Today is Dhanteras.
There is nothing urgent that I need in my kitchen. I wonder how necessary it is to follow this ritual as I contemplate what new utensil to buy, when my maid tells me in between mopping the floor, that she is shifting home. She is moving to a new room close to her old one, where she says she will get plentiful water. She can go back home and wash her children’s clothes in the afternoon without worrying about queuing up in line outside in the lane. It is ironic to me that what she deems is a luxury, is actually a chore. But the fact, that her chore will not be compounded by another chore, is in itself something for her to be treasured and celebrated.
I ask her if she needs time off to shift tomorrow. She tells me that she has already started doing so, a bit every day. She has to plan this, since her husband cannot help. He has injured his hand. When I ask how, she says he hurt himself running away from the Committee Wallahs. They came day before yesterday. “Diwali is coming”, she says sagely and resignedly.
Yes, it is festival time. And while most of us plan how to light up our homes and what to eat, for hawkers selling on the streets like my maid’s husband, it is not simply a time to decide how many new clothes and candles to buy. Certainly not a time to let their defences down, but to be more watchful and guarded. And to spend the money they set aside for the festival, on buying new thelas, new buckets, new wares to sell – many of which have been compounded, confiscated or broken by the Committee in its pre-festival swoop.
I tell her that the newspapers have reported that the Courts have said that it is the right of a citizen to sell his wares on the street. This is not something that she knows. Neither it appears does the Committee.
The Hindu edition of October 20, 2010 carried a Report on its front page which stated that ‘Hawkers have a fundamental Right to trade’. Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice G.S. Singhvi have asked the Delhi Government to enact a law to regulate the hawkers’ trade keeping in mind also the right of commuters to move freely, and have noted that ‘the fundamental right of the hawkers, just because they are poor and unorganized cannot be left in a state of limbo’…and that ‘when citizens by gathering meager resources try to employ themselves as hawkers and street-traders they cannot be subjected to a deprivation on the pretext that they have no right.’
Some of us plan to write to the local Noida officials asking them how they propose to follow this judgment. We hope to have your support in the form of endorsing this letter by adding your signatures to it.
In the meantime, we would like you to think about creating more space in your kitchens and your homes, by ritually gifting away utensils, clothes, books, lights - or indeed anything that you deem appropriate to anyone less fortunate then you.
Have a peaceful and joyous Diwali. And wish the same for everyone.