Abul Hasan Mirza is a rare kind of migrant worker. He is a supervisor at construction sites, and works for a company called Hotema. When the coronavirus pandemic descended like a nightmare he stood his ground and didn’t abandon those who worked under his charge. Like many migrants leaving Mumbai, Mirza could also have boarded a Shramik Special train, or taken a bus back. But he chose to stay back to make sure that the labourers who worked under him, had rations, food and assistance if they wished to leave the city and go back to their villages.
“I am from Birbhum, West Bengal. I have been staying in Mumbai for the last eight years. Before that, I used to work in West Bengal as a laborer,” he told the CJP team when they went to distribute ration kits in the area. Mirza’s life story is a shining example of how hard work, backed by solid ethics and empathy, can change lives. “When I came to Mumbai eight years ago, I didn’t have a job. My aunt stayed in Mumbai so she had suggested that I come to Mumbai because here even a laborer gets Rs 500 per day, and a skilled labourer can earn upto Rs 900 per day. So I came here with my wife and two children. Initially we stayed in an Andheri slum where our rent was 1000 rupees per month.”
After the lockdown, many migrant labourers were forced to choose between two extremely difficult options; continue to stay in expensive cities where expenses kept mounting and income sources dried up, or go back home to their families in their villages, but face an uncertain economic future. While CJP has supplied rations and essentials to thousands of migrant labourers who both stayed on and some of those who left, our challenge is now, in a post lockdown solution, help find short and long term solutions, with them. Our series Migrant Diaries brings to you stories of the ordeals they were forced to face as they took an arduous journey back home, and some stories of those who stayed back. Please donate now to help our migrant brothers and sisters. CJP hopes to evolve collective solutions and programmes with them, in the coming weeks.
He remembers the hardships of those early days, “I didn’t get any job for three months and lived on whatever savings we had. In the second week after I came to Mumbai I went to a local doctor to ask for a compounder’s job because I had done that in West Bengal.” Mirza didn’t get that job, but when he heard his story with the doctors he was asked if his wife could cook food and clean the house. “I said yes, he asked me to send my wife to do domestic work at his house. He is a very good man, initially he paid Rs 5,000 rupees and after a few months increased it to Rs 7,000. I soon got a bus helper’s job at St. Mary school. I used to clean the bus and make sure every child was getting in and out safely,” he recalls. Mirza worked there for over a year and then began work as a labourer for Hotema Enterprises. One day he got a pleasant surprise, “After a few months my boss told me to not do labor work. I was scared and wondered what I did wrong. But then he told me I was promoted to supervisor!”
Things began to look up for Mirza. “I was so happy that, from that day till now I am working as a supervisor at various construction sites for Hotema Enterprises,” said Abul, who is proud of his achievements and credits his family’s support with everything. “We have two children, my son is doing a Graphic Designing course, and my daughter is in class five at Kamladevi School, Andheri. My wife is a domestic worker, she works for four houses and earns Rs 20,000 per month. I earn Rs 12,000. Now we stay in a proper housing society in Andheri where our rent is Rs 12,000 rupees,” he says. The rent is high, but he wants his children to live in a nice place, not a slum, “It is more than our status but I want our children to grow up in a good environment.” He is a proud father indeed and says both his children are very good in studies, “Last year my son scored 94%.”
Mirza’s younger brother is a college teacher but they are not on good terms so Mirza didn’t call him for help when the lockdown was announced. “In this crisis situation we are also helpless. After the lockdown was announced the situation started getting difficult for us because we live on what we earn monthly. With our expenses we could barely save anything. I am a supervisor, there are 200 people who work under me and I wanted to make sure that these people also get ration from somewhere.”
During the initial lockdown, his wife’s employers provided ration. “Some even gave money and the CJP Team also provided ration to my family and workers. So I was lucky enough that so many people helped us but as the lockdown extended, the rations got over. That’s when I called the CJP team again for rations. I knew CJP would do something to help us. When the CJP team provided us rations for the second time on May 21, 2020, I distributed it to all the laborers because they were dependent on me. That day my family and I only had tea and biscuits at night,” he remembers that the labourers were in a bad state.
“On June 1, the CJP team gave us rations for the third time, 10 packs for the 20 migrants and my family. I am very thankful to CJP, you people are like god to us, I will never forget your help in my life,” he says. Mirza hopes to host all his new friends at CJP and his team of labourers once the coronavirus crisis is over, “I request your team to come to our place, all the laborers and family we all want to thank you.”
Optimistic, and empathetic, Mirza does not regret staying back in Mumbai when lakhs were fleeing. “I didn’t go to the village because of two main reasons. Firstly, my children will have their exams soon after this lockdown. I don’t want them to miss their exams, if the lockdown would have not happened my son would have got a job by now. Secondly, my team of labourers were in a difficult situation, so it was not fair to leave them in this condition and go to the village. So I decided to stay back and we will face the situation together, my wife also supported me. I am glad many people helped us in this situation and helped us to survive, especially CJP.”
Now as the things seem to be stabilizing a bit, most of the labourers have decided to go to their villages. Mirza is busy making sure they have their tickets and that they get on the train safely. “Yesterday one group had come to my house because their ration got over, so I gave them some from my share. I consider them as my family,” he says.
He has heard that the construction work may restart soon and is helping the few labourers who want to stay back and work to make an informed decision.