PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

They stay in miserable condition on the roadsides, with very few facilities. But they build our facilities, including roads – which in Mumbai are constantly being repaired. Other construction activity too is a common sight in the city – fly-overs are always getting built, old buildings are torn down to make way for high-rises, office complexes spring up on dense tracks of land. 

This brings a large number of migrant workers to the city. They come from across the country, especially from the poorest parts of rural India.  One such source district is Mahabubnagar in Telangana’s Palamuru area.

PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

During the monsoon and harvest seasons, the people of Mahabubnagar work as agricultural labourers in or around their home district. But in off-season, or when the crop is failing they usually migrate, seeking work on construction sites in cities.

PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal
PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

They leave their homes and villages and come to a new and alien city. Roadside shanties made from tin and plastic sheets, with the bare minimum facilities, become their temporary homes in Mumbai, until the construction work is complete.

PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

Their work involves digging, drilling, clearing debris and descending as deep as 30 feet into the ground to clear pits. All this is done without any insurance or accident cover.

PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

The labourers do these jobs for Rs. 300 a day or even less. A mukkaddam or supervisor, who  speaks  Telugu, give them their wages and acts as a middleman, finding them work at the city’s construction sites.

PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal
PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

The women who toil at these sites speak of frequent sexual harassment at work. Their little children cannot be left alone at home, and the women are compelled to take them along. The hazardous piles of cement and concrete become the children’s playground. At times, a stray dog or two at the site or in the parking spaces below the fly-overs, become their playmates. And they fall asleep by the roadside when they tire of playing in the debris and dirt.

PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal
PHOTO • Sapana Jaiswal

The workers are not provided with clean drinking water, toilets or electricity at their temporary habitations.  Still, the money they earn is more than what they would make back home, and it draws them to the city.