about but himself. We wondered if he ever spoke to them, his inanimate friends, shared his joy and grief with them while he brought them to life with his bare hands. We quickly glanced around the house to catch a glimpse of their life. It had one room and the corners provided the residents the privacy they required. On one side, there were kitchen utensils stacked up neatly in a pile and on the other, a tiny television set occupied a cosy spot on top. In the far corner of the room, a place was reserved for the Gods who they hoped haven’t forgotten their existence. Arm in arm, they still wait for the day when their prayers would be answered, when they could finally feel unimaginable joy.
As we bid our farewell to the family, our eyes chanced upon an old framed photograph of Mari’s mother and father, from a time when they were newly-weds, hanging on the wall like
an ominous reminder of what could have been if their destiny had chosen a different path. To their children, it was nothing more than a frame that captured one parent who left them with reckless abandon, and another who cherished them lovingly. With unspoken promises of returning, we left towards our home all the while hoping that Kanmani, Mari and his grandmother earned enough today to keep their stoves lit at night…
Submitted By – Akshatha Shetty | Photo Credit – Piyush Goswami