Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

United He Stands

Ishwar Sharma, 51, a native of Dewaria, U.P., migrated to Delhi in search of a better livelihood in 1984. Adopted through family occupation, Ishwar professionally is a carpenter, but in his social circles, he is better known for his public networking and charismatic speeches.

A construction worker himself, Ishwar has taken the onus of mobilising his worker community to fight for its rights, which according to him is the only way to emancipation.

His conviction with unity has made him a crucial part of the struggle that brought into being the construction worker's welfare board in 2000. His strives however don't stop there. Since when the board has been created and registration of workers started in 2005; he has taken the job of mobilising the workers to be registered with it. As a conscientious human, he actively frequents to the meetings and rallies of unorganised workers demanding for their rights and has been performing street plays to deliver social messages. Apart from admitting his own children to school, he keeps insisting his community members also to do the same.

Through hardships in life, according to Ishwar, he has emerged stronger, and learnt to use his strengths productively. Recalling his initial days of struggle, Ishwar says, "I used to get agitated if I was underpaid by the contractor, or made to overwork, but then I learnt to use my agitation as a force to demand my share of the pie".

A staunch believer in the vigour of unity, Ishwar has a long journey through his life shaping his beliefs, disbeliefs, strengths and weaknesses.

At home, in Dewaria, Ishwar since his childhood learnt carpentering, and iron moulding. To contribute to the meagre family income supporting eight members (parents and six siblings), he took up iron moulding when he was as young as six years old. Off and on, he kept on assisting his father in carpentering too along with attending sincerely to his school.

With determination to break away from his traditional family occupation, Ishwar completed his Intermediate with social sciences, and then in 1974, ITI in Diesel Pump Mechanics too.

In 1975, after completing ITI, Ishwar joined Kirloskar Electric Company Limited as a diesel pump mechanic. It was here, that he started practising his social skills.

"I realised that most of the farmers in our village, were not very poor, but they were reluctant to buy equipment machineries, either because they would not know how to use them, or would simply find them unreliable, so, I decided to tell them about the importance of farm machineries," says Ishwar.

"I would organise groups of farmers and conduct public meetings to convince them to purchase machines. Slowly, I realised that for such investments, the villagers needed capital, so, I started convincing them to open bank accounts, so that they may save and also apply for loans," he furthers.

But since he knew that most of the farmers there were illiterate and avoided paperwork, he, being the most educated young man in his village took the responsibility to complete all the paperwork on their behalf including forms, applications, affidavits, etc. for those who wished to open an account or later on, apply for loans etc. This is how in his village he became a central unit of assistance.

Ishwar remained with Kirloskar Electricals till 1980, but because the work was mostly seasonal and he would remain unemployed for eight to nine months a year, he left job and shifted to Chandigarh. Meanwhile, He got married in 1982, and produced two children. When livelihood became impossible with occasional works that he would get to do, Ishwar decided to migrate to Delhi all on his own with Rs. 200 in his pocket.

After wandering for a few months in Ghaziabad and Faridabad, doing small time mechanical works, Ishwar arrived Delhi and started to work as a carpenter.

Slowly, he was able to rent a room and bring his family also. In the meantime, he had two more children and renting a room became unaffordable.

In January 1990, he came in contact with a group of construction workers settled in Prashant Vihar (Rohini) – a settlement of around 500 households of construction workers, made a shanty there and started his life in a community that occupationally belonged to him. It was here that he got back to social interventions through uniting people.

"I saw that my community was totally unorganised, and most of the labourers remained unemployed for most part of the year, even if they worked, they faced exploitation and had no social securities at all. We had no access to safe drinking water, proper lavatories and other basic amenities. Although, I also suffered the same, I was never ready to give up," tells Ishwar.

In May 1990, the entire worker settlement at Prashant Vihar was demolished by DDA and Ishwar decided to fight back. He came in contact with Subhash Bhatnagar, a social activist, and started uniting the labourers to combat injustice. In defiance to the DDA, Ishwar along with other human rights activists, mobilised people to construct their shanties again on the same site.

"It was however difficult for a group of united but powerless workers to fight an autonomous anti-poor authority like DDA ­– our shanties were again demolished and this time by bulldozers and without any prior notice – we were homeless, and all our belongings were destroyed," recalls Ishwar.

Refusing to surrender, Ishwar started mobilising the hopeless people to organise and unite efforts and to form a union. The workers then joined NMPS (Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangathan) and staged a Dharna at the demolished site demanding the right to accommodation.

"If we are working on a site for months and we are migrated workers, then where else should we go if not live at the site," questions he.

The workers then put their demands before Surendra Mohan, the then Home Minister, and V P Singh.

After a struggle of few more days, in which many activists got arrested too, DDA had to give an alternative accommodation site in Haiderpur near Karnal road bypass for the workers to settle.

"Misfortune, however, had to hit again, after we built shanties for the third time, now in Haiderpur, in November 1990, the same year, fire caught some house of our colony, and the entire settlement war burnt. Once again we lost everything, but now, because we were united, we didn't falter. We pooled money, and bought one huge tent, where all of us lived and dined together atleast for a month," tells Ishwar.

After a month, he along with other workers created a consolidated amount by pooling from the compensation money they had received to build pakka houses for all the families of the community.

"A construction drive started and we worked day-night but this time, we ourselves were the contractors," smiles he.

A well-designed colony of 250 houses, with important safety measures and provision of school for the children was then developed in Haiderpur.

From the last 17 years Ishwar and other resettled workers are living in this area only. There are 250 members attached directly with the union and many more indirectly.

Ishwar works continuously to mobilise people to join the union. In other colonies of areas elsewhere too, where construction workers are living, Ishwar and his union members are working towards developing community level administrative units by organising labourers.

Though, despite being educated, he could not deflect from his traditional occupation, he now is proud to be an aware individual who fights for his rights.

"Endlessly, I have been shattered by time and gathered by unity," exclaims Ishwar.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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