Post 47, Chandak, Poonch

10:30 a.m.: The thekedar is sitting on a low stool outside the tenements in which the labourers live. On his right hand, Munshi Mansur stands with a large register. The thekedar informs the 30-odd assembled labourers that he only has a little amount of cash.  Pradeep and Naushad are invited to come forward first, as they are both masons. Pradeep is to be paid INR 17,359. This figure includes his daily wages @INR 470 per day for approximately 30 days as well as INR 59 per hour for approximately 55 overtime hours. He asks to take INR 359 cash and to deposit the remainder in the account held by his wife in the Sargana branch of the Central Bank of India. The thekedar notes down the bank account details on his register, paid him INR 359 in cash and asks him to sign against his name on the register. He promises to pay the remainder into his account online later that evening.

A group of workers with homes in the same Forbesgunj village as Munshi Mansur is called next. These are the brothers Manikchand and Rupchand, their cousin Budhandev and neighbour Kallu, all members of the Musahar community. They are individually to be paid INR 10,000; INR 7,000; INR 7,000; and INR 6,000. Manikchand asks for the total amount of INR 30,000 to be transferred into his sister-in-law’s bank account in the State Bank of India branch at Forbesgunj. The mason Naushad, also to be paid @INR 470  per day, also asks his dues to be deposited online into his wife’s account at the same branch of the State Bank of India in Forbesgunj.

11:30 a.m.: As the thekedar continues to settle the dues of other workers, Pradeep and Naushad leave the site for Mandi, a market town some 15 kilometers to the north-east. Pradeep has never been to Mandi and decides, along with Naushad, to take off for the day and spend it in a new place.  I accompany them.

12:30 p.m.: We arrive at Mandi. Pradeep and Naushad want to drink some chai, so we walk into the nearest kiosk. We sit down and order chai. A man sitting at the next table, who looks like he is 40-50 years old, strikes up a conversation with Pradeep and asks him where they are from. When Pradeep says he and his mate are from Bihar, the man who calls himself Hyder, asks if they are masons.

Pradeep: Yes, we are.

Hyder: What are your rates?

Pradeep: INR 700 per day for a mason and INR 550 per day for a labourer.

Hyder: But I thought masons charged about INR 600 and labourers INR 400. I need to get five rooms in my hardware godown plastered. Will you come over and take a look.

Pradeep and Naushad: Sure we will.

We finish our chai. Hyder instructs the waiter to bill our chai to him. “They are guests,” he tells the waiter, before leading us out of the kiosk towards his godown.