Fate and Fortune of Indian Railways Hawkers

Harasankar Adhikari

Indian Railways are the largest Industry of India. It is considered as the lifeline of India. It connects different regions of our country.  It is also a significant avenue of employment to a bulk amount of population. Directly, it provides jobs to over 13 lakh employees. Indirectly, it is an employment platform to the unemployed. It provides a means of living to many licensed and unlicensed hawkers from low income background class to earn their livelihood. There are two types of hawkers according to their movability, i) moving-hawkers who sell variety of goods in railway coaches, and ii) stationery hawkers in platform of railway stations and over-bridges, etc. ‘These hawkers earn their livelihood depending on their skills and selling things to the appropriate customers.’ And ‘they develop an interpersonal relationship with their customers in order to generate good business.’ Anyway, it is their only source of survival for a sizable number of families.

But what is their living condition during this pandemic? And what would be their future survival in a post pandemic? From a report, we know that ‘it has estimated that about 70-80 lakh vendors who sold everything from food to flashlights on 20000 long distance and suburban trains across India have evaporated, because the trains are no longer plying.’  It is evident that the railway-hawkers compromise a substantial portion of the unorganized sector (a large portion of the urban informal sector), a major workforce denied opportunities in the recognized sector (National Statistical Commission, 2012). ‘It is just like and parallels yet the undercover class of entrepreneurs who struggle daily in their way to earn a decent living.’ Undoubtedly, they are now at a critical stage of living. But no one is telling about their pain. Even when the trains will ply again, their situation may not change. So, what would happen to those hawkers and their families? From every corner, the migrant workers are getting attention. In fact, hawkers are also migrant. Unfortunately, there is no voice from any corner for this marginalized section while a majority of them are in this occupation for long years together.  

The Government of India has declared 20 lakh crore packages. How this money is going to help the marginalized is any body’s guess.  Indian Railways are making multi-skilled workers for reduction of number of employee as a strategic step towards privatization of this sector. Has it once thought about the rehabilitation of the hawkers?  Are they not Indian nationals? The prime Minister of India has called for ‘Atmanivar Bharat’. But, those hawkers who were really ‘atmanirvar’ people are thrown into uncertainties. Is there any clear plan and policy for them?

It is a high time that local governments and policy-makers should address this problem of these marginalized classes of traders. Government should immediately reform and modify the hawker policy to restore the survival of this marginalized section. It should take policy for social safety and security for them. Giving rations or such relief is not a permanent solution for them. Indian Railways should consider special packages for hawkers through their organizations.

Jun 16, 2020

 Harasankar Adhikari

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