Tag Archives: delhi

Indian Informal Workers are Starving

Pearl River     I have to tell the truth.  It’s hard to read some of these reports from near and far complaining about being required to comply with stay-at-home orders in order to protect their own lives and the lives of their community, once again, near and far.  I totally get the ones that are hurting because that means they can’t work and are still trying to file for unemployment across the digital divide and waiting with hopes and prayers to find out if they really got a check of $1200 from the government to help them make it through so they can figure out groceries and rent.

The ones that I don’t get at all are the stories that focus on dealing with boredom, advice about cabin fever, stories about soaring divorce rates in China and soon in the United States because couples had to stay together.  Games are recommended.  Netflix and Amazon Prime shows are ranked.  YouTube comedians are pushed so that they can have their day.

Maybe it’s me?  I keep wondering what world these people are living in?

ACORN has worked in India for over fifteen years now.  We have members in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, and dozens of other cities.  I get reports from the organizers every day.  We had an emergency WhatsApp call last week with the team in the wake of Prime Minister Narenda Modi declaring a national shutdown in the country with only four hours’ notice.  We have over 50,000 members of ACORN in India and our work is in the mega-slums like Dharavi in Mumbai and in building unions of informal workers in all the other cities.  Our members range from waste pickers to hawkers, street vendors, domestic workers, moto-rickshaw drivers, and informal residential construction workers.  These are daily wage workers.  If they don’t work, they don’t eat.  A stay-at-home order for many is meaningless because no small number are living where they work in their storage sheds or sleeping in their rickshaws.  There is no social distancing in the slums.   The government says it’s going to provide food rations, but they were not ready to do so when they shut the country down, closed the trains for migrant workers to return to their villages, and ordered the police to beat people found out during curfews.  Food is still late in arriving.

An ACORN affiliate and partner, Janapahal, operates more than a dozen night shelters in Delhi for informal and migrant workers without other housing.  I got this message from Darmendra Kumar, ACORN’s Delhi director last night,

“…Janpahal is serving food to migrants in Delhi to support them in surviving 21 days #lockdown.  We are serving more than 5000 meals on a daily basis through out 7 community kitchens to those not having access to food and any welfare measures.”

He asked me to post this on ACORN International’s website, and we will, because we have to do everything that we can do.

My advice to anyone stuck at home and bored is to think about how lucky you are to have food and shelter.  While you’re bored, here’s my advice for a pick me up, and I’ll quote Dharmendra again,

“Kindly donate generously on ACORN International’s website to help us defeat hunger and defeat corona.  All donations will go to feed migrants in India.”

Just say, “Delhi” on the PayPal memo.

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The Challenge of Building Capacity to Get to Scale in India

Doha      All Saturday and Sunday, the ACORN India team and I kept the conversations going as we continued to make progress.   We debated adding a website.  We dug deep on accessing our community radio access through AM/FM and acornradio.org with commitments made to produce weekly shows on a fixed time, as well as exploring the issuing of noncommercial licenses in India now and where we might find partners.  We scheduled a regular team call-in the first Wednesday of every month.  We updated our WhatsApp group.  We planned our next meeting in Sri Lanka with the 2020 Organizers’ Forum, as we ticked off one box after box.

As we plumbed the depths of one campaign after another, the victory on electricity rates in Delhi, the expansion of our hawkers union in south Asia, our path-breaking on the intersection of climate and housing issues in Dharavi, we couldn’t help circling back again to our huge potential and confronting our capacity issues that were preventing us getting to scale, especially given the size and importance of India.  There was no question that we were doing a lot, but it was with a little, keeping us from converting more of our successes to their full potential.

one of the old pools for bathing, water, and rest

The Hawkers Livelihood Act is one good example.  There are more than 300 cities where the Act has not been fully implemented.  We did some mental white-boarding on just the number of food vendors that were a small subset of this informal vending workforce.  Quickly we had a national number of 2.5 million food vendors.  There was a requirement that each of them be certified in food safety, which we were qualified to provide.  We started fleshing out a pilot program where we could certify and train 10,000, with 1000 vendors each in 10 cities, allowing us to expand through both a servicing and organizing model.  We planned to mobilize the research and see if we could perfect a proposal.  It was exciting and doable, but a cloud hung over the discussion when it came to where we might shop such a proposal to win support to build the capacity.

Organizing vendors on the ground to take advantage of our growing numbers in Delhi, Chennai, Mysore, Bengaluru and elsewhere while we are inundated with organizing invitations was another conundrum.  We sketched out the details on registering the union in other locations and doing so as a national union of informal workers.  Thinking about the local in the United States, the growing effort in France, even our tenants’ unions, we concluded that we would also form and flesh out the structure and governance for a global federation.  Heady stuff.  Realistic plans.  Could we convert the plans to scale?  Once again, we were stumbling around the question of capacity.

It’s the old story of organizing — it was a great meeting, but the real test would be how much of the talk we could convert into action.

kite flying is common…2 eagle kites in the air

Please enjoy The Day Tom Petty Died by Brent James & the Vintage Youth.

Thanks to KABF.

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