Coolie to Sahayak, Literally or Practically?

As soon as you reach the station, you step out of your cab, you got to catch your train from platform 1 to platform 15, when you have too much to carry and no one to help. Suddenly a voice interrupts you, “ Sahab Coolie Chahiye?”.  As angelic as it is in the times of need and as irritating when you don’t need them.  Coolie, the only word in the dictionary that could lighten your problems at that time. However, even the dictionary has not been kind to them. Coolie originally means a slave or labourer of the colonial era.

It is used varyingly as a legal, inoffensive word (for example, in India for helpers carrying luggage in railway stations)[1] and also used as a racial slur in Africa for certain people from Asia,[2] particularly in South Africa. ( Wikipedia ).

Kudos to Suresh Prabhu’s announcement during the railway budget on about chucking this word to the dustbins of history. The porters will now be known as ‘sahayaks’ (helpers).  It has a lot to do with the shameful legacy of indentured servants from countries such as India and China who facilitated the rise of the British Empire. It is good that the government has finally recognized them at least literally.
However, the upcoming budget may bring some more cheers for the Sahayaks of the Nation.

According to the sources in the PTI, 2017 budget which have been pulled in earlier this time is all set to bring happiness for an average Sahayak. Currently, 20000 coolies are part of Railways. What the Labour Ministry has proposed to the Railway Ministry is very interesting to note.

The government wants 10p from your tickets to facilitate pension schemes, social security of EPFO and insurance policies for struggling Sahayaks of our country. An average coolie if his day is bright, earns Rs 300-500 per day. And the era of trolleys has only hurt their livelihood further. In return, they don’t get much from the railways. 10 p from ticket of 10 rupees is like 1 %. From a ticket of 100 rupees will be as negligible as 0.1 %.  A negligible amount for you, significant to affect the life of many.  Over all a good step from the government.

We have a large population. IRCTC has seen a steep increase as high as 90 percent from the day they introduced online ticket booking in 2002. From 9.7 crore tickets in 2010-11, the number of tickets booked on IRCTC has grown to 18.3 crores in 2014-15, an increase of close to 90%. The number of tickets booked has grown consistently over the last 5 years. From 11.6 crore in 2011-12, 14.1 crore in 2012-13, 15.8 crore in 2013-14, 40 crores  in 2015-16. The average number of tickets booked per day went up from 2.66 lakh in 2010-11 to 5.01 lakh in 2014-15. Currently close to 10 lakhs tickets are being booked per day by the irctc. So close to 4 crores will be used for 20K Sahayak personnel in the country.

If this proposal by the labour ministry is considered by Suresh Prabhu in the upcoming budget, it would mark a new chapter reflecting significantly in the life of an average Sahayak in India. Let’s wait and see whether this evolution from Coolie to Sahayak is just a word play or the Modi government is really serious about them.

Till then, tune your youtube track to Amitabh Bachchan’s flick coolie, Saari duniya ka bojh hum uthate hain..