The booming construction industry in Bengaluru attracts many migrants. Students of St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bengaluru, interviewed construction workers in the city as part of their Class 11 Economics project for the year 2019-2020. They worked with PARI Education to document the lives of men and women who have travelled from villages across India to find jobs as construction labourers, masons, tilers and more.
In this set of stories, we meet people, originally from north Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, who have come to work in the building industry in Bengaluru when their primary occupation – farming in their hometown – became untenable.
‘Government schemes are merely on paper’, Prabhu Badigar and Sundaramma from Shivenoor in Yadgir district of Karnataka share how they navigate the many pitfalls of working in the city, ranging from inadequate hygiene to the perpetual risk of unsafe working conditions and sexual harassment.
‘I have to repay the moneylender in my village’ follows the story of Raichur daily wage worker Hanumantu and his wife Nagamma who made a 12-hour journey, from their home in Hosahalli two years ago, to support their young family.
‘We need to work every day to fill our stomachs’, says Hanumantha Yelahar from Yadgir, Karnataka who has travelled here with his wife; their young daughters remain in their hometown with their grandmother.
‘My land turned barren’, is the story of Reraju from Gonugur village, Andhra Pradesh. He speaks of working from the age of 14, and his determination to build a different future for his young children.
‘Government schemes are merely on paper’
I carry eight to nine bricks at a time up the stairs, almost 100-120 times a day; my wife does the same, carrying six bricks at a time, around 30-35 times a day. I am Prabhu Badigar and this is my wife Sundaramma. We work on this construction site, transporting cement, stones, sand and bricks. I am 55 years old and come from Shivenoor near Joldhadgi village in Shahpur taluka, Yadgir district, Karnataka.
We live in an asbestos sheet house with a tarpaulin roof and the roof leaks all the time during the rains. Sudden expenses, especially for medical reasons, are a huge burden. After a project finishes and before we get the next one, we don’t earn anything. We also have no work [and no wages] when it rains, when there is a holiday or when materials have not come in.
Earlier, construction work gave us seasonal employment, but now agriculture has become our seasonal job. I didn’t plan to do this work but my father said it will give us a stable income – something our land could not provide. I first started coming to Bengaluru for a month at a time to do construction work and earn some money. After I got married, my wife also joined me in this work. My uncle who was working under a contractor as a daily wage labourer brought us here.
When I first started working, I earned 25-30 rupees a day. Later I started earning 60 rupees a day, while my wife got around 40 rupees a day. This was about 20 years ago. These days, I make 500 rupees a day and my wife makes 350 rupees a day. We work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, with an hour set aside for lunch. On Sundays, we don’t work.
My monthly income can go up to 13,000 rupees and my wife can earn around 9,000 rupees. The cost of living in Bengaluru is very high and we barely save anything. We end up spending 8,000 rupees on our basic needs every month.
My entire family [father, mother and wife] used to work on our farm. We used to cultivate crops like jowar in the summer and toor dal or red gram later in the year. Jowar is a staple food in our region and we would go for the harvest.
When we experienced either too much rain or too little, our harvest would immediately be affected. We often needed a fertilizer-cum-pesticide called togari yenne that costs 400-500 rupees a litre. The market dealers used to give it to us in advance and deduct the cost from our proceeds after the sale. We saw our margins start to gradually decline. Government schemes were merely on paper. They only gave compensation in case of severe loss; for us any loss is a loss. Those were hard times and we did not receive much help.
We could have sold our produce elsewhere at better prices but we needed the togari yenne in advance and we couldn’t afford it before harvest. We could have borrowed money from moneylenders at a monthly interest of three to four per cent. My father used to do this, but it was such a burden that I decided not to do so.
Finally, after we incurred a lot of losses due to flooding of the nearby river, we decided to give up agriculture and come to Bengaluru in search of work. With this work we have been able to educate our children Aakash and Soubhagya who are in Class 5 and Class 8 respectively.
Initially, I used to work for a month or two in Bengaluru during the off season [for agriculture] and my wife would come with me, but there came a point where we couldn’t go back and forth anymore. So, four years ago, my brother and I leased out our 2.5 acre land to a friend whose land is next to ours. He pays us around 15,000 rupees every Ugadi [harvest festival], and my brother and I share it equally. This amount fluctuates based on the harvest, rains and profit.
There was a time when we lived as a joint family in a small government-sanctioned house in our village. Now, we have all moved out and only my mother has been living there after my father’s death. We had our own house in our village but the structure was destroyed by strong winds and heavy rains.
We visit our village three to four times a year for weddings, deaths, village fairs and sometimes when our children have vacations. The bus journey from Bengaluru to Yadgir is almost five hours long. The expense for travelling is close to 500 rupees a head.
