Analysis: The Urgent Need to Understand Urban Labour
Before the pandemic, when you asked young women from rural Karnataka what they were most anxious about before coming to Bengaluru for a job at a garment factory, they gave surprising answers. In addition to “safety”, they spoke about “big buildings” and “how to cross those huge roads”. And workers who quit within a few weeks of joining also gave some unexpected reasons: “the water here does not suit me”, “I keep falling sick”, or simply “just want to go back”.
Interactions with these workers have shown us that in addition to challenges in the workplace, the challenges of living in a city make it difficult for them to hold on to their jobs.
Similarly, around this time last year, when thousands of urban labourers walked, cycled and hitchhiked back to their villages, many of us could not fathom it. It also puzzled the central and state governments, who least expected it and were ill-equipped to handle it, as news about labourers being turned back at state borders, and being hosed with disinfectants, showed. All of this shows us how little we have understood our urban labourers, and their relationship with the city.