FIELD NOTES - I Team Gold Miners Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh Oct 1-5, 2012
BriefIn our field immersion we explore lives of hawkers who sell goods on trains, with a focus onhawkers selling vegetables . Towns on the Bangalore-Chennai rail line were considered basedon the frequency of spotting hawkers on commuter trains in this section.Early choices- Kuppam, Bangarapet & Jolarpettai Junction.It is considered that these hawkers ply their trade in violation of Indian Railway’s rule againsthawking of goods on its property except licensed vendors who are authorized to sell foodand beverages.Whereas, there are hawkers of wide variety of goods ranging from toys, flowers, books, DVDsto vegetables and fruits. Turns out, that many bribe the railway officials to be able to carry ontheir trade on trains.We explore the basis of this criminalization of the hawkers trade by Indian Railways.
Hypothesis Vegetable Hawkers on Train Indian Railways Hawkers CONTESTED SPACE
PlaceLocated on Bangalore-Chennai railway line.Chittoor district, AP100 km fromBangaloreClimate: DryAltitude: ~ 500 mtsabove sea levelAgriculture: Rainfed,horticulture produce
Work Environment – Hawkers on trains A typical rail coach of a commuter A hawker selling toys and fancy wares train in an off-rush hour. on a commuter train.
Kuppam Railway Station 4 commuter trains (express) & 2 A hawker packing vegetables on the passenger trains stop at Kuppam daily platform, to sell in the evening train.
First ImpressionsMost of the hawkers are very apprehensive about us following them or attempting to talk tothem.Took 2 days to figure out their hawking pattern- trains they take, section of the rail route theyhawk in, where they live (which station) etc.Observed that the hawkers are mainly women.Felt Kuppam was a wrong choice to observe and engage with vegetable hawkers.Moved to redefine our choice of hawkers, to include vegetable AND fruits and flowerhawkers.Also, that we may have to travel further down the line till Jolarpettai Junction and observe.
Day 3 & 4Turns out that many are apprehensive and even scared to talk to us because the railwayauthorities have been vigilant over the past year. When they are caught, a case is filedagainst the hawkers. And it has devastating financial and social consequences. ( Ex: Oneflower hawker didn’t want to talk to us as she has a son studying M.Sc and her arrest willhave serious consequences on family income etc.)This fear explained much of their apprehensions about us and those point blank questions on“what do you want?”, “why are you following me?”A flower seller finally thought of trusting us. Perhaps, because of a woman in our group.She helps us with first genuine bits of information and quickly a whole network of hawkerson the entire line becomes visible.
Status on Day 5We have been doing daily trips on the commuter trains with Kuppam based vegetablehawkers.We start with the 6 am train towards Chennai and return with the 9.30 pm train toBangalore.Kuppam is a typical small town , largely agrarian and with somewhat similar patterns ofyouth migrating to nearest cities for work. Much of the migrants work in granite industry andsome others as construction workers.One of our vegetable hawker is a former construction worker from Bangalore who finds iteasier to survive and support a family by living in Kuppam.BUT, we are far from going to their homes! The association is better only in a sense that theyno more consider us a threat.
From farm to customer- Tracing the chain (1) Vegetable mandi in Kuppam town. The Vegetables are laid out in baskets for produce arrives mainly from small auction. Each basket is auctioned farms in the region. separately.
From farm to customer- Tracing the chain (2) Auction in process. The commission agent The hawkers bid for vegetables in this makes a note of prices and buyer, as the mandi. They buy an avg of Rs 2000 vegetables are bought on loan. worth of vegetables every day.
From farm to customer- Tracing the chain (3) Gangamma sits sorting, cleaning and Packed vegetables ready for the 5.30 packing the vegetables she bought pm train. from auction in the morning.
Yet to be exploredWe have had little luck with getting friendly with the hawkers, but we are sure it is only amatter of time. Consequently, their personal lives is out of bounds at the moment.We need to gain a critical understanding of the legal landscape w.r.t hawking on trains, IndianRailways Act and right to livelihood aspects.Kuppam is a fairly large town (w.r.t the idea of a village) and therefore public offices andother processes are spread out wide. Access is taking time.Local resources, agriculture and demographics are being explored.In the remaining days, we hope to develop resources and economic map of the town.
