Mumbai Sanitation Workers in the Clutches of Moneylenders

Sanitation workers in Mumbai are trapped in the clutches of moneylenders. Sanitation workers in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation are dalits from Gujarat, mahadalits (who are referred to in their caste certificates as ‘bhangi’ or ‘rikhi’), neo-Buddhists and dalits from Haryana. Of these, the mahadalits constitute the largest number of victims. They borrow from local moneylenders at interest rates of 5% to 30% per month. Dalits constitute a small part of these moneylenders, while others are Pathans. The moneylenders who come from South India and are known as ‘Makadwala’ (a person who performs shows with monkeys) are known to be very aggressive. If their interest is not paid up they often go to the debtor’s home and beat them up. They are bothered not so much about the capital amount as about the interest amounts. Ten years ago when the Municipal Corporation used to pay salaries in cash, these moneylenders would stand at the payment point and snatch away the money from the sanitation workers. Now salaries are paid through the bank. These moneylenders now take the sanitation worker’s pass-book into their possession at the time of giving a loan and ask the bank staff not to issue a new pass-book as the old one is in their keeping.

At the time of salary payment (especially on the 10th of each month) the moneylender stands with all the pass-books to collect his interest amounts. The sanitation workers take their pass-books, withdraw all the money and hand it over to the moneylender who then keeps his amount and returns the rest to the worker. Sometimes it happens that the entire salary amount is taken by the moneylender as his interest amount. When the amount is more than what the worker has, the moneylender makes him take a loan to repay the interest amount.