15 June 2015, Satender Tiwari
Today I talked with Jha ji at his teashop, close to Khoj. The shop is partly in a basement, only half-visible, three steps below the lane. Jha ji is a middle aged short man. It was the noon when I stepped into his shop and the sun peered into the lane of Khirkee. The lanes were more or less empty. The shop has a small television apart from general equipments like kettle, pile of small glasses to serve tea. The television is to entertain Jhai ji himself in between making the tea of the customers and sometimes the passer by also stands for a while to watch the latest news or any entertainment channel. When I reached there, Jha ji was making tea in a kettle. Three people were sitting outside the shop on its iron bench, waiting for their tea. I introduced myself to Jha ji and explained my project, saying I was observing the difference in gender visibility in the public spaces of Khirkee and Hauz Rani. He agreed to answer my questions. I asked him how long he had been living in Khirkee. He replied he had been here since 1990. I then asked his opinion on the lack of visible female presence in the locality. After a while he shifted closer to me and started talking in a low voice According to Jha ji, 50 to 60% of the workers who worked in the area are from Bihar and UP and lived in the Khoj lane, as there was a lot of local construction going on and contractors hired these workers on daily wage basis, at 10 am every morning. Those who were hired would go to the sites, while those who could not find work for the day would wait around in the lane, visible throughout the day. In the evening the workers hired for the day would return from the building sites and the entire lane would be full of men.
I asked why the workers stayed in the lanes all the time when they were not working. Jha ji replied that they shared living space, 5 to 20 people in a rented room. It was an all-male arrangement. Their wives obviously could not be with them, so one saw no women in that regard either. These people worked for two or three months and then went to their village to be with their families. After three months they would come back to the area and work on construction sites or small workshops, and this cycle was repeated.
Then Jha ji became busy with more customers, who sat on the bench outside the shop and drank their tea while watching the TV inside the shop. Some men hanging around in the lane also collected around the bench to watch the TV. I thought it was a good to have the TV there since it drew people to the shop and some of them might also buy tea. After serving them Jha ji turned to me and explained that till the early 1990s this area was basically agricultural land with villagers settled here and there, growing crops. At that time there were no flats, no construction. From 2005, building work started on the Mall across the main road, there is the hospital, the district courts. The workers have been living here since that time, hired to work on those giant projects. At first rents were cheap here, but now there is a property boom in Khirkee Village, construction of multistorey buildings has developed the area, and there is now always work for construction workers. Locals have begun to profit through renting accommodations to groups of migrant workers, so their population has increased greatly.