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How Gujarat’s Unemployment Sent a Man from B Com to Farming

Unemployment is one of the biggest election issues in Gujarat. 

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Politics
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“Hello... hello, who are you?” 57-year-old Manibhai Parmar asks in English, as he walks up to investigate who we are. Him and his wife, Savitabhen, have about two hours until 6 pm to finish sowing the tobacco field. Their daily income – Rs 100 – depends on it.

“I’m a BCom fail, in one subject – statistics,” says Manibhai, switching to Hindi now. So, why did he not rewrite the exam?

“My father fell ill and I had to look for a job. I passed the LIC exam, but did not have money to pay a bribe to get the  job. With a lot of difficulty, I found a job as a clerk for a lawyer. But, he was an old man and died later. After that, I got married and had children. I just had to get some work. My father was a farm labourer on this land, and so I started doing the same.”

Manibhai has been working on the same farm in Dharmaj for the last four decades. His worst fear is that his children, two daughters and a son, will end up like him – an educated daily wage labourer on a tobacco farm.

His daughters – both BA degree holders – have so far been unable to find a job in Petlad. They’ve uploaded their bio-datas on the state’s employment register, but have so far received no response. “The only saving grace is that they’re girls and I can get them married in case they don’t get jobs. But, I’m worried about my son, who’s just finished class 12. I think the sooner he gets a job, the better,” says Manibhai.

Unemployment is one of the biggest election issues in Gujarat. 
Manibhai and his wife managed to sow the entire field before 6 pm. 
(Photo: The Quint)

Unemployment – One of the Biggest Election Issues in Gujarat

Unemployment, both in rural and urban Gujarat, has emerged as the biggest issue for the two-phase Assembly election to be held on 9 and 14 December. An opinion poll conducted by India Today-Axis My India reveals that while 31 percent of the people in Gujarat felt that inflation was their biggest concern, about 24 percent felt that employment is the biggest election issue this year.

Anticipating the inevitable backlash on unemployment, the BJP government went into overdrive mid-October, announcing a slew of initiatives to jump start the local economy.

1. To counter the demonetisation and GST slowdown in Gujarat’s otherwise thriving garment and apparel markets, the BJP government unveiled a new policy to target investments worth Rs 20,000 crore and create 1 lakh new jobs.

2. As many as 16 Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) estates were announced to attract 15,000 micro, small, and medium enterprises, with an aim to create 1 lakh jobs. About 50 percent of these industrial hubs will come up in the Saurashtra region alone.

3. Considering women have taken the hit as far as rural unemployment is concerned, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also announced a policy wherein the government would pay Rs 4,000 to every woman employed with a garment manufacturing unit for a period of five years. For men, this amount would be Rs 3,200.

4. The minimum wage was also set at Rs 9,000 – way more than what Manibhai and his wife make growing tobacco on the farm of their boss, Dinubhai.

Unemployment is one of the biggest election issues in Gujarat. 
Savitabhen’s demand for higher wages was casually brushed aside by the owner of the farm on which she works as a labourer. 
(Photo: The Quint)
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Vikas Is Great, but the Age-Old Caste Equation Remains the Same

Reluctant to speak to us at first, Savitabhen finally spoke when we told her that the minimum wage for the farm work she does should be around Rs 250 a day.

“We will vote for the party that will increase our minimum wages and fight for our rights. We have seen governments come and go, but we are still standing here.”

Almost immediately, she’s ticked off her boss, Dinubhai Patel. “We give them food and are there for them in times of need,” says the 80-year-old Patidhar who owns four bighas farm land and a paan shop in Darmaj village.

With the towering Patel standing guard before us, Savitabhen sings a more mellow tune.

Unemployment is one of the biggest election issues in Gujarat. 
Dinubhai Patel owns four bhigas farm land and a paan shop in Dharmaj village. 
(Photo: The Quint)
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Will Jignesh Mewani, Hardik Patel Impact the Vote?

In Dharmaj village, unlikely.

“There is no bhed-bhaav in our village. We are all treated with respect,” says Manibhai when asked what he feels about the Dalits who were rounded up in Una and thrashed. “There was more to the story than meets the eye,” he says, refusing to elaborate further.

As for the Patidar leader Hardik Patel factor, Dinubhai says, “He’s fighting only for the Kadva Patels. We Leuvas stand to gain nothing from him. Modi has done wonders for Gujarat and we will continue voting for him.”

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

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(Voices of Gujarat: Tired of listening to netas make promises? As Gujarat goes to polls, The Quint wants to listen the real voices of Gujaratthe voters. Tell us what issues matter to you this election season. Send in your videos to elections@thequint.com or WhatsApp @ +919999008335)

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