My purpose of travelling to Pune was to find out what happens to families of the workers who lose their jobs. I wanted to focus on those who have been out of job for about five years, but Arvind Shrouti insisted that I must meet Racold workers again. Again!
I had met the Racold workers when they were suddenly thrown out of jobs. I have blogged about it. Let me mention the facts briefly:
In 2013-14, the Company manufactured and sold 4.50 Lakh units of water heaters and had employed about 750 workers. Then came outsourcing and what followed, you guessed it right, a Voluntary Retirement Scheme. They brought down the strength to a tad less than 100 to enable them to close down the factory. They separated the Sales and Manufacturing in two different companies for a convenient closure arrangement.
Racold distributed sweets on Diwali day of 2018 and asked all employees to enjoy Diwali holidays. It however posted termination letters on Oct 31, just before Diwali, which reached the employees almost on the day after Diwali. Racold had declared a three days holiday from November 1 to 3 for ‘stock checking.’ Nov 5 to 9 were Diwali days!! Racold had planned the closure ‘exceptionally well’ with the shrewdness of a wolf. The employees discovered that they had lost their jobs during Diwali holidays. There can’t be a worse example of a closure than Racold’s case. The Canadian philosopher Matshona Dhliwayo says “When a wolf is hungry it befriends sheep.”
We met Satish Yende on our way. He is the Secretary of the union of Racold workers, and he too lost his job at Racold. Yende took us to the Racold factory. Racold factory is located at ‘Kharab Wadi’, (actual name, believe it or not) it is a place at Chakan near Pune. The factory bears a deserted look. A huge banner is spread across the main gate, and the workers have set up two shacks, one near the gate and the other away from it. The latter shack helps the workers keep a vigil, they are apprehensive that the Company might stealthily remove machinery.
As we arrived at the gate, a group of ten workers came to meet. Their words showed their anger and deep frustration.
“Do you assemble here every day?” I asked. “There is nobody inside the factory.”
“No, Sir. There are bouncers.” That was followed by a long discussion with all.
I recorded a video of Satish Yende. I wanted to meet some workers. Gaikwad hopped in the car. “Come home,” he said. We reached his home. It was a small building constructed by a group of a dozen workers.
“Nobody used to stay in this area” he told me. “We bought land, constructed our flats. We had taken loans from Bank of Maharashtra. Some repaid it from the compensation.”
“Sir, I was about to go for Diwali shopping. We buy clothes for our children and a few gifts. Postman called up and said that there is a letter for you. Our mobile numbers were written on the covers!” I later spoke to three others and the story was similar – they were out shopping when the news broke and it was like a bombshell dropped on them.
We entered his flat. A small flat. A sofa near the window, and a PC in a corner. “Wow! Your children must be using the computer” Arvind said. “They used to, Sir. For the last six months it is shut down.”
Gaikwad’s children were in the 9th (now in the 10th) and 4th class when he lost his job. “They study in English medium school, Sir and we wanted to give them the best education. It costs about Rs 90 thousand a year for both.” His colleague Pavshe has removed his daughter from a school with CBSC syllabus and shifted her to regular, one with SSC. That saved him good money, but not without great pain and a feeling of shame. The education of children is the biggest concern and a big casualty of unemployment. Pavshe and Gaikwad have not been able to find jobs. They also feel that given their physical condition they will not be able to do manual jobs. Both are qualified ITI trained fitters. Strained relations with friends and relatives, and a guilt feeling for inability to support parents was the common theme in conversations.
“What do you do?” I asked Sangita, Gaikwad’s wife.
“Small stitching jobs. Like ‘fall and bidding’ (this is done to new sarees). It does not bring any money worth the mention, but what can I do?”
While we were speaking a young man had arrived. He sat down in front of us but at a distance and listened to our conversation.
“I am Narayan Shinde” he said. He looked extremely worried. It did not take too long to understand the reason. “Sir, I have a son. He is a patient of Thalassemia Major.” And he broke down. I was stunned. Speechless. I did not expect this situation. (Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen. The disorder results in excessive destruction of red blood cells, which leads to anaemia. The treatment is complicated and involves blood transfusion regularly.)
“Sir, I have never cried. I have faced everything bravely. But this situation has become unbearable.” He burst in to tears again. There was eerie silence in the room.
Loss of job and a young Thalassemia Major patient at home is perhaps the worst combination of calamities parents confront.
“When did you notice the ailment? Where do you take him….”
“I realised something was wrong when he was nine months old. It took long time to get the correct diagnosis. I take him to Ruby Hall for blood transfusion.” Ruby Hall is a prominent multi-speciality hospital at Pune. “There is big expenditure of travel, medicines and blood transfusion every month. About Six to seven thousand rupees every month. But Sir, where is the income?”
“I come from a very poor family.” He continued. “I was interviewed by this company at Shivaji Nagar when I applied for job. They asked me to meet them again after two days. I told them that I have been staying at the Bus Stand for two days of your interview. I do not know anybody in this city; please don’t ask me to come back after two days. They offered me the job later.” He wiped off tears. “I have not been able to find a job. I have done some small jobs. I am a qualified welder.”
