Bhubaneshwar, India

by Satyabrata Mitra

Interaction I: Worker in Atos Origin India Pvt Ltd.

The following is the reflection of a worker (software developer) in Atos Origin India Private Limited (Mumbai), a part of Atos Origin Global, an European MNC. The worker desired to share certain things with other workers and the people in general. The following are in his words:

First of all, I can not disclose my name because I apprehend if this is found out then I’ll be thrown out of the job. What instigated me to stop and reflect on the company was a sudden decision that was imposed on us. We were supposed to work for eight and half hours out of which half an hour was for lunch. One day suddenly, we got instructions that we were to work for nine and half hours. I, and many of my co-workers were really irritated but we couldn’t undo the imposition. This imposition, probably forced my confrontation and reflection of certain other aspects of my work. It takes two hours in transportation (an average for all), even three to four hours for some. We are left with no time to fulfill our basic needs. I don’t know about others, but I feel like being used as if I am not a human being but a machine. Increase the time for which it runs and you obviously don’t ask a machine whether he would like to run or not. After about a month of the imposition, every project manager summoned meetings to ask us about our views on the increase in time of work. The outcome of the meetings was nothing, as is evident from the fact that, in spite of a complete disagreement on our behalf to work for the increased period of time, there were no changes made. It is also notable that we were made to sit in groups of four or five (under project managers) and not together. Any initiative on our behalf to sit together would have eventual results in ousting from jobs. Naturally, no one took the initiative. The meetings fulfilled its duty in handing over to the company the question, “why were the work’s time suddenly raised?” The answers included, increase in profitability and to enable the company to compete better with other IT companies. And yes, no wage increase were there during his period. It is frustrating that still we are unable to even say these in public. And we cheer the fall of some dictatorial empire in some country.      

Interaction II: Student of ITER, Bhubaneshwar, speaks of his experience in a protest:

Students of Orissa have always been abused by the popular media, especially those studying in private Engineering Colleges and the picture that anyone external to these students get is a view that they are, “bade baap ke bigde hue aulaad” (spoilt children of rich people). On the 20th of April, Institute of Technical Education and Research, Bhubaneshwar, saw something that can be said to be one of the first concerted protest against the impositions of the institutional bureaucracy on the second year students of the college (B.Tech Programme). Sidharth Mohapatra, one of the protestors shares his experience of how it all began and what all happened.  The following are in his words:

On the 19th of April, at around 5 p.m. there was a notice on the notice board where the names of students having shortage of attendance and the dates for examinations were given. I had 60% attendance in every subject and expected that I won’t be having any problems of being unable to attend the semesters. But, to my surprise, one of my friends, Raunak Raj, called me up and said that I had attendance shortage in all six subjects that I was to appear in the semesters. At that time I was with one of my friends. We immediately decided to go to college and reached there at about 6. There was a crowd gathered in college and no one was bothered about whether anyone got attendance shortages or not; rather, the question that everyone was asking everyone else, “In how many subjects did you get a shortage of attendance.” There were also jokes as to how the college screwed us. Initially I didn’t want to think any longer about the issue as I wanted to be calm – I thought nothing could be done. I went to my place and picked up a novel to divert my mind from the trouble that lay ahead. Sometime later, I got an SMS from a friend which read, “God curse ITER…Friends, we are heading for a strike tomorrow against the atrocities of the institute regarding attendance problem and exam schedules. So, we expect cordial support from all my friends to support the strike wholeheartedly and reach college gate by 12p.m. Please send this to everyone you know to help the needy.”  My first reaction was something like, analyzing the language and finding flaws in it, and the whole text appeared ridicules to me. Then I moved on with my novel.  Then I got a call from one of my friends called Anshu who asked me to come to the college gate at 12p.m. and asked me to bring as many people I could. I said yes and then I thought of forwarding the SMS I had received to few friends. I forwarded it to three to four friends. I got reply SMSs instantly with questions like, ‘where exactly?’ ‘how many?,’ etc. Now let me tell you something about myself. This had happened to me before in the 1st year and I was really irritated. I was thinking of dropping out from college. I write poetry and thought I better do that. My parents forced me to stay. Now, moving back to where we were, I called Raunak Raj and started chatting about why the college was upto such things. We discussed we are not at all comfortable with what the college is famous for, namely, discipline. Then the old thought surfaced in my mind – “I should quit.” Then I thought why should I quit. I hung up with rage against college. So I wrote this new message, “guys, we are being fucked because we are lying down with legs wide open and it’s time to use our dicks to fuck them back. If you are a man, be a man and show up at 12 noon and join us in our protest against the college.” I sent the SMS to around twenty boys. I thought that this message might be very inappropriate to girls. So, I forwarded the message I received to the girls I knew. Within an hour or so at around 9:30 in the night, I was receiving the same message from friends and unknown numbers along with eight other messages from friends and unknown numbers. Then I called Pratik Mohapatra who sounded really angry. I found out, he, along with another of his friends, started this SMS thing. We abused the college and we thought it was all because of money that the college does this thing. Then we were talking about problems we might have to face with family when they came to know about what happened. Ultimately we decided to go on a ‘do or die’ move. Then I called a friend of my college after talking to whom, I stopped being impulsive and got down to thinking. Something that this friend was able to explain was that how the compulsory attendance was completely absurd. I hung up and started thinking again. Then I called Pratik again and told him that we needed to organize ourselves. I was hyped that night and on my bed, lying down, I was thinking “tomorrow was the day.” I took up the novel again and was asleep by about 2:30a.m. When I woke up at about in the morning, the passion had all evaporated and I wanted to go back to sleep. Then Pratik called again and I was casual about it. I went to college in a tranquil mood. When I reached there Pratik Mohapatra was the only guy standing there. We were supposed to have at least 500 students. One problem that had taken place earlier was that in our SMSs we had given different places to meet. We did not know where anyone else might be. That might have been a reason why we were alone there.  Then we called people and came to know that some students had their tests and so they would show up at 12 as exactly decided. Some of the students had gone to make fake medical certificates, the name of the source I can’t disclose because that would lead to problems we might face in future. They would return after getting them and join us. After about half an hour, there were five of us standing in front of the college expecting more company when Rahul(name changed), came and informed that there were students inside who were awaiting us. We went in front of the Academic Block of our college from where we expected more students to come out. In an hour we were about sixty only and in rage we decided to go with whatever strength we had. We went to the Dean’s Office where we were not allowed to enter. We started shouting and abusing the institute.

