Anyone who has travelled on Mumbai’s suburban train network has likely seen shoeshine workers on the city’s station platforms. The workers, most of whom are from the Dalit Chamar community in Bihar, offer reliable, affordable services to commuters who need their shoes spruced up, or even repaired.
Shoeshine workers pay a cut of their earnings to the railways for licences to use the premises. In the last few years, however, workers have been worried because of a new policy announced for some stations, whereby licences will be issued based on competitive bidding. Workers fear that this will open up the system to exploitation, and that their livelihoods will come under grave threat.
For Common Ground, Nolina Minj speaks to workers and society leaders across the city to understand why they are fighting these changes in the Bombay High Court. “Before I began reporting, I had assumed that shoeshine workers who sit inside local train stations would fare better than their counterparts who sit on the streets,” Minj said. “But their struggles are equally daunting. They have little to no social safety nets despite serving lakhs of commuters everyday.”