Proletarian Photo Story on Kapas Hera: A Working Class Dormitory Shanty-Town in Gurgaon
*** अब कोई आशा है तो वह सर्वहारा वर्ग से ही है ***

On the Dark Side of ‘Fun and Food’-Village

Kapas Hera is one of the biggest new ‘working class dwelling clusters’ in the Delhi industrial belt. Within the last ten years rent-based mass-accomodations for around 200,000 to 300,000 workers and families emerged out of dusty scrub-land around a minor peasant village. Kapas Hera is where over 100,000 garment export workers eat and sleep or conspire after 12 to 16-hours shifts in neighbouring Udyog Vihar Phase I to IV – one of Delhi’s biggest ‘planned’ industrial areas (see Gurgaon factory reports in back-issues of GurgaonWorkersNews). If nearby Udyog Vihar and Maruti Suzuki factory are the locations of productive power, Kapas Hera is the reproductive mass incubator of proletarian tension, desire and collective survival. It can turn into a working class think/act-tank for unrest and social transformation. In this spirit we put together some stories and photos. We urge you to have a look at the previous proletarian walk through Chakkarpur, another ‘working class village’ in Gurgaon. For Chakkarpur walk please click HERE.

The internal differences between Kapas Hera and Chakkarpur are significant and characteristic for the change of proletarian living arrangements in Gurgaon area. A short side-note about the photographs: Given the allergic-spiritual repugnance towards taking pictures of the living, the photographs from Kapas Hera do not capture the objective conditions and the actual proletarian wealth of the area: bustling crowds of people till late night, ever-changing groups of five, six young guys standing at street corners talking, hundreds of neighbourhood women-groups sitting in the shade conversing, mass-beds on each breezy concrete flat roof of nocturnal chats. In the following text the numbers in brackets refer to the numbers of these anaemic photos on the website. Click HERE to get to the website and then click the small photo in the right-hand side browser window in order to proceed in an orderly fashion.

Political Geographies

Kapas Hera is situated between Old Town Gurgaon and the Delhi International Airport. The area is also known as Kapas Hera Border (1 and 2), because the Delhi-Haryana state border runs through the former village. Kapas Hera lies across the main road from Gurgaon’s biggest industrial area: Udyog Vihar Phase I to IV (3). The majority of the 200,000 to 300,000 workers who live in Kapas Hera work in the industrial area which they can reach after a 10 to 20 min food-walk en masse, crossing the border into Haryana (4). If you want to have a moving imagine of the borderlines, check THIS middle-class misanthropist youtube-video.

Kapas Hera itself is divided into a ‘local part’, where mostly local ex-peasant families live in bigger ‘Yadav Nivas’ family-houses (5), and a ‘proletarian part’, where industrial workers dwell (6). The ‘proletarian part’ is divided by the main-road – Old Delhi-Gurgaon Road. Since the price hike for travelling to Gurgaon from 5 Rs to 10 Rs in April 2010 you hear many workers say “Gurgaon is far away”, while it is actually in 5 km distance. In the north-west Kapas Hera is bordering actual fields with active agricultural production (7, 8 and 9) and the upper-class party venue ‘Oberoi Farm’ – can you see the lawn and palm trees behind the slum? (10). The bigger north-western part is further divided by a canal, which functions as the main waste dump (11, 12 and 13). According to information of a local the Delhi-side of the canal was official designated as ‘residential area’ meaning that there was some kind of permission to build houses, while the Haryana side is officially agricultural land, meaning that all houses built on it are ‘unauthorised’.

Historical Material

The history of original Kapas Hera was erased during the slum demolition drive of the State of Emergency in the mid-1970s. Interestingly enough Kapas Hera appeared in the memories of a rather dubious figure, in the ‘Notes from death cell’ of Z.A. Bhutto! We quote:
“Ram Kirshan and Pyare Lal, for example, were simple villagers whose misfortunes befell them solely through a geographical accident: there villages, Sambhalka and Kapashera, happened to be close by Sanjay’s [Gandhi] car factory at Gorgon [sic!]. They were demolished, as witnesses have told the Shah Commission, without the villagers being given any notice of the bulldozers’ approach. The bulldozers left Ram Kirshan and Pyare Lal destitute. “Only the sky above me and the earth below me is what I am left with.”
A decade later this very ‘earth below’ would turn into gold.

