Here are some Diary Entries from my first primary survey. Visits to 2 South Delhi market to interview street vendors!
I went for a field trip to South Delhi markets with NASVI officials. Shri Ram ji and Nisha ji accompanied me and were nice enough to make me meet the union leaders of the markets. I first went to Lajpat Nagar and met the leader of their union. His name was Mohammad Salim and was a very determined man. He is a street vendor in Lajpat Nagar who sells clothes, more specifically skirts. He has taken up the motive of unionising the vendors at Lajpat Nagar market because he feels that is the only way to improve the situation- unite. He was quite fed up of the MCD officials and continuous harassment by the police. He has also been arrested by the police. He went to Tihar jail along with his son when he refused to pay the MCD. The MCD charged him and sent to father-son duo to jail for 4 days. This was in early April. His goods have been seized ever since then and not been returned even now. He also told us about the NGT order and how that is functioning. The National Green Tribunal is becoming a massive problem for the street vendors. They have massive authority. They tell Street Vendors to vacate the streets so that cars don’t stop on the roadside and pollute. NGT comes and vacates the street vendors with and then they have no place to go. Him and Sulekhaji, who is the woman leader of their union also talked to me about how they feel the government doesn’t support them. When Obama came a couple of years back, they were told to completely vacate their streets. They has to shut down their shops and not vend for three whole months. November-December-January were black months for street vendors and they had no livelihood sustenance at that time. I was also told by other vendors that during 15th August or 26th January, vending haphazardly completely stops. If there is a bomb-blast anywhere across the nation, they are told to vacate vending spaces by local authorities. But after the Act and they stay order provision, there have been changes. Ever since there has been unionisation they ask the harassing authorities for their licenses and if they try to take their goods away, they show them the court order. There has been considerable reduction in the harassment. But there is still a massive Dalal system and corruption within both the local authorities and street vendors. Bribing continues to happen. There was one vendors whom we met who was very reluctant to mention the amount of bribe that he pays, which was rather surprising. Later I was told that he was in the Dalal system, and since he knew that he was wrong, he didn’t want to reveal this information.
Next, I went to Sarai Kale Khan which was a much less organised market. It is on the road leading up to Nizzamudin Railway station. There is no strong unionisation there, but the concept of a nunion is coming up. NASVI is trying to organise them. I was also told about a course that some of the food vendors are made to do with PUSA Hotels with the help of the Government. They are taught basic skills in cooking, hygience, personal space and much more. They are also paid 300 rupees/day to make up for the loss in business. The vendors are also given a certificate for validation. The street vendor telling me about this also told me that if they were given a vending space they would make it beautiful and presentable. They are not investing in it now because they don’t know when the MCD officials will come and want to uproot them. The kindness of the street vendors always makes my day. Despite living such meagre lives and just about providing their family a living, they always offer me something to eat or drink even if they are selling clothes, in essence offering me a tiny part of their profit. They are quite desperate to improve their situation and are looking for any solution they can find. A peculiar problem with Sarai Kale Khan has been the divider they have put on the road leading up to the Railway station. The street vendors there are fed up because the traffic jam does not allow customers to venture onto the vending side of the street. They have even contacted the local MLA who has just made things worse for them. The local authorities have arranged to put auto rickshaws on the line right next to the vending space which further worsens the situation for vendors. The previous week when the MCD officials came to ask them for bribes, the street vendors beat him up. They got into quite a brawl with inspectors Charan Singh and Sunil who haven’t harassed them ever since. Showing the stay order to the local authorities doesn’t work, they continue to take bribes.
These vendors continue to teach me values that no formal education can emphasise on enough- hardwork, perseverance, respect and most of all, complacency.