A Day in the Life of a Road-side Car Mechanic

By Kanksshi Agarwal

Our fieldwork focused on street vendors, their livelihood and the awareness around the Street Vendors act of 2014. For me, this experience made a non-hawker story’s who also worked on the streets but out of a an authorised tin-shed, interesting. What makes an authorised shop owner selling on the streets different from hawkers on the same footpath? How are their struggles different?

Kanksshi

Umesh is a well-built young, entrepreneur and mechanic, who offers services on the streets. He operates from a semi-permanent tin structure on the footpath of Laxmi Nagar Road in Pune City. The shop was authorised 30 years ago. It was certified in 1986 as a semi-formal shop for repairing and fixing of automobiles. There are no rules currently talking about such authorised shops, making no provisions for a renewal for their certificate. However, it has kept him out of ambit of the Encroachment Department, the wrath of which the vendors have to bear every other day.

“As a hawker you learn to be persistent about your livelihood which is selling on road or doing business by going around, or settling and fighting for your rights. You will learn to work around the evictions and the encroachment department officials.” — Union Leader of Hawkers’ Association, Pune.

His shop is placed on the footpath, and shares a wall with another mechanic’s business. He is not a vendor, but he works and shares the space with the vendors on the streets. While his shop is authorised, the vendors are still fighting their battle to get certified through the National Street Vendors Act of 2014. Though he is privileged in comparison to a hawker, his ordeals are not any lesser.

Umesh studied engineering in the University in Pune, and was employed at Bajaj. After a span of seven years he was made the head of his department. However, he lost his job in 2008 after a series of firings citing the economic depression as the reason. Today, his daily routine on the footpath is similar to any vendor. He starts his day at 10am in the morning, accesses the public toilet in the area, fetches water from a municipal tap at the end of the road, works in his workshop, and also visits his special customers to repair at the location of their auto-break down. He faces the ridicule like other vendors do from some pedestrians, but he is aware he is not wrong in running his business. Sometimes a street vendor, we noticed, lacks this confidence and self-awareness. While, Umesh says that encroachment is wrong, he believes that commuters, pedestrians, vehicle owners and vendors must all have a right to optimally use public spaces.

Usually the commuters are his daily customers. He lives in a nearby colony. He has a wife, and a kid, whom he aspires to send to a private school. “If I had a formal job, I would have earned equivalent or lesser than what I make as a mechanic, but it would have been easier to get my child admitted to school,” he says speaking of the prejudices against blue-collar workers that sometimes affect prospects of getting their children into good private schools.  “I doubt the education system in this country and the mindset around employability after formal education. I think everyone must be empowered to think about business”.

He compares an employed individual to an entrepreneur/business owner. Skills for running a business can be passed from generation to generation. This he says is not possible in a merit-based organised sector employment. Vendors should be allowed to run businesses since self-employment can prevent them from taking up menial labour jobs with little job security. With his own business he feels free to work, as he works for himself. He thinks vendors are doing a great job by believing in the strength of livelihood generation through networking and honest business making skills. However, he constantly struggles with getting cooperation from his fellow vendors. If he asks someone not to park in front of his shop, as it impedes access to his shop, many ignore his request.

This worries him since his shop is his primary source of income. It is a 5×3 metre shop, and it retains the essence of informal, friendly atmosphere that he missed during his days on working in a corporate formal organisation. Today while working on a tyre, he can sip tea and share ideas on entrepreneurial empowerment that comes with the selling on streets. As I hang around the shop I realise he has acquired some goodwill over the years. People come and chat with him. I asked him, if these were his customers and he said, his customers have now become good friends and share good rapport with him and meet him even without work requirements.  “We are on streets, for (the benefit of) those who use the streets (commuters and pedestrians). They require us to be here for their own easy access,” he says.

The summer institute is a full-fledged 3 credits course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It is conducted as a continuous module of approximately 2 weeks  duration, involving immersion in a community and location. This year’s institute studied the socio-political dynamics of street vending, especially in relation to the recent Street Vending Act (2014) that cited key constitutional provisions in support of street vendors and established guidelines for state governments so that the state can safeguard the vendors’ right to livelihood. In the following month, we will be posting some of the students’ research in the form of blogs, photo essays, narratives, life stories and analytical pieces that describe in great detail the everyday lives of vendors and local street markets. Watch this space for more.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

 

 

 

 

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