Cleaning Eggs to picking Tea
30 year old Urmila Danuwar and her husband worked in a poultry farm / hatchery in Rajasthan. They returned a few years ago; her husband has since gone to Malayasia to work, while she lives and works in their hometown at Danabari Tea Estate, Ilam.
Getting the hang of things
A new language, a new place, working with new people – anxious at first, Danuwar says she soon got a hang of it, and the work was good.
When I first went to India I was scared. It was a new place, so it was natural for me to be anxious. I had to speak in Hindi, and had to learn how to do other new things. I used to watch Hindi films, so I could understand people speaking in Hindi but I couldn’t speak the language. But soon I got the hang of it. The rest was good—the employer was kind to us. Well, the work was good. The employer was good as well. The company provided us with rent money. No, actually it provided rooms for us to live. He used to give us a tray of eggs every Sunday, which we would eat in our rooms. And also, we could keep our children with us while working. I found the work easy, but I’m not sure what it was like for others.
I had gone when my daughter was one and a half years old, now she is eleven. She studied in a boarding school in India. She studied nursery and lower kindergarten in India and then she enrolled in a Nepali school. The school was good, they didn’t hit the children. They used to teach properly.
“Both, my husband and I were paid. Even if one of us spent all of his/her income, the other would save all of his/her income. And we did not have to pay any rent or for electricity.”
Both, my husband and I were paid. Even if one of us spent all of his/her income, the other would save all of his/her income. And we did not have to pay any rent or for electricity. And we could eat as much egg or meat as we wanted. So, it helped us save most of our income. We could even plant vegetables for ourselves. There were a lot of facilities there. If one of the male members of the family were at home I think I would go to India again. A lot of people are still going. A couple, we know, are still there. All of us who went from here worked in that farm. We worked in the farm and we lived there as well: my family, and my husband’s brothers and their wives, too.
There were many Nepalis, even from this village. There were some from Western Nepal as well. There was a man who was working in the farm where by brother-in-law was working. He died there. He was our father’s age. The rituals were performed there. It was big deal that a Nepali had died there. They performed all thirteen-day’s ritual. The company even provided them with advance. It was good there. We all lived peacefully.
Living on the farm
Danuwar liked living on the farm: there were other boys she cooked for, they could watch television, plant their own vegetables, and also celebrate festivals together.
“All the people I used to cook for were Nepalis. We had also bought a dish (satellite tv), so we could watch any channel we wanted.”
Living there, it wasn’t just two of us—husband and wife—in the room. We had to cook for up to eighteen boys. But that way we didn’t have to spend for our own dinner. The others would bear the cost. I and my daughter didn’t have to pay. In the evening the boys would go to the shops in the village and buy the things they want to eat. So we didn’t have to pay for our food, and that way we saved all of our earnings. But my husband had to pay for his food. If I started cooking at five in the morning I would finish at eight after preparing rice and vegetables. Then after working till twelve, we would come back to our room, and I would serve everyone the food. Then I used to sleep for half an hour, and then I would do some chores and cleaning. Sometimes, I also watched television. Then we would go back to work. And in the evening, if I’m late, the boys would fetch the water and get the vegetables. I just had to cook and serve.
All the people I used to cook for were Nepalis. We had also bought a dish (satellite tv), so we could watch any channel we wanted. Some of the boys used to come watch TV in our room. They were all Nepalis. In the bottom floor, there would be families of certain people we know, and on the floor above it used to be all Nepalis. The boys would be in one room. About ten-twelve of them lived in one room. They would eat with the families and pay for the ration. This way it cost less for everyone. At least, it was enough to feed the mother and daughter for free.
During Dashain and Tihar, the employer used to give us all a blanket and a half a kilo of ladoo to every one of us. They used to give these to us during Dipawali. During Dashain, we Nepalis celebrated together by dancing and singing. But Dipawali, everyone celebrates. The employer himself used to come and give us the gifts. Even when we performed puja, he would send pulao for all the workers. He didn’t get angry much. When we made mistakes he would tell the person in-charge. That person would then call us and tell us what we were doing wrong. And then we would work on it.
Working with Eggs
In the hatchery, Danuwar had to clean the eggs. She liked the work as it was not very labour intensive despite the long hours.
We used to work in a poultry farm, within a division called ‘Layer’. We used to take out the eggs and the chicks. We didn’t have to pick up the eggs; they would pick it up and give it to us. I used to carry my daughter while I worked. I would be cleaning the eggs with my hands while I was carrying the baby. The work was quite easy; we didn’t have to lift heavy load. We could work sitting on the floor. We worked for eight hours every day, starting from eight in the morning. We would get a break at twelve to have lunch. We would start again at two and work till five.
“I used to carry my daughter while I worked. I would be cleaning the eggs with my hands while I was carrying the baby. The work was quite easy; we didn’t have to lift heavy load.”
In the poultry, I had cleaned eggs from four different farms. If there wasn’t enough production in the farm we worked in, they would shift us to another farm; they would not lay us off. They made sure we had work, and whenever we asked for a leave they would not refuse. If we were not feeling well we could just tell them, and they would let us take the day off. However, a certain amount from our wages was deducted. Our wages were given to us on a monthly basis. In the evening of the day we got our wages, the shopkeeper from the store where we get our rations would come to our rooms and collect money and provide us with our supplies. Everyone who worked in the store could speak Nepali.