BUTwe are yet to find our way into their lives…
FIELD NOTES - II Team Gold Miners Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh Oct 6-11, 2012
Gangamma at work & at home Gangamma, her mother, her daughter Gangamma’s sister in law and at work – in Kuppam station her daughters at home
Visit to Gangamma’s houseAfter a few casual interactions at work and on the railway platform the apprehensions aboutour teams ‘intention’ was easily shed off. She has been hawking vegetables for 4 years.Before that she was a casual labourer in Bangalore.We tagged along with Tulasi (Gangamma’s sister-in-law, as they happen to live together) andwalked to her house, which was about 3 km from the railway station. Noticed that Tulasi wasinstructed to pick up a sachet of coffee powder and a pack of milk on the way, so that shecould be a good host to us.Gangamma’s house is located in a panchayat, under Kuppam mandal. Small farms all around.They have a pakka house (two rooms) with a spacious courtyard. Appeared clean and toiletlocated outside the house. A TV in the front room. Gangamma’s brother built it.Tulasi & Gangamma’s children – 2 & 1 respectively, go to the govt. school which is locatedwithin the village.
Gangamma (cont.)One daughter of Tulasi goes to the anganwadi which is located next door to the school. Theeldest daugher- Sarita (16) of Gangamma also works as a hawker.Our relationship with Gangamma improved over the last 4-5 days of our stay. Her daughtertoo would easily smile at us towards the later days.While Gangamma takes the 7.30 pm train, her daughter takes the 5.45 pm trains. They bothgo hawking on different trains. At the end of the day they meet in Krishnarajpuram andreturn to Kuppam together by the 9.30 pm Tirupati passenger.Individually, Sarita and Gangamma manage to earn about Rs 300/day. (as they indicated).That makes about 20-25,000/- that the mother and daughter make in a month!
Visiting the school and the anganwadiWe visited the school where Serving the mid day meal to a child inGangamma’s daughters study. the anganwadi in the nearby building.
School and Anganwadi (which Gangamma’s children attend)School- 2 multigrade classrooms. About 75 children on roll, with about 70 in attendance.Headmaster very willing to show us the attendance register and talk to us. 3 teachers on rollincluding headmaster, with a volunteer teacher (from an NGO). Both the teachers wereabsent on the day we visited. We were told they are tending to some personal work.Headmaster couldn’t place who Gangamma’s kids were, but then recognized by their faces.Said, the kids were regular to school.Anganwadi next door – 1 room. Mid day meal was being served. We tasted the nutritionformula (‘sattu maav’ /a multi cereal mixture) which is made into a porridge and served.Mid day meal for the school was also ready in the kitchen. Looked very delicious- rice andvegetable sambar. The kitchen too appeared clean.
Ramesh at workRamesh packing his vegetables in his Ramesh waiting for his 4.45 train tomarket shop for evening sale in trains Jolarpet.
Ramesh & his shop in the townRamesh, has been hawking on trains for over 20 years. Apart from hawking vegetables on thetrain, also runs a shop in the market. When he is away his father runs it. He procures thevegetables from the mandi in the morning (both for the shop and for hawking on train). Thestock meant for hawking on train is packed in the shop, which he then packs into large gunnybags and brings it to the railway station.As it appears, there is a fair amount of hardwork in terms of number of hours spent at work-from procuring the stock from mandi to returning home after hawking on the train.Ramesh has an easy and a content air. Much of what he expresses about their social, healthand financial situation is with a sense of ‘matter of fact’ and didn’t appear like complaining ordissatisfaction.We met him several times over the course of our stay. It was usually when he turns up 30—40 mins early, before taking the 4.45 pm train towards Chennai.
Mahalakshmi at workSon helping the mother to pack the One of the dangers in this profession-flowers, a morning ritual. the risk of being run over a train.
