Dr Sanjeev Routray

The plumbers of Delhi: Migration, plebeian sociality and citizenship in an occupational community

Funding period: 6 June 2016 – 5 June 2019
Type of funding: Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

Dr. Sanjeev Routray is a sociologist-anthropologist, critical urbanist, and migration specialist of South Asia and beyond. He is the author of The Right to be Counted: The Urban Poor and the Politics of Resettlement in Delhi (to be published by Stanford University Press in July 2022). In this book, he examines how the urban poor incrementally stake their claims to a home and life in Delhi. Based on his USF funded research, he is currently writing his second book tentatively titled The Plumbers of Delhi: Migration, Caste Sociality, and Citizenship in an Occupational Community. His second book examines the mechanisms of caste sociality in shaping migration histories, urban labor market outcomes, community formations in cities, and rural-urban citizenship struggles among communities of plumbers in Delhi, India, and the Middle East.

sanjeevkroutray@gmail.com | @SanjeevRoutray8 | Profile

As part of his USF Fellowship, Dr Routray also received a USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award in November 2021 (see below).

USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award: Organizing Plumbers in Delhi: Navigating the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board and Labour Court

As part of his USF postdoctoral project, Sanjeev Routray carried out twelve months of ethnographic research between 2016 and 2017 among plumbing communities in three locations: the neighbourhoods of Delhi; the villages in Odisha; and the offices of training and travel consultancies and recruitment agencies in the city of Bhubaneswar, Odisha. His project examines the expectations, aspirations, and social mobility experiences of plumbers in Delhi, most of whom undertake transregional, circular, and/or seasonal migration from a particular district of the Indian state of Odisha.

He has recently been awarded a Knowledge Mobilization Grant to participate and collaborate in carrying out organizing work among the plumbers in Delhi. In 1996, the Government of India enacted a law entitled the “Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act” to regulate the safety, health and working conditions, and welfare of workers in the construction sector. Subsequently, the state governments established Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board to provide a range of welfare benefits to workers, most of who work in the informal and unorganized sectors of the economy in the construction sector. The welfare benefits include pension, medical assistance, educational subsidy for children, monetary assistance for marriage, maternity benefits, loans to buy tools etc. The plumbers (who usually do not claim any welfare benefits in Delhi) are eligible to apply for membership and receive labour cards for these benefits. Furthermore, the Board offices in Delhi also host labour courts to adjudicate labour related disputes. However, most of the plumbers neither have the labour cards to obtain these benefits nor the information or training to navigate the Board office and court. The plumbers, who originate from Odisha and speak Odia, also face a huge language barrier because they struggle to read and write Hindi or English— the official languages in Delhi. It is also an arduous task for them to establish residency in the city and produce a range of error-free documents that are required to be eligible for membership with the Board.

To follow through on this aspect of the postdoctoral project, he has the following two objectives:

  • Organize plumbers to claim workers’ and welfare benefits from the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board.
  • Organize community members to navigate mechanisms of redress, especially with respect to wage theft and other labour related disputes in the labour courts of Delhi.

Along with two plumbers/organizers, an activist, and a unionist, he will aim at training and organizing plumbers to register with the Board in two different neighbourhoods in Delhi. By the end of the project, the aim is to achieve three goals: a) to organize a significant number of plumbers to obtain membership/labour cards, which will make them eligible to obtain a range of welfare services from the government; b) to provide training to community members to take appropriate legal recourses in the labour court to redress labour related disputes; c) to establish two registered unions in two different neighborhoods to address everyday issues regarding welfare benefits and labour disputes.