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Indians as Ghosts: The Shocking Treatment of Commonwealth Games Workers

September 24, 2010

A bridge collapsed in India on Tuesday. What made this news was that it was a footbridge leading to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and some athletes are considering pulling out of the Games because of fears for their safety and health. It would be easy to think that the only thing hurt is the Indian government’s public relations but the reality is that twenty-seven Indian labourers were injured in the bridge collapse, five of whom were injured very seriously and are still in hospital. But in the coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Australia, Indians are ghosts; the only thing that matters is conditions for athletes.

The conditions for Indian workers, particularly construction workers, is the big story that needs to be told, luckily some of the Indian press has been willing to cover it and luckily, the ever useful Socialist Unity blog has also been discussing it.

The Indiatalkies article states “Under the Building and other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996 a welfare board was to be set up in all states to collect one percent of the building plan from the building agency as cess.” The cess, according the report was afund for carrying out welfare schemes including health, medical care, pension, housing loan and the education of the children of the workers engaged in building and construction industry.”

These details came out during a hearing of the Indian Supreme Court.

But that “In the course of the hearing, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves told the court that more than Rs.4,000 crore have been collected by way of cess but the same was not properly put to use for the welfare of the workers.”

Some of the money has been stolen but a lot was not just collected in the first place “In five other state, the welfare boards were non-functional. In other states, the boards set up were either not registered or were discharging minimal activities, the court was informed.”

This, however, is just one of the issues when it comes to construction workers in India.  Construction workers have been forced to live in absolute squalor while they build the infrastructure for the Games. As the Financial Times reported “Labourers and their families lived under the type of blue plastic sheets normally distributed by aid agencies after natural disasters. Others were herded into crowded metal sheds with an average of one lavatory per 110 workers.”

These same workers are responsible for constructing the atheletes village, where competitors will stay during the games. The conditions of the village has received the most media coverage BBC sport described the problems “Recent photographs (of the village) from Delhi showed dirty bathrooms, animal footprints on beds, exposed wiring and flooding outside the buildings at the athletes’ village.”

The workers, justifiably, constructing the Athletes village thought that staying there would be a massive step up.  Arundhati Ghose, a former Indian ambassador to the UN said  “It’s raining, and here are all these fancy rooms – all lying vacant. If you don’t look after workers, if you don’t give them a minimum treatment, these kinds of things are going to happen.”

The Financial Times also went on to say “Indian construction companies depend heavily on unskilled, barely literate rural migrants to undertake much of the gruelling physical labour on building sites. Mostly recruited through labour agents, the migrants are easily exploited, given their ignorance of laws meant to regulate working conditions.”

“The PUDR (People’s Union for Democratic Rights) and other labour activists filed a lawsuit in Delhi high court this year, claiming that workers on games sites faced unsafe conditions and rampant violation of a wide range of labour laws and standards. The court-appointed in­vestigators found the “lack of overall hygiene, environmental cleanliness and sanitation” in workers’ quarters at most games sites was “deplorable”, citing a paucity of lavatories, and calling the metal huts “insufferable in the extreme Delhi weather” At the athletes’ village, the report said, committee members found four workers sharing a 7ft by 7ft room, and others in dormitories with “triple bunks”, plywood slabs as beds, and with no ceiling fan. Added to this, construction workers have only been paid half the minimum wage to work, they have received $2.40 a day.

But the biggest scandal of all, which you can almost be sure the vast majority of people don’t know about because of the media’s appalling coverage, is that 47 workers died while working on sites for the Commonwealth games.

Their deaths will go unrecorded and unremembered for the “greater glory” of a games linked to the British Empire.

An example of how warped the priorities of the media are when it comes to reporting the Games is an ABC online report which said “Adding to the headache for organisers, this morning there were reports that an overflow of sewage had swamped homes in the north of the Indian capital. The Times of India reported that toilets overflowed into homes and sewage as much as four to five feet deep had accumulated on some streets because of flooding.”

The main problem with this is the “headache” caused for “games officials” not the disaster it would be for the people who are living there.”

Scottish team officials said the current village is “unfit for human habitation”. But humans have been living there, in fact for those living there, it was a step above their normal living conditions.

To add insult to injury, after the games are over, the athletes village won’t be used to house some of the many homeless people in India, it will be turned into luxury apartments with a shopping mall operated by a private company, despite public money being used to construct the village.

Athletes at least have the resources to be able to stay in hotels, for the mass of Indian people, the living conditions that are “unfit for human habitation” is their reality every day. The Games are a mess, the Indian government left construction almost exclusively up to the private sector, who have not only failed but have killed people in the process.

There are clear reasons for the games not to go ahead, for instance, the games are linked 100% to the brutal British empire but the clearer moral imperative, is that they shouldn’t go ahead due to the deaths of the workers, who should still be alive today. If they do go ahead, the ghost of those who died will forever haunt the New Dehli games.

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