Experiences while working with truckers at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust
‘Privilege doesn’t just insulate people from the consequences of their prejudice, it cuts them off from their humanity.’ ― DaShanne Stokes
As we reflect on our experiences working with YUVA, the aforementioned quote by civil rights activist DaShanne Stokes comes to mind. Every day since we realised how privilege taints the lens by which we view the world around us, it’s been a daily conscious fight of trying to clean the lens and see the world for what it is. The prejudices already unlearnt are huge but what’s left to unlearn further is stacked up even higher.
The work with YUVA towards the empowerment of transport service providers in partnership with D. P. World has definitely helped us come a long way on this front. The project at the DP World Truck Terminal and the field office at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) parking junction focuses on a crucial demographic which is of incredible importance to the country’s smooth functioning, yet also largely ignored at the same time: India’s truckers.
We often see trucks criss-crossing through our city, taking long trips to far-off cities, towns, industrial complexes, states and, in some extreme cases, even neighbouring countries. In our case, we interacted with truckers arriving at or living around the JNPT, one of the country’s biggest container ports which is estimated to have handled container traffic of 5.05 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) from January to December 2018, a 7.24 per cent growth from 2017. The scale of operations here are significant even on a global scale, with the port being the only one to be listed among the world’s top 30.
Clearly, the drivers’ importance to this port like every other port is immense. Ideally speaking, therefore, there should be many takers for these jobs. However, the overall situation for truckers is bleak — a 2017 article mentioned how for every 1,000 truckers’ positions only 750 drivers are available.
Truckers on Indian roads not only have some of the most unusual and long working hours, causing them to live away from their family for long periods of time, their working conditions are inadequate, unsafe and often cause long-term health problems. They are at risk of developing lung infections and breathing problems due to constant exposure to dust, heat from the truck’s engine, and other air pollutants. Sitting for long hours at a time increases health risks. Add to this uncertain meal times, addiction to tobacco and other substances, lack of access to quality medical care, risk of dehydration while driving in varied terrain with limited access to toilets … the list is endless. With long periods away from family and stressful conditions on road (truckers have to often maintain tight delivery schedules and frequently contend with harassment from authorities), loneliness and anxiety often creep in. Chance sexual encounters increase the risk of transmission of STIs/STDs. The country’s poor-awareness of their situation and challenges further denies them dignity at work.
Seeing and realising the pain truckers experience daily, during the very first days of our internship, opened our eyes to this stark world. It made us both respect every effort by YUVA and D. P World and committed us to contribute towards this work in different ways.
We supported free health camps organised, where truckers underwent checks on blood pressure, blood sugar levels, electrocardiogram (ECG), eye examination, blood tests, HIV tests, etc. We also attended and supported workshops on
- The dangers of nicotine and tobacco addiction and how truckers can discard such habits;
- The importance of financial literacy and planning among truckers;
- Road safety sessions, with street plays, to talk about the importance of safety on the road
We realised first-hand how the taboo around HIV runs strong among truckers, and that the most common problems related to health were skin problems and body pain experienced by truckers, given long periods of sitting in one posture while driving. Financial literacy sessions often helped truckers know about useful schemes they were earlier unaware of or didn’t know how to properly access. Another major challenge among truckers was the effect of the profession on their psyche, as the truckers feel that their profession is not always given the full dignity and recognition that it deserves.
During the general health checkup camp organised, first-aid kits were distributed to 150+ truckers containing essential supplies, which they could refill at reasonable prices later. With the truckers hailing from across India, for many their truck is their primary home. In our interactions with the drivers, they mentioned how they feel grateful to see the care towards their well-being. This only strengthened our resolve to do more during our time with them. The road ahead is a long one, where many more stakeholders need to take an active part. We hope to see this in the coming years.
Shaswat P. Shukla and Aaryan Raj, Yes Foundation Media for Social Change Fellowship Programme 2019