"Main mazdoor hoon"

by Raghav Mehrotra
Udaipur district, Rajasthan

In March 2018, the Supreme Court ordered a social audit of the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (BOCW) Welfare Board. During a pilot audit in Salumbar block, Rajasthan, interviewers asked residents what they did for a living. A truck driver, a Rajput homemaker, and a farmer, all had the same response: “Main mazdoor hoon.” I am a labourer. For the residents of Salumbar, ‘mazdoor’—a term typically used to refer to manual labourers—included people involved in a wide range of jobs.

This form of self-identification is important when considered in the context of BOCW’s identity document, colloquially named the ‘mazdoor diary’. This is a coveted document because it gives the holder access to INR 8,000 per year for their children’s education, INR 55,000 to support their daughter’s enterprise or marriage, and up to INR 1.5 lakh to build a pukka house. While only construction workers are entitled to the diary, its unofficial name has prompted a large number of self-identifying mazdoors to believe that they can claim its benefits.

In Salumbar, through carefully constructed language that avoids any mention of BOCW or construction work, networks of unofficial agents reinforce the social misconception that the mazdoor diary is available to all manual labourers. Since the labour department is not easily accessible at the panchayat level, these agents are often the only source of information about the Act. Together with local authorities and e-mitras (employed by the state to file applications for any of Rajasthan’s public programmes), agents can coerce hundreds of ineligible workers into registering for BOCW welfare. Their incentive here is a commission as high as 20 percent per application.

When registered non-construction workers heard about the legitimate eligibility criteria for the mazdoor diary, they were confused and disappointed. They felt excluded by the state for a misunderstanding that was never communicated, or perhaps deliberately hidden from them. For those at the margins, BOCW welfare is an opportunity for upward economic mobility. To lose the diary would be to lose this prospect, at least temporarily.

Raghav Mehrotra works at Aajeevika Bureau, a nonprofit that provides services, support, and security to rural, seasonal migrant workers.

The data and story above were collected during a social audit conducted at the direction of the Supreme Court, by the following organisations: Aajeevika Bureau, Aravali Nirman Majdoor Suraksha Sangh, Grameen Evam Samajik Vikas Sanstha, Kotra Adivasi Sansthan, Pathar Gadhai Union and Soochna evam Rojgar Abhiyan, as well as paralegals and members of local workers collectives.

 The findings from the social audit were originally published in The Wire.

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