Kamaldev Yadav lost his job at the India Jute Mill in Hooghly's Serampore when the factory indefinitely suspended operations on 1st January over the capped ceiling price of raw jute.
“The supply of raw jute fell after the (Union) government fixed the ceiling price at Rs 6,500 per quintal on 30th September 2021. The government debarred all mills and traders from purchase or sell of raw jute above the government price. All sale and purchase of raw jute above the government price is held illegal. Raw jute is not available in the market and we can’t purchase it as it is unauthorised,” the authorities of the jute mill said in their notice.
The surprising part here is that on the first day of the year, the mill shut down in 2022. We usually spend the first day of the year with joy and excitement. But they shut down the mill so blatantly on the first day of the year.Manoj Kumar Bihari
This isn't the first time that the mill suspended operations. The mill was shut for nearly three years starting from 2018, and resumed in July, 2021, only to shut down again in a few months.
This is the story of its workers.
Niranjan Aapta, who lost his job at the mill as well tells The Quint, "I had my lunch, I am now wondering if and what to have for dinner. I can sustain till the first week of February, after that I will resort to begging, what else?"
While previously, Aapta and the others would often go to other functioning mills and work as daily wage labourers when their mill was shut.
When the mill previously closed for three years, I worked at another mill near Dankuni. The Rs 8,000 I earned there would allow me to somehow take care of my family. When this mill opened, I came back here but then it shut down again. I lost my job there too. Now I am jobless.Niranjan Aapta
The 45-year-old was turned away from mills because he was "too old to work."
This time around, the story was different. A raging pandemic was the culprit.
There's a night curfew. If I go somewhere for work and miss the last train, there's the fear of cops. If they ask me for a Rs 350 fine, where will I get it from? I can't pay the fine, so I will have to stay in jail. My family will be worried. I can't even go anywhere because of the night curfew. Else I would have tried somewhere.Niranjan Aapta
Most of the workers in Hooghly's jute mills are migrant workers who come from neighbouring states of Bihar and Odisha. Some of them, at least those who could afford to have gone back to their homes, but it isn't easy for everyone, especially those who are settled here with their families.
Kamaldev Yadav, who has two kids back in Bihar had to take their kids out of a private school and enroll them in a government school because he couldn't afford it anymore.
Today when their income has stopped, their debts are increasing - their child's education, food - expenses are still there. Jute mill workers don't really get work anywhere else. Most of the mills are shut. I had accumulated a debt of Rs 40-50,000 to pay for my child's education and other expenses in the past three years. Just when I thought that I will pay off some of my debt, the mill shut again. Now I am living in debt again.Kamaldev Yadav
No jobs, increasing debt, sleepless nights, and a raging pandemic has left most of these workers hopeless. For people like Yadav and Bihari, they don't know what to do.
But for Aapta, it's worse.
Everything is over. I mean it's nearing the end. Let me tell you something personal, it’s not like suicide is an act of bravado. When everything is over, that's where your mind drifts to. I have also tried. But I have three younger brothers and a family, and I don't know what impact it will have on them. So I am worried about that too. I have lost my sleep.Niranjan Aapta
The workers also allege that mill owners now prefer daily wage labour over contractual employees because then they don't have to worry about job-related-benefits and thus it is cheaper for them.
I am usually awake till 2 am. What to do? I keep thinking if I can get some income the next day. In the morning I go, try to find a job, and then come back home dejected. And the cycle of tension and insomnia repeats.Kamaldev Yadav
But as the they showed this reporter around their homes and quarters with smiling faces, the pain and hopelessness behind their eyes were evident. They were holding on, with whatever little hope they could muster.