The history of the proletarian part of Kapas Hera is young, around ten to twelve years. Some of the ‘proletarian area’ of Kapas Hera might have been ‘common land’ before, given the claim of one older resident who said that the ‘locals’ divided the land up amongst themselves in order to build rent-houses on it. There will have been considerable wheelings-and-dealings with the local political class during this time of land conversion. A 25 years old ‘local’ says during a tea stall conversation that his uncle owns half the land of ‘Fund and Food Village’, an upper middle-class amusement-park across the road from Kapas Hera (14). With the money the uncle bought his nephew a four star hotel in DLF Phase-II, which accommodates mainly foreign management of Ericsson and other multis. He himself recently bought eight hectare land in Pataudi area. “For farming, for keeping the tradition”, he says. Soil squeezed and convoluted and re-located through the ground-rent strainer. In 2001 Kapas Hera was captured by the general census, meaning all people who were registered there. Officially around 20,000 people used to live in the village back then – officially their number will not be much higher today, while actually a medium-sized town has emerged in the bordering invisibility.

A worker describes the arrival in Kapas Hera in the late 1990s: “I arrived from Bihar, I first stayed in Tekhand near Okhla. A bad slum, latrine across the road, no air. I fell sick. I got a job at Gopal Clothing in Gurgaon and moved to Kapas Hera. It was one of the first small lines of rooms, the rest of Kapas Hera was scrub-land. There was space, some trees. We even got some herbs from the peasants still working in the nearby fields. On the other hand there was more misbehaviour from the locals, they gave us bad names and sometimes people got beaten up. Then things got crowded as more and more people arrived from far away, now the situation is not much different from the one in Tekhand”.

Architecture of Class Composition

The main characteristic which sets Kapas Hera aside from the various other villages in Gurgaon is the spacial division between locals (landlords) and industrial workers (tenants). In most cases – like the one of Chakkarpur – the old villages and their roundish lay-outs are filled with migrant workers by settling them in the back-yards of ex-peasant homes or integrating tenant-rooms into the old hamlet-type structure. Kapas Hera is also different from many older Delhi or Faridabad working class slums, in the sense that the houses are not ‘self-built’ by workers, they are not owned by workers, they have been set-up as rent-yielding mass accomodations in the first place. Compared to Chakkarpur the average rent income per landlord is much higher. While it might be around twenty to thirty in Chakkarpur, it is 50 to 80 in Kapas Hera. The actual lay-out of Kapas Hera is pre-planned in the sense of a straight and rectangular network of alleys, each with a number for an address (14.1). This compares to the crooked-winding alleys of most other peasant/workers villages, like for example Khandsa (14.2). With the spacial division comes less ‘social control’ of the direct landlords over their tenants. In Chakkarpur the patriarchal control of the land-lord over the water consumption of the (female-proletarian) tenants was a daily nuisance and point of conflict. While migrant workers from West-Bengal complained about the arrogant behaviour of the ‘locals’, the ‘locals’ are more or less absent from daily reality in Kapas Hera. The ‘non-locals’ are predominantly textile workers from UP, Bihar and Nepal. A significant share – somewhere around 30 per cent – are muslims, but there is no ‘separate living’. The average age in Kapas Hera is around 25 to 30 years and 70 per cent of people living here are male. We will return to the question of composition later.

In terms of proletarian housing we find three main types of accommodation: the slum (15 and 16), the workers’ line (17) and the multi-storey workers’ block (18). While only a small fraction live in slums, an equal number of workers live in lines and blocks. There is a social-economical hierarchy to these different forms of housing.
The slum consisting of non-brick huts is confined to a fringe part of Kapas Hera (19). There used to be a commercial flower-field, but as it seems there is more money to be made from slum-rent then from rose-smell. Mainly street and sewage cleaners, refuse workers and re-cycling workers live in the slums – in India these professions are still largely attached to the Dalits, the ‘untouchables’. The slum has a landlord, people pay 500 Rs per month for a hut or 33,000 Rs for a larger plot which also contains the re-cycling storage space. According to recycling workers the rent went up by ten percent in 2009. Water is provided by tanker, meaning that women have to queue up and get water for the day in buckets (20). Only some huts have electricity.