“At home?” I gestured to ask if he has dependents. “Parents and two brothers. My wife learnt cake-making and does it on occasions, but it is a negligible income.”
“How much compensation you received?”
“About Rs 10 Lakhs including my own Provident Fund and Gratuity. I have been spending it all on my son’s treatment – blood transfusion must be done regularly, and recently I paid for the cataract operation of my mother. And I had to repay a bank loan of Rs 5 lakhs.”
The bank loan is a familiar story. They were paid reasonable salary. Their CTC ranged between Rs 45 Thousand to Rs 55 Thousand a month depending on the length of service. All had built their small little nest. Like all white collar employees also do. And now there was a snake in the nest they were unable to dislodge.
We moved to another building to meet Nagendra Patil. He came down to meet us and he was wearing a mask. Nagendra was all smiles! That was a pleasant surprise!!
We climbed up to his first floor flat. A small flat but it was well kept. There was no furniture in the room, two plastic chairs and a nylon carpet on floor. In one corner was a small pooja set up and a recorded chanting of mantra was being played. Ujjwala, Nagendra’s wife came forth, said namaste, and like him, she too was all smiles.
“We are very happy that you came to meet us,” she said.
I did not know where to begin. Nagendra broke the silence. “Sir, I come from very poor family. We had ‘yellow card’ at our village.”
“Now! What’s that?” I asked. Arvind clarified that it meant that the family was living below poverty line! Ooh!! “My parents were farm labourers, and even I used to work on the farm.”
Nagendra somehow finished his education up to 10th standard and then completed ITI training in the fitter trade. He was employed in Racold in 2003.
“I booked this flat (also built by workers of Racold forming a small group together) in March 2007 and got married in April.”
“In our community, the girls will first check if the groom has a home of his own and a permanent job. They will consent only if these two conditions are satisfied.” Ujjwala said. Nagendra nodded in agreement.
“Why are you wearing the mask?”
“Kidney problem” he answered in a matter of fact way. The smile on his face was not wiped off, I noticed.
“It started in 2014. We met many doctors. Finally it was diagnosed. His both kidneys had become ‘useless.’ Somebody had to donate kidney. We checked if his mother can donate, but finally decided against it. Then I donated my kidney.” Ujjwala said in a matter of fact way. There was no show of pain, no show of an great sacrifice.
“This beats me completely! How did you decide to donate your kidney?”
“Because I had to give my children their Dad. And for me my husband.”
“I was working in Racold and the factory was not closed then. There was a Mediclaim of Rs. 1.50 Lakhs, and my fellow workers also contributed and helped us. I decided to undergo operation at Aditya Birla Hospital. That was quite an expenditure, but there was no choice.”
“And now there is no Mediclaim to support us. Nobody will even insure him.”
“We had bought a scooty in Diwali 2018 and we were taking our first ride when the news of Racold’s closure hit us.”
“Elder is in the 6th and the younger one is in the 1st standard.”
“Do you have to wear this mask all the time? You must be spending good amount on medicines?”
“About 18 Thousand per month.”
“How do you manage?”
“So far, we have been digging in our savings and it is running out. Nobody will employ me – I am a kidney patient with a lot of restrictions.”
“How do you keep going? And it is amazing that both of you are not complaining, in fact you look cheerful! How’s that?”
“Sir, I believe in God. I chant many shlokas and mantra. I have read ‘Guru-Charitra, I know ‘Atharvashirsh’….” He started reciting ‘Mrityunjay Mantra’. I stopped him.
“Both of you are amazing. You do not show any signs of stress, I do not know how you do it. You have been so positive when the dice is loaded against you.”
Hesiod was a Greek poet who lived around the same time as Homer. He said. “A bad neighbour is as great a calamity as a good one is a great advantage.” If he were to live in modern times, he would have substituted the word neighbour by employer.
We bid good bye but not before taking some selfies. Both came down to seem us off. I said once again to this couple that they were amazing. They were living examples of the teaching of Viktor Frakl although they would not have even heard of him. Frankl says ‘There will be suffering – It’s how we react to suffering that counts.’
Calamities come not singly but in numbers, they say. We moved to our car. Nagendra moved close to me. “Sir, you have been asking questions about my health and our situation. I believe in God. And I know that sickness does not kill anybody – loss of hope kills!”
The real issue is lack of conversation between management and employees which creates shock situations. Managers act out of fear. Workers become unemployable. Legal compensation is woefully inadequate. The rise in social status achieved by employment also ensures a big fall after closure. It is unbearable. There is no social security. ‘Precariat’ is increasing. The neo-liberal policies are ensuring untold suffering to millions of workers and, what is worse, is that it is not even on the radar screen of the society. What is the solution? Is there any?
(Note: Every word in this blog is true. I have not dramatized it. Truth is stranger than fiction!)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
P S: “My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” – Stevenson, Bryan. ‘Just Mercy.’