Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Calcutta 63

Casual manual labourer (woman), helping in road repair works.

Unending, backbreaking labour, all day, every day, for a meagre daily wage - often below the legal minimum wage - is the only means for survival for hundreds of thousands of Calcutta's poor citizens and hundreds of millions of poor Indians. But at the same time, young executives from the same India receive astronomical starting salaries and handsome bonuses and increments.

Here's an account of labour in the Calcutta dockyard, around 1918, from the Memories of a Career at Sea, by Capt JFW Mitchell:

We then traded to South America and then carrying coal on the Indian Coast loading in Calcutta for Bombay, Karachi etc. I have never forgotten the sight of the labour loading coal in Kidderpore Dock, Calcutta, both men and women carrying baskets of coal on their heads up a very long heavy plank like a gangway - dumping the coal down the hatches and then back down another plank all day long and all night in the intense heat and dust. I would never have believed it if I had not seen it more than once; a pregnant woman doing this in the morning and then later the same day carrying the coal again and the new born baby strapped on her back as she was carrying. I sincerely hope conditions are not the same today.

Sadly, conditions are still hardly any different today for many Indians.

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