The workers’ lines are small brick-built lines of 6 sqm rooms (21 and 22). All kind of workers live in these lines, some lines are mainly used by rickshaw-drivers (23). The rent is about 750 Rs per month and room. These rooms heat up enormously and given the lack of windows there is hardly any circulation. Water is normally taken from a hand-pump, meaning that normally there is access to water 24 hours a day – with groundwater levels falling rapidly (24).
The workers’ blocks are four to five floor buildings with about 15 to 20 rooms per floor (25 and 26). Their brittle-boned brick-skeleton smells of possible deathtrap in an earthquake prone area like Delhi. The rooms are slightly bigger than those in the lines. Room-rent is around 1,000 to 1,200 Rs per month plus electricity, which is counted by individual meter. Typically there are no windows, therefore the floors are connected by metal-bars in the actual floor (27). This means that the noise level is significant. If there are power-cuts, the rooms are in darkness and there is little outside space to go to. One floor of 80 people share two or three latrines and one tap and washing area with a drain. There is water four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening. There are hardly any other buildings or built structures in Kapas Hera – we will return to the social dimension of this question later. In terms of the general lay-out we have to mention the quite significant amount of standing-brackish water (28 and 29) and open sewage (30), a preferred breeding space for Dengue-mosquitos and other dubious species.

Internal Economy

The main share of the internal economy of Kapas Hera is oriented towards proletarian reproduction/consumption. Most significant in terms of numbers of people involved is the small shop-economy (31 and 32). These shops sell items for the daily needs (milk, cigarrettes, buiscuits, phone-calls). Rents for these single-room counter-shops vary between 2,000 and 5,000 Rs, in many cases the ‘shop-owner’ sleeps inside the shop. There are half a dozen bigger shops which sell rice, pulses etc. in larger scales, these shops are typically run by locals. In addition to these shops there is one main vegetable and garment market – Veer Bazar, which is focused to the proletarian needs, which also means that it is open till late at night (33 and 34). There are several chicken farms in Kapas Hera, which breed for the local demand. There is no health centre or hospital in Kapas Hera, but many pharmacies for proletarian self-medication and smaller ‘clinics’ which provide at least some second-hand advice. There are a few more personal services, such as hair-cutting or tea stalls, but compared to the wider Delhi standard they are of rather minoritarian dimensions. If we think of possible targets for self-appropriation we have to think hard. You don’t want to loot small shops and there are only one or two richer ‘farmers houses’ where you might find a flat-screen. There are one or two storage spaces for the bigger shops where you might find a ton of red lentils. The only display of actual wealth is a Maruti Suzuki factory car park where around 60 brand-new cars wait for transportation.

The main chunk of privately organised ‘public service’ is street-cleansing (35 and 36), refuse collection, recycling (37 and 38) and house internal sweeping. It is difficult to assess the total work-force of this sector, but we can assume one to two hundred workers. The cleaning and refuse sector is centrally organised by contractors, very likely of the upper-hierarchy of the respective caste. These contractors make deals, e.g. with the land-lords of the workers’ blocks. Every day a cleaning worker unblocks the internal sewer-system and sweeps the floors. Because there is only one central drain per floor, all food left-overs etc. get accumulated in the drain. The contractors charge the landlords for this service. In April 2010 the workers’ blocks room rents in the whole of Kapas Hera were increased by 20 Rs per month after the cleaning contractor increased the charges. While it is easier to understand this ‘individual deal’ with single landlords, the question of how sewage and street cleaning is organised and paid for is more difficult – given the absence of a local administration. Canalisation works in one street is adorned with a sign saying: ‘This project is funded by Yadav Transportation Trust’, which hints at a semi-private initiative of local businessmen.