Mahalakshmi, flower hawkerMahalakshmi has been hawking flowers only, for 20 years. She has a son about 26/27 yearsold. He is an entrepreneur himself. Runs a furniture showroom in town since last year.Mahalakshmi was widowed when her son Arun was 3 months old. Hawking flowers on trainshas been the only source of livelihood. She is one of the 10-12 vegetable hawkers in Kuppamwhom we have come to know of a little more personally (as aquaintance) during our stay.The ‘connect’ was much profuse & deeper with her. We are invited to her son’s wedding, 3months from now.She briefly experimented with dealing in flowers as a trader (than hawking). She would sendflowers to Chennai on the morning express and place it with the local flower traders.Incurred heavy losses as the trader in the city routinely quoted half the price at which heactually sold the flowers.
Mahalakshmi (cont.)She manages to make about Rupees 20-25,000/month as her son indicated. She doesn’tparticularly hawk on holidays when the trains are likely to be overcrowded.Son owns a car and a motorbike. He is a graduate from Kolar (KGF). Worked in Bangalore incall centers, with Agasthya Foundation in Kuppam and then moved on to his own business.Says they are well off and he often asks his Mom to stop going on trains to hawk flowers.They own two houses in the town. One is leased on rent.Mahalakshmi asks, “what should I do sitting at home all day?”. This is something I know andthis also gives me enough money which she regards as a security during her oldage when sheis likely to be dependent on her son. She anticipates that with the coming of a daugher-in-law, situation might change. So it is better to have a house and some money as a fall backmeasure.
Institutions- Tahsildar’s OfficeAndhra Pradesh has a local equivalent called “Mandal” for a “Block” in the administrativehierarchy (District- Block- Village/Panchayat) in India.Kuppam is a Mandal in Chittoor district of AP. It has 64 revenue villages, 31 panchayats and151 habitations.Tahsildar’s office is a nodal center for all the other aspects of block administration-agriculture, education, health, revenue, land records, women and child welfare etc.Over 4 days we visited several of these departments to gain a sense of what is theadministration’s take on the town and also as a place for obtaining vital statistics on variousaspects (like demographics) of Kuppam.We worked our way around the town taking leads from various departments in theTahsildar’s office.
Office of the TahsildarThe Tahsildar office - our point of T. John Sundaram, land revenuecontact for exploring the Mandal’s officer explaining the e-governanceinstitutions initiative- Mee Seva
Kuppam’s Health ScenarioTown – 100 % toilet coverage, Villages 20 % Toilet coverage, 80 % Open defecationMajor health problems- HIV-AIDS, Alcoholism.Visited the State Government Hospital and Community Health and Nutrition Center (CHNC),4 kms from the town center. There are 4 Public Health Centers in Kuppam Mandal. NearGangamma’s home- no PHC, but served by 1 ANM.CHNC talked about regular door-to-door survey for dengue fever & other epidemics. In anarea reporting more than 10 cases, mobile camp is conducted.National Rural Health Mission’s schemes grant Rs. 1000/ child birth in hospital to women,immunization offered twice a week. Schemes like Janani Suraksha Yojana, Janani ShishuSuraksha Karyakram are reportedly working good & efficient. It seems maternity and childcare is adequately provided but preventive and primary health care facilities not widelyvisible.
Kuppam’s EcologySmall farmers with 2-5 acres of cultivable land. Large farmers- stat not checked, but a roughno of 12 ‘large’ farmers in town.Crops grown- Raagi, Groundnut, Sugarcane.Horticulture- Tomato, Beans & other common vegetable varieties; Papaya, Banana, Custard-Apple.Heavy reliance on groundwater for irrigation. Use of drip irrigation picking up.Visited a model farm- a greenhouse used as papaya nursery. There are 29 such greenhousefarms in Kuppam Mandal where vegetables, fruits and flowers are grown. Funding forgreenhouse- shared by state govt and farmer on 50-50 basis. Avg greenhouse size 100 sq. m.
Ecology - KuppamA model farm- greenhouse A papaya farm. Banana & Papaya farms are a common sight around Kuppam
Transect WalksThe challenges of our chosen town made it difficult to conduct some of the initially plannedactivities like PRA , social mapping etc.We had to device a suitable method which could help us with a general understanding of thetown, its resources and patterns of land use, settlements and layout of public facilities.We conducted two transect walks- on two cross-sectional axis chosen in a manner that it cutsacross the town and ensures a fair chance of encountering ecological, cultural, socialdiversity. While doing this, the trail was mapped using a GPS device. The trails indicate theaxis that we took around the town and serve as a verification tool.The maps plot the GPS logs and indicate the orientation of the two transect walks that wedid. Although referred as walks these were bicycle rides as in each instance we covered 18-20 kms distance.