Working on the tea estate vs the hatchery
The work at the poultry farm was better than the work she does now, at the tea estate. Things were cheaper in India, and they were able to save more money.
I liked it better in India. The work was easy. We didn’t have to do any heavy lifting. There were more facilities, in terms of cooking and water; and we even had fans during summer. We could bathe at night. We could stay up till eleven-twelve at night and watch television. They didn’t charge for rent. We only had to pay for food. We used to save money. It was better there. We could just sit and clean eggs. Here (at the tea estate) we are always lifting heavy stuffs. There it was much easier, and we were making money. And vegetables were cheaper there. It was more convenient than here.
“It was better there. We could just sit and clean eggs. Here (at the tea estate) we are always lifting heavy stuffs.”
At the Tea Estate, right now, there is plantation work. But we do not have to work all day. We don’t have to work this time of the day. We don’t have to work for eighteen hours. We get paid every month on the fifteenth. Fridays are holidays, so they calculate the money for twelve days to give to us. It adds up to 2, 160 rupees for twelve days. If you work, then you get paid, or else you don’t get paid. If we get sick while working they will let us take the day off. They pay us for that day but not for the following days if we don’t show up. If they call us back, we have to be able to carry the basket (doko) and pick the pumpkins.
“There is more facility there. But the thing is as a Nepali you have to earn their trust—prove your sincerity.”
We have to work for eight hours here and had work for eight hours there (in India) as well, but we didn’t have to lift heavy load. It was easy there. Here, we have livestock at home. We have to look after it. Sometimes we have to fetch wood, and sometimes fetch grass for the livestock.
Things were cheaper there. Here, it’s expensive. If a packet of oil costs eighty rupees here, there, even if we do not have enough money they would provide a ten rupee portion—whatever we can afford. There is more facility there. But the thing is as a Nepali you have to earn their trust—prove your sincerity.
In India, on her way to school, my daughter used to call out to the shopkeeper as ‘tau’, and the shopkeeper would ask what she wanted and give it to her. She keeps saying I used to eat so much back in India, here I don’t get to eat anything special. She says, ‘we can’t have chowmien, anda rabdi here’. It can’t be as convenient here as it was there. Here, we have to lift heavy load and earn 180 rupees. There, even 150 rupees is a lot and we would have more money.
Nearly all the members of Danuwar’s family, except her father-in-law have worked in India, and on the same poultry farm.
We all went to India, only our father didn’t go. My husband has three brothers, and all three families were working in that farm. It was good in India. We would want to go work there again. If there was someone to look after the house we would go. We made savings there. We bought this house with the savings we made there. We used to live downhill, and the house was smaller. With the savings we were able to get this house. We didn’t buy anything else. But we are satisfied. We couldn’t buy any land, but at least we have a roof to live under and can sleep in peace.
My brother-in-law and his wife – they came back from India last year. He was working in the same farm. It’ll be one year this Falgun. Now, he works at a hydro project in Butwal. His wife is at home. They had their son in India. The baby was delivered in a hospital. He was healthy, everything was normal. The co-operative would have paid for the cost of delivery, but he didn’t know how to apply for it. So, he didn’t get compensated.
We had to stop working as we had to return for our family. My father-in-law used to be at home. My mother-in-law had already passed away, so he was living alone. He was working but he did not eat properly, and we got quite concerned about his mental health. So we decided to return. They (the company) asked us to come back to work, but in a few months my husband went abroad (Malaysia) for another work.
“We all went to India, only our father didn’t go. My husband has three brothers, and all three families were working in that farm.”
If we didn’t have to comeback for my father-in-law, we would still be there. We were making money. We would have stayed longer. It was good. It was easy. We could go to new places with the whole family. The employer would let us take leave if we asked for it—so we got to travel. They used to ask when we would be back. I had met them personally when I told them I won’t be coming back, and I told them that my father-in-law was sick and I had to take care of him. So I told them I won’t be back but my husband will return, and he did. He then stayed for five-six months, before going to Malaysia.
Husband in Malaysia
Danuwar’s husband now works in Malaysia. It has been nearly three years, and he has not visited yet as it is difficult to get leave.
My husband is not here now, and India they don’t give work to women without their spouse, or a guardian. That was one of rules in that particular farm. I am not sure about other places. My husband is working in Malaysia now … he works with wood, what do you call it … furniture. There were three of them from this village who went there. They had applied together and now they are working for the same company.
“The money we earn here is not enough; he has to send some money from abroad. We have to send the children to school. One needs money for everything.”
It’ll be three years this Bhadra, since he has been in Malaysia. He hasn’t visited as he can’t get leave from work right now. We talk on the phone. I had told him that one of my sisters was sending someone to ask questions—to do an interview, and I had asked him what I should do and say. I didn’t know what to do so I asked him—someone who has had a bit of education. He asked what it was for. I told him that you are from India and it was for a survey. He told me to just say how it was.
For now it seems like he’ll stay abroad. He is planning to apply for another year. He sends money from there. The money we earn here is not enough; he has to send some money from abroad. We have to send the children to school. One needs money for everything.
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