[As lakhs of workers go on a historic All India Strike on January 8-9, called for by 10 central trade unions, NewsClick brings to you glimpses of the lives of industrial workers in different parts of the country.]
Ishwarbhai Gohil, a 22-year-old diamond polisher from Surat, had left for his work to Minibazar, Varachha like every day. It was barely three months before Diwali, last year. He was not aware, however, that he would not have his job by the end of the day. Gohil came back to his home, and allegedly committed suicide by consuming poison. He was the sole breadwinner of his family.
Nineteen years old Sailesh Narsinh Parmar, also a diamond polisher, lost his job a few days after this incident. He reportedly hung himself at his in Surat.
Hemant Natwarlal was 18 years old when he allegedly hung himself using an iron rod of a heavy vehicle parked on the road in Udhna, Surat. He too had been just fired from the diamond polishing unit.
Natwarlal was one of the 10 workers from Surat’s diamond industry to commit suicide between September and October, 2018.
“These incidents aren’t very uncommon. Workers work in inhumane conditions, and slog for 12 hours at work with meagre pay ranging between Rs 300 and Rs 500,” said Bharat G Hadia, spokesperson of the Diamond Workers Union, Gujarat.
Dharmesh Jivarajbhai Bagar, 18-year-old diamond polisher, used to work for Angel Diamonds, a small-scale polishing unit at Mahidharpura, Surat. On December 29, Dharmesh was not only thrown out of his job, but was allegedly thrashed by the owner and his sons with iron pipe.
“I was in the middle of my work when the polishing machine on which I was working malfunctioned. I moved to the next machine on which nobody was working at that point. First, sons of owners came to me, they were angry because I had switched machines. They abused me verbally. So, I said I can’t work if I am abused. They asked me to leave. The next day at around 10 am when I went back to collect my salary, they thrashed me. Three of the owner’s sons held me while the owner hit me with a pipe from the back. When I started bleeding profusely, some workers rushed me to the hospital,” Dharmesh told Newsclick.
“I was promised Rs 500 a day, but after working for two months, I have been paid Rs 1000 only,” alleged Dharmesh.
Dharmesh’s father has filed a complaint with the local police, but no action has been taken so far.
“Behaviour of the owners of the diamond polishing units towards workers is inhuman. A worker isn’t allowed to talk, take a break during his or her 12-hour-shift. From a small unit that employs 20 to 25 workers to massive units where thousands of workers are employed, none follow any labour law or have any regard for any basic human rights. Owners resort to foul language and even violence in dealing with workers,” said Hadia.
“Workers are willing accept this all just to earn two square meals a day for them and their family. But there is no job security, and that is the worst nightmare of a worker,” he added.
Hari Maraj, 35-year-old diamond polisher based in Surat, got a call from the manager of the company just after Diwali vacation. He was asked not to come to work, he says.
Maraj, who is also the general secretary of the Diamond Workers’ Union, has been unemployed for one and a half months now.
“I was fired because I fight for the workers, and demand basic facilities and labour rights,” he said.
Karan Jayantibhai Gaudhariya has been unemployed for four months now. The 19-year-old came to Surat from Botad in search of work after he had to give up on farming, owing to the insufficient income.
“I was working in the unit when the owner came to me, and said kal se nahi ana (don’t come from tomorrow),” shared Karan who is getting married this month.
Mehul Dabhosarai, 22, and his elder brother Vijay Dabhosarai, 24, residents of Botad, had to come to Surat together seven years ago, as the income from agriculture was not sufficient to sustain their family of 10. Four months ago, Mehul was thrown out of his job, his brother was retained, but with cut in his salary.
“The owner said that that he won’t be buying raw diamond for a while. So, he doesn’t need me to come to work. I haven’t been able to pay the house rent for three months now. The house-owner threatens me every day,” said Mehul.
“It was just before Diwali when 10 workers including me were fired. Its has been like this for two years now. Owners throw workers out before Diwali,” he added.
“I used to get Rs 600 a day. The owner said that the company is going through financial crisis, and reduced my pay to Rs 300 for about 2 months. I got an increment of Rs 200 thereafter. Now, I get Rs 500 a day,” shared Vijay.
Many women too work at these polishing units to help manage the household expenses. However, the plight of women workers is worse than their male counterparts.
“I get up at 5 in the morning to cook, and finish household chores. I have to report to the polishing unit by 9 am in the morning. For the 12 hours that I am away, I leave my children with my mother-in-law,” said 35-year-old Savitaben, who earns Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day.
“I worry about my kids, but I have to work so that I can send my children to school. My husband earns Rs 600 a day—but not throughout the month—which is not sufficient to run a family in this city,” she added.
Women too don’t get a job in polishing unit throughout the month. Some of the women then take up the work of embellishing decorative stones and gota patti on yards of fabric.
“For 100 stones and gotta patti, we get Rs 1. A yard of fabric fetches us Rs 200 approximately. It takes us eight days to finish the work,” said Deepali whose husband works with a diamond polishing unit.
She added, “We have no option but to say yes to whatever money is offered to us.”