For 13 weeks, in 2017, the unthinkable happened for informal workers: they captivated audiences across Northern India by bringing the public inside their grueling work lives.
Week after week, workers labouring as street vendors, waste pickers, domestic workers, construction workers, and home-based workers shared their dreams and aspirations and the challenges they face in the city. The radio show brought visibility to informal workers and their work in the city, and, importantly, provided a platform for them to publicly discuss their issues using their own voices – a rare occurrence.
The radio show brought visibility to informal workers and their work in the city, and, importantly, provided a platform for them to publicly discuss their issues using their own voices – a rare occurrence.
The programme, called “Kal ki Subah Humari Hai” or ‘Tomorrow is Ours” was hosted by WIEGO’s Delhi Focal City Coordinator, Shalini Sinha, on Air FM Rainbow station and also included expert guests from organizations, such as HomeNet South Asia (HNSA), Alliance of India Wastepickers (AIW), the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), and the National Alliance for Street Vendors of India (NASVI).
Ahmedabad, India: Choral Mauladia poses near by her cart where she sells vegetables at a local market. Street vendors face a number of difficulties, including harrassment from local officials and displacement by urban development projects. Given these threats, Choral joined the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), a trade union that works to secure the rights of workers in the informal sector. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage
The programme took on issues rarely discussed in India’s mainstream media and gave the workers themselves an opportunity to speak about their experiences and work lives firsthand. The episodes were in Hindi, but highlights from the discussions include:
- Sabina, a home-based worker, speaks of the difficulties of her work and the low earnings despite long hours. Listen to Episode 2 (in Hindi) and/or read “Myths & Facts about Home-based Workers”.
- Domestic workers, who cook and clean in the homes of others, talk about the insecurity of their work, low pay, and the lack of leave. One of the guests, a domestic worker, Uttara, points out that just because they lack a defined work space and a single employer does not mean they should face the kind of discrimination and harassment that they do. Listen to Episode 3 (in Hindi) and/or read about how informal workers exposed the violence and harassment they face at work at this year’s International Labour Conference.
- Street vendors Raju and Feroz reveal how the city has discriminated against them during recent evictions and has taken away sources of employment they have relied on for nearly two decades. Listen to Episode 4 (in Hindi) and/or read more on India’s National Policy on Urban Street Vendors.
- A waste picker talks about losing her means of income as the city privatizes its waste management systems. Listen to Episode 7 (in Hindi) and/or read about how South African waste pickers are fighting against privatization.
The radio episodes have been an important opportunity for India’s invisible workforce to gain a public voice, especially for the many women workers. Shalini Sinha, who interviewed the guests, says it was powerful to hear about the balancing act these women have to manage on a daily basis.
Waste pickers take a break from sorting waste. Photo: M. Von Broembsen
Interspersed throughout the 13-week run were interviews with grassroots experts and representatives from national alliances, trade unions, and South-Asia level organizations. These experts contextualized India’s informal economy, explained many myths these workers face, and highlighted the need for decent work for all.
Here are a few highlights of the discussion and the solutions they offered:
- Jahnavi Dave of HNSA talks about how home-based workers have to deal with the invisibility of their profession. An important step to change this is to organize home-based workers and to build their confidence to demand their rights and consider their work as equal to any other profession. Listen to Episode 5 (in Hindi).
- Arvind Singh of National Association for Street Vendors in India (NASVI) explains how the government and its representatives can still fail informal workers after the creation of a strong law. He points out that organizations and representatives for informal workers have to be vigilant and work with the government to ensure that even after a law has taken effect that it is actually implemented.
- Suman Verma, of SEWA, talks about its Shakti Kendras that were set up in informal workers’ communities to raise awareness about, and to facilitate access to, government benefits entitled to them. Listen to Episode 8 (in Hindi) and/or read more about the Shakti Kendra centers.
The "Tomorrow is Ours” programme brought greater visibility to the lives and struggles of urban informal workers in Delhi – and across urban India, for that matter – and outlined what steps can be taken to not only improve their situation but also work towards recognizing them as legitimate citizens and contributors with certain rights and entitlements. Shalini Sinha notes, “We hope this radio show leads to progress and impact for informal workers.”
Feature photo: Ahmedabad, India: Bhavna Headod runs a popular beauty parlor from her home on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. She started the home-based business after receiving a micro-loan from the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), a trade union for poor, self-employed women in the informal sector, in 2010, and provides a convenient, affordable service to the women of the neighbourhood. The 3,000-4,000 rupees she earns a monthand up to double during wedding seasonis a vital part of her family's income. Photo: Pauline Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage