The 2019 AID calendar features photographs of people carrying headloads, from remote rural areas to sprawling urban streets and the highways in between. On behalf of AID, I thank those who have cared to bring their pen and their lens to the vital role fulfilled by millions every day, and to concerns about their lives and working conditions. A “passing encounter” as Purushottam Thakur describes in Headloads on the Highway (People’s Archive of Rural India), or a video following a day in the life of a dabbawala, (whose union affords them protection and international recognition) provokes profound questions about the cultural and environmental context of their work. As traveller Nina Grand writes in her blogpost, Headload Workers, “change is in the air.”
From the note Headloads: Balance ~ Determination ~ Stamina which appears in the AID calendar:
The method of transporting goods that leaves the least footprint, ecological and literal, is the headload. When not heavy, a headload can be carried with hands-free confidence, even swagger. Fetching water before dawn, gathering fuel and fodder are just a few of the many daily chores that involve carrying bundles or baskets on one’s head. Workers returning from the fields at dusk fill their baskets with tools and tiffin dabbas, and at harvest times, with produce.
Using only themselves to transport their load, men and women travel nimbly on narrow dirt paths, and find their way along bustling city streets, highway edges, or railway platforms. Keeping up the momentum is crucial, especially when balancing heavy loads. If we consider all the goods transported by head load and the number of people dependent on these goods, the economic value of their contribution would be enormous. In his series Visible Work, Invisible Women, journalist P Sainath estimates that women gathering dung save India several billion rupees each year. The dung does not transport itself to the fields to be used for fertilizer or to the stoves to be used for fuel. Women carry it, usually as a head load.
People carrying head loads are everywhere yet few are in a position to demand recognition for their work or care for their health and safety. There are exceptions – notably the unionized headload workers in Kerala, and the celebrated dabbawalas of Mumbai, who use a combination of trains, bicycles and headloads to deliver home-cooked lunch to 200,000 people working in offices throughout the city.
In Andhra Pradesh, AID supports awareness programs for construction workers, including those carrying head loads, to register with the welfare board and secure employment benefits.
In several states AID helps communities apply for work through the government, where they can assert their right to fair wages and safety standards. In Jharkhand and West Bengal, AID has initiated watershed management to reduce drought conditions. This would reduce the distances women travel to get water. Through these and many other programs in health, education, agriculture, environment and livelihoods, AID works for sustainable development and a just society.
With best wishes for the new year, we invite you to join AID in working with communities throughout India to bring peace and joy to every home.