The district of Parel in Mumbai consists mostly of towering glass buildings. A separate island until the 19th century, home to several cotton textile mills in the 20th century, today several homegrown billion-dollar companies have their head offices here. Almost every bank in India – nationalised and private – has significant floor space in the area. But Ganesh Dattatrey Shinde, 46, who sweeps the streets outside Elphinstone station that leads to the towers of commerce, has never been able to access the loans that these banks offer.
Shinde sweeps an assigned stretch of two kilometres, thrice, during his shift. “We drag along a bin into which we put large trash. We don’t sit down for tea; we take a break standing, and barely manage to wash our hands and legs wherever we find water through someone’s benevolence. There are no soaps,” he said. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) provides funds to the contractor that Shinde works for, to purchase gloves, masks and boots for the workers. But Shinde said that he and his colleagues never receive them because the contractor would rather keep the money.
Shinde lives with his ageing parents, his wife and his two children aged seven and four. Until the age of 32, he worked at his uncle’s saree store. When the opportunity to take up the job as a sweeper came up in 2004, he took it. After all, it meant the possibility of the job being a permanent one. Shinde earns a daily wage of Rs 576 ($8.20); it used to be Rs 70 ($1.00) when he began to work in 2004. However, with a 12 percent deduction that goes into a pension fund, he receives a sum of Rs 12,580 ($180) into his bank account every month.