We hope that both our children build careers, get married and settle down in Bengaluru. We want to return to our hometown and continue agriculture. We also want to own a pukka house back home in our village.
In our village, we would be on our feet all day but never felt tired. There was no fear of going hungry. We would grow our own food and we had our own cattle. Here [at the construction site in Bengaluru] we cannot miss even a day’s work. If we do, we must go to sleep hungry. The cost of living is too high.
Besides my children, the other members of my family here are my brother Chidanand and his wife. They live near us – he works as a painter [daily wage worker], and his wife works as a cook in a hotel close by.
We miss a lot of things about our village: the calm atmosphere and relaxed lifestyle, our neighbours and family. The dirty toilets in the slum where we live and at the construction site really bother me. The environment around us is not clean; we fall ill often and have to spend on medical expenses, which is an extra burden. We don’t even have clean drinking water or electricity for our family. We worry about the lack of safety measures and first aid at the construction site. As a woman, I also have to worry about men who misbehave or deliberately make me uncomfortable at my workplace.
After working the whole day at the site, I prepare food for the family, clean the house, help my children to get things ready for school the next day and so on.
The only reason we work here is for our children. Our dream is that they study well and earn more than we do. My uncle’s daughters have studied nursing and are working. We hope Soubhagya is inspired by them and becomes a doctor. For this, we are ready to work even more.
Student reporter: Deepthi Mahesh Kumar
‘I have to repay the moneylender in my village’
My name is Hanumantu. My wife’s name is Nagamma. I am in my 30s and my wife is in her 20s; we have not kept track of our ages. We are daily wage workers and have been working on construction sites in Bengaluru for the past two years. We are originally from the village Hosahalli, Sindhnur taluka in Raichur district of Uttara Karnataka.
When I lived in Hosahalli, I used to stay in a joint family with my uncles and my brother and their families; there were eight adults and 10 children in total. We used to share a 1200 sq ft four-bedroom house that stood on a one-acre plot. Both the house and the land are jointly in my uncles’ names. I have never owned any property but I would like to have a house of my own someday.
Paddy is the main crop in our village, and I first started working in the paddy fields of big landlords at the age of 15.
Later, my brother and our wives joined me. We would start work by 8:30 a.m., ploughing, sowing, weeding and harvesting. We would finish by around 2 p.m. During harvest time, we would work longer hours. We were each paid a hundred and fifty rupees a day. In those days, there were good and timely rains and so there were two crops of rice a year. During off-season months, we would either be unemployed or taking care of our own land.
Both our wages and the income from our own fields used to be enough to support us. But around four years ago, there was a severe drought in the region. Since then, only one crop of rice has been possible in a year; and the rest of the year, the fields are left barren. The crop yield was only around 30 bags of rice of 70 kgs each. Because of this, the landowners did not need as many labourers.
My wife stopped working when our second child was born. When she was ready to come back to work, the landlords said they did not need any more people. With my wife out of a job, and the reduced days of work for me, our household income fell. Still, I continued this work for two more years but when our third child arrived, I decided it was time for us to look for some other livelihood. I had already borrowed around three lakh rupees and had to start paying it back.
My brother had stopped working in the fields a few months earlier, and he had moved with his family to find work in Bengaluru. He told me about a construction supervisor in Bengaluru called Mani who was from Tamil Nadu who had given him a job on a construction site. I contacted Mani who said he could find work for us as well at a construction site in Bengaluru.
We were reluctant to leave our village behind, but what had to be done had to be done. We packed up all our belongings and took the KSRTC bus to Bengaluru. The tickets cost 400 rupees per adult. The 380 km overnight journey took about 12 hours.
My work here involves digging the earth, moving mud, stones, bricks and sand. I do a little bit of masonry work too. My wife also does similar kinds of tasks. We start working at nine in the morning and stop at six in the evening. We get one hour off for lunch. On Sundays, we can choose not to work but we get paid extra if we work on that day. I usually work on Sundays while my wife takes care of the younger children. My eldest daughter Lakshmi goes to the government school in Sindhnur and is taken care of by my mother who is 50 years old. Our daughter, Pooja who is three years old and our son Mullesh who is two years old travel and live with us on site.
When I first started working on construction sites, I used to earn 200 rupees a day and my wife earned 150 rupees a day. Our wages have increased since then. I now earn 400 rupees a day while she earns 300 rupees a day.
We can return to our village whenever we want since we are daily wage workers. Our work does not require any specific qualification so the contractor can easily find replacements. If we don’t come to work, we don’t get paid. We usually go back to our village when our labour is no longer required here or if there is work on the fields.
I feel we are better off in Bengaluru. We are able to earn much more than we used to in Hosahalli. I have loans to repay to the moneylender in the village, and with my current income, I am able to save almost 200 rupees a week. I believe that my decision to come to Bengaluru is a good one. I do not regret leaving home.
