Construction Workers | India | Living in Mexico

Construction Workers

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Albañiles exist somewhere toward the bottom of the Mexican labor hierarchy. The best of them become skilled bricklayers, but most wield pickaxes and shovels and are paid a pittance. They rank higher than campesinos—country folk—but not by much. Although they build our houses, they garner little respect. A Mexican man can't go much lower than to be an albañíl.

But Indian women can go much lower. On construction sites, they're primarily used as beasts of burden. Here a woman carries a basket of escombro (rubble) on her head.

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If you have a lot of construction debris to move, forget bulldozers, forget wheelbarrows. Just hire a bunch of sari-clad young women. They'll haul that stuff cheaper than anyone else will and be grateful for the employment. Women with baskets on their heads are one of India's main earth-moving mechanisms.

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Macho Mexican society doesn't allow women to be used this way, but Hindus have no such compunctions. In India, women are chattel; at least rural ones are. They have few rights. You can use 'em however you want.

Indian men get called on to move earth, too. But their delicate constitutions excuse them from the really heavy work. Here two men wield a shovel. Working alone, a man could really hurt his back or something.

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Some rocks are too heavy even for two men. So moving them is a job better suited for a young mother carrying her child on her back.

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The situation in cities is changing. Women are less often made slaves to their mothers-in-law, or subjected to dowry blackmail, or forced to commit sati (ritual suicide on their husbands' funeral pyres), although these atrocities aren't fully eradicated yet.

In the upper castes, women are treated better. Some of them are heads of their families; others work as professionals in emerging India Inc. But overall, few Indian women enjoy any real freedom. Most are oppressed.

No society that exploits one part of its citizenry can live in peace. Mistreatment of one class turns minds away from compassion, desensitizes people to cruelty. Moslems and Hindus alike exploit and mistreat women—as articles of faith, custom and law.

Prejudicially isolating one group engenders violence. That Pakistan and India are at war doesn't surprise me. It's no wonder a hundred young men stoked on cannabis and LSD (to further desensitize them) ran amok in the streets of Bombay, randomly killing hundreds of their countrymen.

Mistreatment of women is not a "women's" issue. Eradicating it is key to world peace.

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