Students protesting in front of college administration

After some time Prof. B.K. Sarap, Deputy Chairman of our institute showed up and said that we could talk. We agreed, though not instantly.  There were also about fifteen girls accompanying us though their main grievance was regarding examination rescheduling. Prof. Sarap said: “give me your demands in written. Then I’ll see what can be done.” We wrote an application where we put down our two demands: cut-off of a minimum attendance should be reduced and, exams should be properly rescheduled with gaps between consecutive  exams. One of the girls, who wanted rescheduling threw up that there was a rule in UGC that exam dates are to be announced fifteen days before the commencement of exams. We were all in the peak of our zeal then. While writing the application, we were sixty but the number of signatories became hundred and ninety-eight. Two of us, including me, were sent to submit the application. We were stopped by the guards. I was furious at him and called my friends back who came back yelling. Prof. Sarap came to us and asked for the application. We handed it over to him. We then had a conversation with him. Then, finally he agreed to reschedule the exams and see to it that minimum students get an attendance shortage. There were cries of joy and the crowd dispersed.

Interaction III: A household worker speaks of the trajectory of her life:

The following is an interaction that I had with a household worker in a residential area in Bhubaneshwar. I asked her to come to my place so that she could share whatever she thought was relevant for her and about her life. I asked her to sit on the sofa beside my chair where I was typing on the computer. She continuously hesitated and said ‘babu, mu tale basibi’(sir, I’ll sit down on the floor.) When I asked her why was she reluctant, she gave a smile that to me appeared that me asking her to sit beside me was sort of absurd. Ultimately, she sat down on the floor and narrated the following. I asked her to pause in between her flow of sentences so that I could translate what she was saying (in Oriya) into English. She ended the conversation/interaction by saying that she had work and was getting late.

I have come from Banki, Cuttack District and it has been ten years since I am in Bhubaneshwar. I had to leave my place because my husband harassed me. He works as an agriculture labourer and we have a house there but I haven’t met him ever since. I meet my ‘jaas’(wives of husbands brothers) though. Initially, when I came to Bhubaneshwar,  I was an attendant in a girls’ hostel for a couple of years. My work, there, included bringing stuff for girls, and attending them if they are ill. In the first year I was paid Rs.1200 and then Rs.1400 for the next year. One girl was ill and I just went out for some time when the supervisor was complained and I was forced to leave the job. Then for two years I worked as a cook in one house. They paid me Rs.1200. Since then I have been working in several households, moving from one to other house if I lose my job. Now I get Rs.2000 per month. I work in five households, two shifts each. My work includes cleaning dishes, washing clothes and other household work.

