After several road-trips around Ladakh, I think I’ve discovered the most miserable job. Road building is the worst possible way to make a living. Much, if not most, of the roads in Ladakh are unpaved. Thus, we frequently drive by road-building camps and crews. The crews are usually all men, although we’ve seen some women too. From what I’ve witnessed, there are many different jobs. One of the very basic ones is breaking rocks. Men with sledgehammers just trying to crack large rocks and boulders. Bring the hammer up and then drop it straight down. They slowly and rhythmically do this over and over until the rock cracks. Then others with smaller hammers come and break the pieces down even more. Breaking rocks all day- talk about an unfulfilling job. Then there are the diggers and shovelers. Forget about the CAT, it’s all done by hand. One person drives the spade into the ground and then another person pulls on a short rope tied to the base of the shaft. Drive, pull, drive, pull. I guess it’s easier and more efficient that way than digging and shoveling by yourself. And then there’s the worst job, that of the tar-workers. These guys just mix small rocks into burning barrels and troughs of tar all day. The mixture is then applied to roadway, which is eventually run over by a giant tractor-roller. Sometimes women constantly wipe the giant rollers, while some just have some rags hanging to mop up the residue. Even with the windows closed, the fumes almost choke us whenever we drive by. And with the exception of a few that I’ve seen wear handkerchiefs, the road workers are just breathing the toxic fumes day in and day out. As if the dry air and high-altitude desert sun aren’t enough. If you’re working near a camp, that’s one thing. But sometimes we see three or four-man crews working out in the middle of nowhere, who try to stop us for water. Imagine doing manual labor in the desert and not having enough water. Miserable. Oh yeah, the minimum wage was recently raised to approximately 2 USD per day.
Joylani: Ok, so I know that there obviously aren’t the same standards for worker’s rights and workplace conditions in India as are in the US, but for a government sponsored organization, come on. It was upsetting to see the conditions the people were working under. How hard would it be for BRO to provide their workers with clean and adequate amounts of drinking water, and for goodness sakes, give them some masks to filter out some of the sludge they have to breathe in day in and day out.