Picture story: Drinking Chai with Indian construction workers
Indian road and construction workers in Bhutan, there is very little information about this phenomena available on the internet. One of our famous Belgian journalists, Rudi Vranckx, made a documentary called "Bhutan: slaves of the road" about them. Unlike many of his other good works, this title is very sensational while the content was superficial. It is not available anymore online.
Since I am living here and see these workers on a daily basis I wanted to explore this sector myself. I do not speak a single word in Urdu or Sanskrit so my interest in these people remained on a superficial level and through third persons for a long time. Until I moved to Kanglung, Sherubtse College.
I became friends with an Indian Media teacher. This was the perfect opportunity to dig deeper and find out what these workers think themselves. Due to COVID-19 I had to leave abruptly so I only had the possibility to talk with workers of one site. But I am sure that calling them slaves of the road is something they would never do themselves. Although I do recognize that the treatment of road workers and construction workers can differ from contractor to contractor.
Work hard, rest harder
The workers who come to Bhutan are mostly living closeby the border. They stay in Bhutan for three months up till one year. Then they will visit their homes and rest with their loved ones. Why do they choose to work abroad? It is quite simple, they earn more. Many of them also do this work because they are specialized in it, not because they are forced into this kind of work.
The invisible class?
Personally I always felt pity when I saw them working until 7 p.m. and even during the weekends they keep on going. But when I asked them they were not bothered. "We are here to work, not to enjoy or travel. The more we work now, the better we can rest later". Apart from that I felt even more sad when I saw their huts and settlements next to the roads.
They live in sheds that they make themselves in one day. They sleep with around four people on a platform in a room that serves as bedroom, kitchen and sitting room. Shocking living standards for someone from the west. But what I learned is to put off my western glasses. These people are used to live with many people in the same room and have little to almost no privacy. If they are not bothered, why would we?
Inspiration I found drinking chai with construction workers inspiring. They talk so easily about their life.
"We don't feel that lonely since we come in groups and feel lucky in Bhutan because all the locals speak Hindi fluently.", Said one of the workers. They do not complain about the cold weather, hard work or lack of social contact. They just arrive, do their thing silently and return home the same way.
Shukriyaa for allowing me in your temporary homes and expanding my horizon