Here, in Bhubaneshwar, I stay in Tarini Basti(slum) with about ninety other families in thatched roof or asbestos houses. I stay in a two room asbestos house with two other families. I pay Rs. 600 (will have to pay Rs.700 from next month) to the owner of the house who works as a cook in other households. The house is built on Government land. There are problems in my life but everyone has problems. Who has time to think about them ? And also, it is fruitless.I will have to work as long as my hands allow me to. Then, I’ll have to leave for Banki. I have two children. The younger is ill. I do not know what disease he has. He often vomits blood. He has attended primary school. My elder son hasn’t been to school and is now unemployed. I do not know what will happen after I stop working, but, I guess, things will be sorted out by then.

Interaction IV: An auto driver speaks of his occupation:

The term auto is(popularly) used in Bhubaneswar for a three wheeled vehicle that is the major mode of conveyance of passengers within Bhubaneswar. According to institutional norms, it can carry three passengers and the rates are fixed (except if a passenger volunteers to reserve the auto). For about three kilometers, a passenger has to pay Rs.9. The rate of diesel is around Rs.43 and an auto shows an average mileage of 30km/l. The following is an interaction with an auto driver (name: Jogi Das; age: 45) of Bhubaneshwar which I have translated from Oriya.

I was born and brought up in Bhubaneswar, though I have a paternal house at Jatni, Khorda District. My father used to have a Oriya fast food shop. Initially I worked as a helper in Bus services*.  Then with some accumulated money I bought an auto and had been driving the auto for two years. Then, due to maintenance problems, I had to sell it off. Now I drive on a contractual basis. The owner gives me the auto for the whole day and I pay him Rs.130 (whether I have earned that much or not doesn’t matter). It depends on the auto drivers to decide whether he can earn that much from the auto he  hires; rates vary from 130-200 in Bhubaneswar. It depends on where  there is more chance of earning, condition of vehicle, etc. My earnings are around Rs.150 to Rs.200 per day.

We have eighty autos in our stand. The one who reaches the stand in the morning first has to write his name in a register that is maintained by our stand. According to the numbering, when passengers come we take them. In Bhubaneswar, there is an association called auto Mahasangh, organized by Sibananda Ray and other leaders, where auto drivers and auto owners go and meet once in a month, though it is not mandatory. Under this association there are several smaller auto associations like ours dispersed over the whole of Bhubaneswar. We individually pay Rs.50 per month to the Mahasangh. The Bhubaneswar auto Mahasangh’s work is to sort out disputes between auto owners and drivers, to take care of drivers if there are any fights or accidents, etc. We go to the stand to sort out problems/fights that might have taken place amongst ourselves. Also in festive occasions, the Mahasangh’s advice is taken. There are certain rules set by the Mahasangh like drivers from other auto stands (located elsewhere in Bhubaneswar) cannot take passengers from our stands. The traffic commissioner of Bhubaneswar has a rule that every auto driver needs to have have and Identity Card, without which the auto driver will be fined Rs. 100. The Mahasangh makes it mandatory that every auto driver has his I Card with him. The driver pays the fine, not the owner.

If suddenly, the auto hiring rate is hiked by auto owners, the driver has to decide whether he can continue driving with the hiked price or will he have to quit driving that auto. Mahasangh doesn’t interfere in such matters. Usually we agree because if we don’t get any other auto, we’ll have to sit at home without earning.

The Mahasangh decides the rate chart on our behalf. When there are hikes in prices of oil, we go on strike under the Mahasangh that demands a re-structuring of prices for driving from one place to another in Bhubaneswar. If the strike is strong enough, the prices are hiked or else it is kept as it was. It depends on how the leaders of the Mahasangh deal with the matter and their relation with bigger leaders of Political parties. 

My interruption: You never ask for reduction in oil prices?

How can we ask for that? Once the price of something has gone up, it is useless to ask for reduction in price. It is not in our hands. In Gandamunda, I have build a two room thatched house on Government land. See, we can’t afford private land. There are 60-70 similar houses in our region.

We do not belong to any political party but are afraid to take our autos out on the days when any party BJP, BJD or Congress calls for strike. There are hooliganisms on the road and we fear that our autos might get damaged in those.  So, we sit in our stands but do not take passengers. Except concerning autos, we never indulge in any daliya (organisational) calls for strike. Some of us might individually go for his political interests but we don’t go.

Later, he said it was a private bus. Helpers are low paid in private buses. 

Pieces crossposted with Class and Capital