The popular refrain in Delhi---"Dilli Dilwalon ki"---loosely translates to "the city belongs to the large- or brave-hearted". But in the capital city filled with loud voices and louder politics, some of the bravest hearts belong to those with the least voice.
"Madam, here is my number. Call me if you ever need anything, if you ever face an emergency. Don't worry, I will never call you." Our eyes met in the rearview mirror and I gave a tentative smile to the autorickshaw driver. We had bonded over our mutual connections to Bihar and a respect for the simple courtesy afforded there, all too often missing in Delhi. But even as I recorded his number, I knew I would never call. And the light in my eyes dimmed a little at this realization.
Blue-collar workers in Delhi often fade into the background despite their critical role in keeping life running smoothly for much of the middle-class population. These men perform thankless labor as autorickshaw drivers, nathurs, construction workers, and vendors. Many of them are migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who live hundreds of miles away from their families, sending money home to provide them a better life. They often arrive in the city with nothing, relying on making it through by being compensated fairly for their hard work. The city has been built from their sweat and tears, yet they rarely get any credit and are an easy target for blame when law and order break down in the city. Their native accents make them easy to disregard and are considered to be indicative of their socioeconomic status and poor upbringing.
In painting blue-collar workers with a broad brush, we fail to acknowledge how critical their contributions have been. If they were to leave today, Delhi would be left at a standstill. Their work keeps the city in motion; it keeps Delhi moving forward.
Delhi is not a place for the faint of hearts. A regular interaction with a fellow Delhiite sounds more like an altercation and often involves raised voices and fisted hands shaking in the air. In all the hullabaloo, it is altogether too easy to build distance from others, especially those who speak, look, and act differently than you. We need to acknowledge those whose backs we've been riding on and take a critical look at who the city has been structured to benefit.
We need to recognize that the few deeds that hog the limelight and are carried far and wide by loud voices, cannot hold a candle to the quiet contributions of this overlooked and overworked population.