There are several hundreds building workers living in Kapas Hera, which are fetched by special buses in the morning and transported to Delhi Metro or Common Wealth Games building site (39 and 40). Apart from maintenance work-shops for bicycles, coolers, rickshaws and scrapmetal-dealers (41) there are some productive extensions of the wider industrial areas reaching into the streets of Kapas Hera. Small textile work-shops, half a dozen cellar-factories employing around 50 tailors (42 and 43) and a network of home-based female piece-work, mainly embroidery work. Besides there are a number of small ‘training centres’ where older tailors teach young newcomers the basics of sewing (44). These courses run about two weeks and cost around 300 Rs. The lower-skilled workers can be employed by ‘chain-system’, a rigid division of labour which undermines the position of skilled ‘full-piece’-tailors. After all Kapas Hera is a dormitory attached to the neighbouring industrial centre. People get up together, pushing into the small alleys (45 and 46), gather at the crossroads (47), form a river of over a hundred thousand bodies streaming to work. The evening rush back runs in tides, a first wave of workers rolls back at around 6 pm, the major bulk floods in at 9 pm, many return later. This rhythm is the collective beat dominating the days and nights of this medium-sized township.

Social Control vs. Working Class Culture

Kapas Hera is an expression of ruling arrogance, in the sense that urban-industrial developers fabricate intricate master-plans of industrial zones without any further mention of workers accommodation. This issue is left either to workers’ ability of ‘self-valorisation’, meaning the ability to build a slum; or the neo-rich business drive of ex-peasants to convert their former villages – in order to rent it out. While in China companies provide dormitories on the factory premises, workers in (Northern) India are left alone. This is as much misery as chance for counter-collectivities outside the direct control of the factory-management regime.

For an urban unit of 300,000 inhabitants there is a blatant lack of ‘public institutions’. Schools and hospitals are outside, there is not one single park, the police station is 1 km towards the airport, there is no ration shop (state run shop for certified poor), the panchayat (village council) runs businesses in the ‘local’ part, but has hardly any influence on daily life in the pauperized-populous part. There is a small temple, which not many people seem to visit. There is no mosque, which might partly be due to the dominating Hindu ‘locals’. There are some money collections by Islamic organisations, but they seem insignificant. As we already mentioned, hardly any worker in Kapas Hera will have de-registered from their village in Bihar or UP – a ghost-town of unofficials, a double-image of hundreds of deserted Bihari villages. The main ‘social book-keepers’ are the small shop-owners selling mobile phone SIM cards, they might ask for an ID. It speaks for itself that the only proper entry-point for semi-state civil society are the poor slum children. A NGO organises meetings to tell mothers how to bring up healthy children in a slum surrounding. The state is present in its absence. Of course there will be informers in Kapas Hera, of course the state indirectly controls the living area by intervening during the industrial-factory side of the day, e.g. through labour officials or inspectors. Nevertheless, compared to many other social locations Kapas Hera in its essence is: a palpable non-existence of ‘the public’ – in the most dense non-private life of a mass concentration of proles. What do workers do in such an open-alien area, where many of them are free strangers amongst free strangers (48)? Do they fill the vacuum the state control/organisation has consciously left? Is there a proletarian culture of the newly arrived?

Hard to tell. How much Saturday Night Fever can you catch if Sunday is yet another working-day? How much time left for street life and sub-culture after a 16-hours shift? Counter-culture is more likely to develop on the shop-floor or may be the floor of your dwelling (49 and 50). There is a culture of a ‘group of five’, a group of five men or women meeting either randomly on the street, at a chai stall or around the home. There is corner-hanging-out of young men, particularly in front of the STD phone centres. Ten guys phoning presumably the village back home while ten other guys wait and chat – an ad-hoc village in the diaspora. There is a street-filling mass whistle and screams of joy after the end of a summer’s day power-cut. There is Sunday hidden beer-drinking, some shops sell booze under the counter. There are kids taking over a patch of waste land for cricket (51). There is an atmosphere oscillating between feelings of anonymity (52 and 53) and feelings against segregation or false community building – which is reflected by the neighbourly life in the workers’ homes.