Student reporter: Ohana Sarvotham
‘We need to work every day to fill our stomachs’
I am Hanumantha Yelahar. I do all sorts of construction work ranging from lifting bricks, stones and cement to cleaning and arranging at a construction site in Banaswadi. I am 32 years old, and I am from Yadgir district, Karnataka. I have been living in Kasturinagar, Bengaluru, for the past four years. My wife Bhumamma works alongside me on the site for the same contractor.
We have two daughters – nine-year-old Nirmala, seven-year-old Aishwarya and a two-year-old son, Sandeepa. Both my daughters live with my mother in my village and study in a government school there, and my son stays with us here.
Back home, we owned two cows and grew lentils on our two acres. My mother owns one acre of land where she stays with my daughters. I attended school until Class 7 and can read, write and speak Kannada, and can recognise some English letters. I discontinued my studies when my father died and took up agricultural labour. The work was very difficult for me, but I had no choice. When the rains failed and I lost money on the crops, I came to Bengaluru in search of a job.
My hours at the construction site are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week, with Sunday being my weekly holiday. I earn 500 rupees a day and my wife earns 350 rupees a day. From our earnings, we send money to my mother and pay 500 rupees for electricity in my mother’s house.
On my share of the land in the village, I have built a house costing about 6 lakh rupees with a loan from one of my relatives; I still have a debt of 4 lakh rupees to be repaid. I need to pay 36,000 rupees every year as interest on my loan and I have currently leased the land. I cannot go back and work in my village because there are no buildings or construction areas to work on there, and there are no other job opportunities for me here. My village is made up of mostly hills and forests.
In the city, we need to work every day to fill our stomachs. I have no friends or relatives here other than my brother and his family who stay in Yelahanka where he works as a security guard in a college. He too moved to this city when the crops failed.
I stay in a rented house in Bengaluru and pay 2,500 rupees as monthly rent. In this house, there is no proper water or electricity supply so we have to borrow water from our neighbour. We spend around 1,500 rupees on food a week and then we have expenses of medical care, travel, repaying of debt and so on. After all our expenses, there is hardly anything left to save for the future. We cannot afford to take any days off as this will mean forgoing our daily wage.
Student reporter: Tejas Audithya
‘My land turned barren’
My name is Reraju. I am 49 years old and I live in Uttarahalli, South Bengaluru. I do both civil and cementing work. My work ranges from constructing roads and buildings to digging borewells. I cement roads, dig rainwater harvesting pits and lay the foundations for houses. I work for about eight or nine hours a day, with Sunday being my weekly holiday. I’m the only earning member in my family.
I began working in this industry 35 years ago when I was just 14. When I started, I earned about 50 to 100 rupees a day, but now I make about 800 to 1000 rupees a day depending on the nature of the work. The women working alongside us normally earn about 400 to 500 rupees a day. Both men and women do masonry work and we receive our wages on a daily rather than monthly basis.
My parents also used to do this work. Before coming into this line, we used to work on agricultural fields cultivating rice. Because of the lack of adequate rainfall, our land became barren and we had to abandon the fields and come find work in urban areas. We did not make enough money from agriculture and nobody helped us. The work here is also irregular, but working in an urban area provides a higher income than the work we had in the village.
I am originally from Gonugur village, Kuppam in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. It is about 105 km away from Bengaluru. I only go back to my village to celebrate festivals or to take part in special occasions. My family and I usually travel by train to go back home. The passenger train takes three hours one way and it costs about 25 rupees per person. The express train takes about half the time and costs about 50 to 65 rupees a person.
I still own around two acres of land back home but it has turned barren due to scarcity of rain. Nobody looks after it and so exists, but it is of no use. My parents passed away and I live with my wife and children. My son is 23 years old and is studying hotel management and my daughter is 14 years old and studying in Class 10. I do not want my children to enter this field. Fate will decide what they will do in life.
Student reporters: Nithya Anand Raj and Arnav S.
About the reporters
One of the first schools to bring PARI into the curriculum, St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bengaluru has been working with PARI to document the lives of migrants in the city. This is the second year that the students of Class 11 have gone into the field to identify, interview and document migrants around them, with special emphasis on construction labourers. Reaching out to others is part of the Jesuit school’s educational mandate and PARI helped with basic reporting guidelines, reviewing and editing.
About the illustrator
Antara Raman is an illustrator and web page designer with a keen interest in social processes and religious history. A graduate of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, she believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic.
Read more from this series,
Profiles of migrants: Journeys of hope – Part I
Profiles of migrants: Journeys of hope – Part II
Profiles of migrants: Journeys of hope – Part III
Profiles of migrants: Journeys of hope – Part IV
Profiles of migrants: Journeys of hope – Part V