An association of street vendors from Bengaluru has written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his 'pakoda' remark last month.
During an interview with a TV channel, the PM had reportedly said that those earning Rs 200 every day selling pakodas can be considered employed.
On Sunday, as Modi visited Bengaluru, the Bengaluru Jilla Beedhi Vyapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta wrote an open letter to him stating that while they appreciate the PM recognising street vending as an employment, his statement does not take into account the "harsh realities" that street vendors often face.
"Street vending is an independent and dignified profession. We are proud to be street vendors. However, we cannot take away the context in which we have become street vendors. It is out of distress of migrating to a city, of drought in villages, agricultural crisis reeling in this country, and more importantly lack of employment options that we have resorted to street vending," the letter states.
It goes on to mention how education in the country has become expensive, and thus unaffordable for many. For those who do manage to get an education, jobs options are few are harder to come by. "The poor in this country cannot get an education, but there are no job options for those educated either. And even when we want to earn a decent livelihood of street vending, we face harassment and threats of evictions from various authorities on a daily basis," it says.
The letter talks about the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihoods and Regulating Street Vending) Act, 2014, which was formed to protect the livelihood rights of street vendors and also regulate the sector. But, the association alleges, the Bill is not being implemented properly and their rights are being infringed upon.
"The Act grants a right to livelihood to us street vendors, and is intended to provide solace to us from all the harassment. However, we continue to be left out of public spaces, police officers demand hafta, municipal authorities threaten to evict us, residents call us dirty, that we obstruct traffic, and other such unreasonable allegations are made against us. It has been four years since the Act came into force, and four years since you have been the Prime Minister of India. If you thought this was an honorable profession, why do we continue to be perceived as nuisance?" they ask.
Criticising the Modi government's approval to 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in single-brand retail, the vendors say that the move will harm small businesses, including street vending. The 'Smart City'' project too, they say, has been evicting street vendors and slums, affecting their lives and livelihood.
The letter states, "Your vision of development does not include us, sir. Instead, your policies are increasing the number of dispossessed people every day. There is no respite for us from poverty. So, where is our acche din?"
Promising to fight for their rights, the street vendors' letter states that the PM's initiatives such as 'Digital India', 'Make in India', 'Swachh Bharat' and 'Smart Cities' do not matter to them if communities such as theirs are not able to live with dignity. What they instead want is public education, public health system, and public housing.
"Yes, it is employment if a person sells pakoda on the streets. But, do not use us as an excuse for your inability to provide employment to the citizens of this country, and going back on your promise. On the contrary, we street vendors stand on our abilities and hard work. We will fight against anyone who takes away our rights!" the letter concludes.