India's dabbawallahs skip work, join anti-graft march

The dabbawallahs, the ubiquitous lunch deliverymen of Mumbai, skip work to support activist Anna Hazare in his fast to force the government to pass a strong anti-corruption bill.
NEW DELHI // Sopam Mare did something yesterday that few dabbawallahs have ever done - he skipped a day of work.

The dabbawallahs, the ubiquitous lunch deliverymen of Mumbai, have gone on strike to support the anti-graft activist, Anna Hazare, in his 15-day fast to force the government to pass a strong anti-corruption bill.

Mr Mare, 57, stepped out of his home as he would every day, in a white cotton, homespun shirt, pants, and the signature topi cap.

But instead of picking up lunch "tiffins", metal meal boxes, from homes and catering companies and dispatching them through an intricate network to the desks of Mumbai's professionals, he joined 5,000 other dabbawallahs in a protest march.

They gathered at the Churchgate station in south Mumbai before marching to Azad Maidan, where they chanted slogans in support of Mr Hazare, waved the Indian flag, and used traditional Indian hand cymbals to add rhythm to patriotic songs.

This is the first time in 120 years that Mumbai's dabbawallahs have stopped work to support a cause. Even during the three-day siege of the city in 2008 and the devastating floods of 2005, the dabbawallahs delivered lunches to an average of 200,000 people a day.

"I am doing this for my son, for my country, for my neighbourhood," Mr Mare said.

"This is so everyone understands how fed up we are of corruption. We are with Anna. We are not going to step back."

Satyanam Ghule, 55, said he wanted to highlight the plight of the poor and their fight against corruption.

Mr Ghule, who has been a dabbawallah for more than two decades, spent 7,000 rupees (DH560) in bribes trying to get a ration card for his family, which would allow them access to subsidized food from the government.

"We do hard work. We get to places on time. We deliver no matter what happens," said Mr Ghule.

"This is an honest man's work, without corruption. If we can keep to such a tight schedule and deliver what we promise, why can't the country's politicians?"

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

Published: August 20, 2011 04:00 AM

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