In Kolkata, poor sleep where they work to send more money home

Image: Ratan Mandal, 10, pulls three-year-old Bubai Tati, as he sits on a broken box on a railway track in a slum area in Kolkata, India, March 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri


By Rupak De Chowdhuri

KOLKATA (Reuters) – In India’s Kolkata, street workers from second-hand clothes sellers to rickshaw drivers say they’rest and sleep where they work, too poor to afford a home of their own.

Many of them moved to the city from states including Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, where poverty is particularly acute. They say that being left to sleep outside by local authorities gives them a measure of security. “We have no shelter,” said Nizamuddin, 60, who works in a wholesale market.

Bikash Tati, a 39-year-old labourer, is unperturbed by life on the streets. “We have food and we can sleep peacefully at night,” he said.

But the poor and homeless in Mumbai and Delhi are often disturbed at night, workers in Kolkata said over and over. The lower cost of living in Kolkata also allows migrant workers to put a little aside to send to families who stayed at home, they said.

For a Reuters photo essay, please click on http://reut.rs/1Primjs

In Kolkata, as Calcutta is now called, cycle rickshaw drivers sleep in their vehicles at night. The vegetable market, too, is both workplace and home. Men wash at municipal taps in the streets.

It’s not a simple life. Nizamuddin, whose duties at his workplace include pouring cooking oil into tins and weighing them, uses plastic sheets to take shelter from rains and the chill in winter. He wishes there were night shelters for workers like him.

The streets of Kolkata, whose poverty Mother Teresa embraced, also offer leisure opportunities when the working day is over, games such as chess or carrom. A masseur tends to a customer on the banks of the River Ganges.

Among the next generation, some have set their life goals early on. Rahul Shaw, 10, reads a textbook in his father’s rickshaw before he goes to a government-run school that gives him free meals. His ambition: to become a doctor and treat people for free.

(Writing by Brian McGee; Reporting by Rupak De Chowdhuri; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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