Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A new meaning for "manual labor"...

There are no wheelbarrows in India.

Ok, that might be a bit of hyperbole... but in all honesty, I've never seen one here. Nor have I seen any backhoes or jackhammers or earth movers. Nearly everything in India, from construction to landscaping to demolition, is done by hand. And when I say "by hand," I mean by hand.

When workers have to move a huge pile of gravel, they carry it on their heads. When builders are pouring cement for a roof, they lug it up on their backs. When a crew has to demolish a driveway, they use pickaxes.

This guy has to move a mountain of gravel using nothing
more than a shovel and a metal plate.

Many of these workers face rather treacherous conditions, too. I've seen men resting on the edge of a four story building without any harnesses. Several times I've noticed guys climbing rickety scaffolding in flip-flops. It's not uncommon to see entire construction sites without a single hardhat.

And at the end of a backbreaking 11 hour day, these unbelievably hard-working people head home with maybe 40 rupees ($1) in wages. 80 if they're lucky. Barely enough to feed themselves, much less their families.

These three guys were hired to demolish this driveway.
They're holding all the tools they'll get to finish the job.

So what is the cause of all of this unjust labor? Why are so many people willing to work so hard for so little? Why don't they do something about it?

Well, it all comes down to this... India is absolutely swarming with people willing to work for pennies just to have a job. Even if laborers were to walk off a job site in protest, hundreds of able-bodied men and women would be eager to take their place.

Every single day, thousands of rural Indians pour into the city to make a new life for themselves. What they find, however, is a cruel and unfeeling metropolis that devours the weak and the non-compliant. So they stay. They sweat. They toil. And the rich sit back and relax.

If you look in just about every park or garden in Delhi, you'll see
groups of unemployed men and women waiting for work.

Now, before we start condemning exploitative Indian employers, we need remember that unjust labor is a problem all over the world. Even in our own lives! Look around the room. Look at what you're wearing. How much do you think someone earned for making your shirt? What about the computer you're using? Were the workers who built it treated fairly?

You see, the truth is, even though we can't see it, our lives are intimately connected to those of poor laborers all over the world! Sure, we're not forcing people to mow our grass by hand, but you can't deny that to make our lives easy, many other people must work extra hard. It's an awful injustice, made ever worse by the fact that we are so distant from it.

Now, I'm really sorry if I'm coming off like Debbie Downer about this. I'm not trying to send you on a guilt trip. I'm not trying to make you feel frustrated and helpless. I promise.

I am simply hoping to make us all more aware. Aware of the fact that our shoes didn't just appear one day on the store shelf. Aware that our cell phone had to be assembled by someone. Aware that our coffee beans were actually picked by a person's hand.

It's taken me two trips half-way around the world to grasp this vital truth: My life is connected to theirs.

Hopefully I can remember that the next time I pick out a pair of jeans...

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