On a Workers’ Block Floor

The house has four floors, the landlord lives near Manesar and turns up once a month. There is a shop in the basement, the shop-keeper is the land-lord’s proxy (54). He takes the rent. People can buy stuff on commission in the shop. Landlord or proxy hardly ever turn up on the floors themselves. There are 20 rooms a floor, around four to five people to a room. On our floor about half of the rooms are inhabited by families, the other half by groups of single men. The majority are garment factory workers – people on the floor work in around ten different factories, each factory has around 500 to 1,500 workers. A third of the floor inhabitants are Muslims, the rest Hindu – which does not express itself in practical-daily sense. People come from Bihar or UP, many come from Benares. Most of the people have stayed in Gurgaon for six to eight years or even longer, which is a considerable period. They belonged to the early arrivals, they made it from industrial helpers to full-piece tailors, some with supervising roles. Some of them were able to increase their absolute wages by six to seven times over a decade, which is an increase of more than 100 per cent in relative wage terms. On the other hand: if they had arrived in Faridabad in the 1970s they would probably have had a better paid permanent job by now, pension funds and ESI card, probably an ‘owned house’ in the jhuggis. Possessions are modest. The people of about four rooms have a proper cooler, rather than a ceiling fan. There are three second-hand televisions on the floor. Two workers have a bicycle.

‘Living together’ means that groups of five to ten have a morning chat in the washing area (55). People share some basic items, such as brooms, and some basic topics, such as how bad the job is. Some older workers help younger guys finding jobs or give advice. People help eachother assembling or repairing ceiling fans. People are aware of the crowdedness and give each other some space, which has a tendency towards indifference. There are occasional arguements, in most cases about water distribution. During the heat people sleep outside their rooms (56).

Non of the eight or nine women on the floor work outside the house. Women sit together in a group of five, partly taking care of the 15 smaller children (57) playing on the floor between the rooms, partly doing embroidery piece-work for a nearby factory (58). The stuff is delivered and fetched by an acquaintance. When back from their factory job two ‘husbands’ organise the accounting work, the list of the women of how much they have produced, the collection of stuff, the distribution of wages. One ‘supervising husband’ complains about the company pressure, the delays and irregularities in payments. The women earn 3 Rs per piece, about 60 Rs a day.

There is a common understanding of the situation: The urban is miserable, but bears more chances than the village. The village has fresh air and an empty-idle stomach. You have to work hard, but you might be able to get two months off in the village. There is hope that after some years the savings might be sufficient to start a ‘non-worker’ existence back home. Or at least to educate the children. There is individual experience of having worked in about half a dozen different factories. These experiences over-lap and circulate. Everyone knows some facts about or some people working in any Gurgaon factory randomly mentioned. It is clear that the system is evil and exploitative and that ‘solidarity’ and ‘collective action’ is the only weapon. Everyone moans about everyones indifference (59). We are everyone, meet some of us.

Vinod is in his end-30s, he is from Bihar. He is from a ‘poor peasant family’. His brother got engaged in the CPI peasant and rural labourers union. This is how Vinod got in touch with a left-wing organisation based in Delhi. Every now and again younger communist militants meet in Vinod’s room. Vinod stays with his family, his wife and three children in the 8 sqm room. He came to Delhi about twelve years ago, he worked as a helper in the textile industry. Now he is a quality checker in a garments export factory, he earns about 7,000 Rs per month. He works seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Every second week he takes a day off. He sometimes tells the story how he and a muscle-man hired by him and other workers had a fight with a small contractor after not being paid their wages. In the end they went to the room of the contractor and took away his sturdy wood-frame bed for compensation.

Ibrahim is in his early 40s, from Bihar. He worked in Kolkata for a while, manufacturing leather gloves. He knows the names of Bremerhaven and Hamburg, because the gloves were exported to Germany. He then started to work as a welder, he worked in the mining areas and on power plant construction sites in various Indian states. Twelve years ago he came to Gurgaon. He works in a small work-shop in Kapas Hera since six years. The work-shop owner is from West-Bengal, he used to employ ten workers, but four left because he pays less than the minimum wage. They manufacture container trolleys and other equipment, mainly for the Delhi airport. Ibrahim earns 4,000 Rs, as a skilled metal worker. When the night-guard went home for two moths, Eramul stayed in the work-shop over night and got some extra money for that. In his free time he goes to Delhi, partly to visit the mosque, and he copies Urdu spiritual texts into a notebook. He wants to open a shop for ‘home appliance maintenance’ in his village, repairing fans or televisions. He wants to go back in two, three years time.

