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True Grit: Chulbul Pandey and her brave factory worker Mom (Safe in India Update)

"Chulbul Pandey", the girl announces with a shy but mischievous grin. She says that her birthday is October 2, and that she shares it with Gandhi ji. Her real name is Swastika Pandey,” her mother Sushma Pandey adds with an indulgent smile. “Her grandmother calls her Chulbul because she’s so restless.” Sushma invites us to her daughter’s upcoming eleventh birthday.

In her voice and face, we see that celebration is tinged with some concern. Sushma is getting worried as her daughter is crossing into early adolescence. “I go to work, and the girl is growing up, so I am a little scared. I have spoken to a relative in Allahabad about her schooling there.

“सर जी, बेटी को पढाने और जिन्दगी चलाने के लिए मशीन चलाना पड़ता है. अगर ससुराल से सहयोग मिल गया होता तो मै यह काम नहीं करती”

Sir, I must educate my children, so I have to work on machines. I wouldn’t have to work so hard if my husband’s family offered any support.”

Born in Katihar in Bihar, Sushma was married young into a family that often insulted her over insufficient dowry. When she became a mother, her responsibilities increased. To ensure proper education for her children, Sushma decided to earn. She came with her cousin to Manesar in 2015, bringing her daughter along while letting her son, 14, stay with his grandmother.

She wants her daughter to be an inspector or a magistrate. Swastika aka Chulbul nods as she busily rearranges her dollhouse that she crafted out of discarded cardboard boxes, a plastic toy TV, and some colourful rags.

Sushma has been injured twice working in the same auto-component factory, once in January 2019 and then again in February 2020, losing the thumb and index fingers of her right hand and then the small toe of her left foot. This factory makes components for Tier 1 suppliers to Hero, Honda and Maruti. Filling up the rest of that tinny tiny room of 10x12 feet, which includes the kitchen and bathroom, are a mother’s indomitable will and her daughter’s contagious cheer.

Chulbul's story is not unique. It humbles us to meet people like Sushma and Chulbul, almost every day, in the alleys of worker villages in and around Manesar, an auto-sector industrial hub. They work in shocking conditions in these factories, where they lose parts of their bodies, not only making their lives more difficult than they already are, but losing skilled women and men to Indian industry that desperately need to be more productive to compete globally.

Next month, we will launch the sequel of our last year's Accident Prevent Report "Crushed 2019" with additional information and insights from the past year, in which we assisted another such 500+ workers, despite an industry slow-down. We will also update on the status of our efforts with the auto-industry and its associations, the government and its various agencies, and workers, based on the experiences of 1,500+ injured workers like Sushma Pandey. We will soon communicate the details of the webinar panel to discuss these injuries, their reasons and potential solutions that need all parties to come together. Please follow us on facebook and/or twitter for such updates and spread the word; we need public, industry, government, civic society organisations and workers to join hands to save hands!

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