Monday, 30th October 2017

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Very unfair No place

By Neha Sahay
  • Published 19.01.12

A migrant worker’s letter to the ministry of railways has raised a fundamental question: do the 250 million workers, who leave their villages to build the country’s glittering cities, feature in the government’s planning? According to the latest census, they constitute about 20 per cent of the population.

The Chinese New Year falls on Monday. The rush to go home began more than a month ago. To prevent black-marketing and ease the process of buying tickets, the railway ministry introduced online and phone buying. That, however, automatically made going home more difficult for those who value it the most. Frustrated at his failure to get a ticket after four attempts at the station, where he was told that online sales had exhausted their supply, 37-year-old Huang Qinghong wrote an angry letter to the ministry and gave it to a local paper which published it in full.

“I really want to swear at the stupid ministry,’’ writes Huang, recounting how none of his 40 colleagues at the hardware factory where he is a driver could get a ticket. When their boss tried to help them with online bookings, he too failed — either he couldn’t access the system or there were no tickets available. Even had he succeeded, they couldn’t have used the system, for it required internet banking. “We migrant workers are not white collars (sic), how can we possibly know how to open Internet banking?’’ writes Huang. “Whoever came up with the online booking idea, were they thinking with their toes? The leaders of the Ministry of Railways, you surf on the Internet all the time and buy whatever you want, but we cannot, we still have to worry about dinner everyday.’’

Very unfair

The workers did try phone booking, but after many days of making calls after work, only one of them succeeded, making him the envy of the rest. “Buying a ticket is similar to lottery,’’ writes Huang. It was not so earlier — all it needed was the determination to spend days and nights at the railway station. “It was about physical stamina. For us the online booking is too complicated and too impractical. In fact, it’s just very unfair, as it takes away all our chances. You may say, ‘It’s easy, just learn to use a computer.’ But for us who are busy working all day long, how do we get the time? And how can we afford a computer?’’

Huang has been working in the city for 20 years, going home only every two years because of the effort involved. This year, his wife went home a month earlier. Huang didn’t want to lose a month’s salary, nor does he want to buy a bus ticket which costs three times the train fare, because he wants to save up to buy his six-year-old a new year gift. “I haven’t seen my daughter for a long time. I wonder whether she has grown taller, and how many words she can read now,’’ writes Huang.

No place

The letter ends with this rebuke: “Queuing for a ticket during the New Year rush has been a yearly torture for us migrant workers; but this year, even this torture is not possible any more. When you leaned back on your couches in your air-conditioned offices, drank some tea, smoked some cigarettes, and came up with this online booking, did it ever occur to you what this meant to us? Have you ever experienced the pain of getting a ticket? We can’t even get a standing-room ticket for a journey of tens of hours home. What we only have is the anger about the unfairness but with no place to take it out.’’ The newspaper that published Huang’s letter bought him a ticket home. But what of the million others in his situation? It’s time to change the system so that migrants can settle with their families wherever they work, writes the official China Daily.