Rajeev is 25 years old, from Benares. He left his home in UP after some trouble at school. He came to Delhi around five years ago. He first worked as helper doing white-washing, then got a job as a helper in a textile factory, cutting threads. At that time he earned hardly 1,000 Rs a month. He learned more skills on the job, now he is a skilled tailor, working on piece-rate. He claims to be able to earn up to 500 Rs a day, depending on the piece. Work takes his toll. He works in Manesar, which is more than 30 km from Kapas Hera. He has to leave Kapas Hera before 8 am and often returns after mid-night. Transport costs for travelling to Manesar have nearly doubled over the last year, to about 40 to 50 Rs per day. He has been ill for a while, low fever, stomach problems. He spends 300 Rs per month on medication. In March he went back to his ‘village home’ for a month.

Naresh is in his mid-20s, he has recently paid 35,000 Rs for a two months course in basic programming. He now earns 7,000 Rs as a ‘software assistant’. He now has to deal more with ‘staff’, with middle-management. He says there are two types of staff, those who have been workers before, and those who have not. He could afford better accomodation than sharing a room in a rented block, but he likes the company of his room-mates – who are ‘still workers’

Rakesh is unemployed since 15 days. He started working at Gopal Clothing in 1998, one of the first factories which opened in Udyog Vihar Phase I. He started working as a helper, he now is a skilled worker in the cutting department, he sometimes works in supervising position. After working eight years at Richa Global he managed to get 90,000 Rs PF money. He has ‘very little land’ in Bihar, he does not plan on going back too soon.

Ajay is 20, he goes to a polytechnic college in Manesar. He stays with an uncle, who also pays the 1,000 Rs monthly school fees. The uncle is a skilled tailor in supervising position. Ajay wants to join the police-force after finishing the polytechnic.

Inamul is in his early 20s, he comes from a village in Bihar, close to Nepal border. His father worked as a lumber-jack in the forests, Inamul helped him when he was a kid. He then moved to Katmandu in order to start working in textile factories. He shows two union member-ship cards from Katmandu. He says that unlike in Gurgaon there is a unity in Nepal. If workers are mistreated the union will sort the management out. Katmandu textile industry went down the drain during the civil unrest, so he came to Kapashera. He works for Richa Global as a skilled tailor. Each Saturday they have to work full-nights, from 9am on Saturday till 7 am on Sunday. He often has family duties on Sunday, so he skips a night of sleep. During the hot summer period he will go home to the village for two months.

Thousands of us form a daily mass demonstration of sleepy bodies, of multiplied insomnia, of dreams against the day, marching towards the machines (60). Having left the rural, being reluctant to arrive. At some point in time Kapas Hera – its thousands of backyards and rooms and roofs – might become a social borderline in struggle; a borderline between the certainties of a forlorn present and the collective desire to go beyond rural return or urban arrival, beyond push and pull (61).

8 Responses to “GurgaonWorkersNews no.9/27”

  1. B.R.BAPUJI @ Gandhi Says:

    It is coincidental that we [a group of friends who are interested in the work of Marx and Engels] have given the negative films of the Telugu translation of Engels’ ‘THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND’, which he wrote in 1844, for printing. It will come out in a week or ten days. Your description reminded us of Engels’ description of slums in London, Glasgow, Manchester etc. in that book. The time has passed but the conditions have not changed. We can see England of 1844 in India of 2010.

  2. Very distrurbing though, one could also see the potential for collective social and political assertion, cutting across caste,language,religion, regional biases and gender.
    Imagine the day they all unite and rise up telling the owners that enough is enough!


    Fine but please find the alternative. The forces which usurped power and implemented the socialist discourses in the last century could not show us the appropriate alternative. Go for useful and appropriate alternative. The situation is well analyzed, but the need is to change it effectively.

  4. i want to join the company where work do welding i want to join as a helper in your company to and hard working in the company because i increase my work skill.

  5. 7 blade ceiling fans have much better performance compared to those three bladed fans *,”

  6. Msgtyexx Says:

    new york giants flag,

  7. job Says:

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    i an a also a BBA holder & BA.passed in 2009 in Lucknow
    Univercity & at this time i am doing work in Modelama
    105-106 washing dipartment since six month as a Chemicl
    store please tell me a good office job.
    ADCA in Coputer.9650606564

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