When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The old African adage holds true for over 600 labourers, working in the iron and steel market of Reay Road, who are caught between the business community and the State government with the former protesting against the Local Body Tax (LBT) and calling for a strike.
But help has come to them from the agitators, who have taken it upon themselves to collect funds from their peers and set up a community kitchen in the vicinity. The kitchen has been opening at 11.30 am for the last three weeks, serving free food to the labourers, till 4 pm.
According to Miral Sethia, one of the volunteers who also his own establishment in the area, the cost of running the community kitchen on a daily basis is over R 25,000.
“ More than the common man, it was the labour class, earning daily wages by pulling handcarts and loading goods, who couldn’t afford even a meal. Besides convincing the government to abolish LBT, this situation too required our utmost attention,” informed Sethia, who recently returned from the United States to take care of his family business.
Kalpa Naik, the caterer who has been entrusted with the responsibility of feeding the labourers, stated that work in his kitchen starts every day before sunrise.
“ My boys visit the Byculla market and ensure that we get regular supply of fresh ingredients. Every day, on an average, we use over 120 kg of vegetables, 200 kg of rice, 80 kg of wheat for puris and 10 kg of pulses for dal,” he said.
Nishit Sokhadia, another volunteer from the business community and a member of the Daukhana Iron and Steel Merchants Association (DISMA) said nearly 7,000 members of the body are willingly contributing from their pockets to keep the fire in the community kitchen burning.
“ We are a team of 25 volunteers, who regularly take turns to supervise the cooking and serving process.
The food is served in disposable plates, so that we don’t compromise on hygiene,” Sokhadia said.
Ashok Garg, chairman of DISMA, informed that his association was chipping in R 3,000 per day for the community kitchen. “We have also ensured that the families of the labourers do not suffer. We pay them a fixed sum of money and ensure that the fees of their children is paid on time ( for the coming academic term). The community kitchen will go on till the strike doesn’t end.”
How the community kitchen started
Thirty-eight-year-old Anwar Ali, who hails from north India, has spent the majority of his life in the by lanes of Reay Road. He owns a tempo which is used by local shopkeepers to transport their goods.
Ali sold a piece of land in Titwala for a small sum of R 2.25 lakh just days before the LBT strike started on April 22 as he was finding it difficult to commute to and fro on a regular basis.
Rather than investing the money in his business, Ali saw the plight of the labourers and decided to set up a free community kitchen. “It started in a small way. Today I have only R 80,000 remaining from the land deal. I am utilising it for serving dinner to around 250 people, now that the traders are taking care of the morning meals.” “Seeing the zest of his work, the traders joined in the effort and started contributing for the cause. Now the kitchen has grown to cater to a larger crowd,” informed Sethia.