Hill Road hawkers


January 25, 2007

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Bombay | Heritage | Issues

Hill Road has long since been a bone of contention between the shopkeepers, the residents, the ward officers and the hawkers. Protests were evident when the BMC announced their plan of widening the road by acquiring land from the Parsi agiary, school and church. The BMC is going ahead with its plans anyway, despite the residents’ protests, but the residents will not be the only ones to suffer in this project. Hill Road is famous for its hawkers. The hawkers are as much a permanent feature of the road as are Elco Market, St. Peter’s church and other structural landmarks. They are such a regular part of the landscape that no one really remembers when they actually became an establishment.

“Certainly not more than 50 years!” said Lorena Gomes, a Hill Road resident. “But I cannot say when they actually came about. It started out as one or two coming by, then four or five and then suddenly before you knew it, they were all over the street!”

With one side of the road blocked for traffic due to construction, the hawkers find it especially convenient to spread out on that section and sell their wares. A case attempting to legalise their status and allot them a special zone for business is pending with the High Court with no end in sight. Paying the BMC and the state government their roz ka hafta and battling the shop keepers and residents are crucial to their survival.

One Mohammadali Bha-mla is the resident representative of the Hill Road hawkers, by virtue of his long-standing stall of tops and trinkets.

“I have been around for the past 30 years,” he told us. “At that time we were actually allotted this part of the land for business. Later due to some complaints by residents the authorisation was taken away from us. And since then a case has been going on and on for giving us space to conduct business. While that is going on, no one can remove us from this area but the BMC and the state keep coming and demanding hafta. They tell us that when complaints come in, they have to take some kind of action. Sometimes they even carry our stock away. What to do?”

When Hill Road had initially been dug up, the hawkers had found it difficult to adjust.

“I remember the time when we could not make our first sale until late into the afternoon!” exclaimed Babubhai Qureshi. “Life was uncertain, but we knew business would again pick up.”

The group knows what the customers want, and truth is that customers want their street clothing. Cheap, of a reasonably good quality and a huge variety to choose from, the street wares are what draw the people to Hill Road as much as Elco Market or Globus. While the hawker with his clever eye and sharp mind ready to bend the rule at every corner with nonchalance would not exactly inspire sympathy, it would be well to remember that in light of their circumstances, there is precious little they can do in order to feed their families.

“I came here from Uttar Pradesh two years ago to help my brother man this stall,” said Aslam, a hawker of women’s tops. “My brother has been here for the last ten years and is now in our native village taking a break.”

When asked about the kind of profit they make, he replied, “We have a difference of only Rs.2 or Rs.3. Being out on the streets makes it difficult to raise our prices too much. In a day we make an average of Rs.200-Rs.250, perhaps.”

With that money, his brother and their respective families have to be taken care of. Every month money is sent back home in the village. Hill Road, known to be a lucrative location, induces the duo to travel to and fro Daulatnagar, Santa Cruz, everyday with their bag and baggage.

“We came here to make money,” he said. “I am not saying that we could not have earned a living in Uttar Pradesh but where is money there like in Mumbai?”

Sulemaan Ali, a migrant from Bihar, has been selling dress material at his stall for the past 25 years.

“The money I make goes toward feeding my family of six,” he said. “In a day we make at least Rs.250 but only on special occasions do we go above the Rs.500 mark.”

The road construction work has also risen to competition from neighbouring hawkers.

“Other hawkers do turn up and set up their stalls, but we never let them stay for too long,” said Qureshi. “They come with their wares on their heads and then sit down for some time but we never let them settle. Yes, Sundays it is difficult to regulate them and we have filed complaints with the ward officer as well!”

“We do not know when the case will actually get done at the High Court and where they will try to shift us,” said Bhamla. “Until then, the BMC and the government can go on confiscating our stock and demanding hafta from us, for we are not moving.”

Original article here