Cards, Identities & Schemes - Ration, Voter Identity & UIDCaste composition of Kuppam Mandal include 50% of backward castes and 12 % Muslims.There is no animosity between castes or religions.The hawkers posses various ‘citizenship’ cards given by the central and state governmentslike the Ration card, Voter identity card and Unique Identification Number Card. The hawkersdon’t possess bank accounts as they say, “they live on hand-to-mouth existence.”Implementation of various schemes happens through sanctioning by the Mandal officer andinspection by the panchayat secretary. An online system called Mee Seva is in place throughwhich citizens apply for the various essential documents.However there is politics in the entire game wherein schemes’ benefits are given on partyaffiliations.
Schemes and their benefits• Free electricity to all farmers• Rs 2 / kg rice• 108- free ambulance service• Aarogya stree –2 lakhs worth free treatment for BPL families• 104 – free ‘mobile’ medical camp in villages.• For women’s development - interest free loans upto 5 lakhs for SHGs• 130 day employement guarantee work under NREGS.• Indira jal prabha – free motor pump, free borewell for c=individual/collective landholdings of atleast 7.5 acres land for SCs, STs• Toilet built worth 10000 rs. 900 rs deposit
Caste, Community and RelationshipsKuppam has SC, ST & OBC caste majority (as reported by officials & common people)On religion based composition- 12% Muslims (from official stats), Christian (unknown),Hindus (predictably majority)Hawkers, we did not explore on caste basis particularly. For lack of more information we donot even know if we could term them as “hawkers community”.The work just appears to be picked up by people based on various considerations, of whichthe major reason appears to be that this is an easy means of livelihood in the towns contextand ease of adoption.However, they do appear close knit and exhibit a high degree of co-operation with otherhawkers as well as with those who hawk vegetables. The tensions in terms of competitionand collusion of strong against the weak was not visible/apparent in our duration of stay.
Surplus production of tomatoes in the region Sorting and packing into large plastic trays and preparing them for loading on to trucks. The An auto driver opines that the producers trucks carry about 7 tons of tomatoes and were aren’t even recovering the transport cost being sent to Pondicherry, Chennai, Coimbatore. from the sale.
Legal Landscape of Hawking and Railway RegulationThis aspect of our experience has remained lesser explored. Reasons are largely about notbeing able to make necessary connection in the Railways, with the people directly concernedwith the law regarding this.However, we had conversations with Kuppam Station Master, the Government Railway PolicePost at Kuppam and with an activist working with street hawkers in Bangalore.In addition to this, the Indian Railways’ Act, 1989 and the National Street Vendors Bill, 2011was explored from a hawkers on trains perspective.Section 144, IR Act, 1989 states that hawking of goods on railway property is prohibitedexcept for licensed vendors.There however appears to be little “contest” for the space, as our hypothesis suggests.
Legal Landscape of Hawking and Railway RegulationThere however appears to be little “contest” for the space, as our hypothesis suggests. Thisneeds some qualifiers.• the entire system is well oiled with bribes and favours.• a hawker on an average spends Rs 1,200 as bribes to a minimum of 4 officials who are directly responsible for policing and booking hawkers for violation of law.• the hawkers on occasions have to present themselves in the railway court when a case has been filed against them, like in case of a stricter divisional squad checking.• Different opinion/views on how much and where are the bribes and the fines are paid. Some hawkers suggest that they pay a fixed monthly fine in the courts (250/-) and some say they forward it to the concerned staff.• On days there is a checking the GRP/Railway staff themselves tip off the hawkers and ask them not to go for work that day.• Railway staff is also seen buying their goods for prices much below what they hawk at.
Meanwhile, an interesting development with the Railwayshttp://www.indianexpress.com/news/onboard-shopping-in-shatabdi-exp-soon/1016595 It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for us. While we explore the reasons that could make the railways stand on hawking (as criminal) justifiable, they come up with this new idea of allowing sale of luxury goods on their top of the line train like this fully air- conditioned and superfast Shatabdi train, which ironically is an intercity train too just like the ones that hawkers ply their trade on!