On a hot and sunny afternoon in Delhi, when a handful of passengers made their way into the New Delhi railway station, a group of porters thronged them.
Near an auto with a passenger with some luggage, were standing several porters in the hope that one of them will get work.
“What to do? Nobody comes looking for us anymore. We have to run behind them,” said 43-year-old Mahesh Meena, a porter for 36 years now.
Most porters working at the railway station are from Rajasthan and reside in Paharganj — where the rent for accommodation is higher than parts of the city — because it’s closer to their workplace.
Most of them have to pay anything between ₹4,000-₹5,000, an expense they are barely able to manage for two months now. Living in single room accomodation, their families back in villages waiting for them to send money every two-four week.
“Earlier, we were able to save ₹500-₹600 but now that amount has come down to ₹100-₹150 because there are hardly any passengers due to the pandemic. Also,most passengers don’t prefer hiring us because of the fear of the virus,” Mr. Mahesh said, adding that he has a family of five dependent on him.
Sitting idle for the hour and a half, Virender Singh (30) shared that the amount they charge is ₹100 for 40 kg but these days, they settle for ₹60-₹80 for the same weight. “We ask less as there is no work…we have to accept whatever the passenger wishes to pay because nobody wants to sleep on an empty stomach,” he said.
Hari (35), a porter for the last 12 years, said they all arrive at the station at around 3 a.m. and work till 6 p.m. For him, managing the rent has become an issue.
Not just rent, there are water and electricity bills as well that need to be managed. Most importantly, we have to send money back home every few days with someone who is going to the village,” he said.
The porters claimed that there are times when they help people, who are in need. Hari recalled helping a girl taking “Gareeb Rath” train home.
He said he had packed all her stuff to finally go home as she couldn’t afford to stay in the city anymore.
“She had eight pieces of luggage and told us that she had no money. Two of us helped her. We are all in the same boat after all,” he added.
They said they are all managing ration on credit from local grocery stores as owners have known them for years. “At least in the last lockdown, food wasn’t much of a concern because it was being provided by the government,” said Om Prakash Meena, a porter for six years.
Reminiscing “good old days”, Mr. Mahesh said he never looked to do anything else because he was earning a decent amount at the job.
“Accha khana peena tha, koi tension nai thi. Gareeb they lekin itne nahinp [We were eating and drinking good. We were poor but not so much],” he said.
Porters miss Yadav
Criticising the Central government, they said they miss RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav — former Railways Minister — who offered jobs to porters as gangmen. “This government has ruined us all. Laluji should have been here,” said Basant Lal (54).
This article was originally published on The Hindu