Among the lakhs of migrant workers stranded across India on March 24 when a nationwide lockdown to contain Covid-19 was imposed were construction labourers working on the Namma Metro project in Bengaluru. With work on the Metro’s yellow line stalled overnight, workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Assam, were left in the lurch.
Maraa, a media and arts collective, recently released a report demanding safeguards against Covid-19 for the Namma Metro workers. Behind the Tin Sheets, a 2009 project aimed at highlighting the plight of the Metro workers, is now making three short films available to the public through the Vimeo streaming platform. The timing couldn’t have been better.
Directed by Yashaswini BR and Maraa co-founder Ekta Mittal, Behind the Tin Sheets has been inspired by the make-shift homes in labour colonies on the city’s outskirts – a physical reminder of the impermanence and fragility of the migrants’ lives. While In Transience was made public on April 18, Presence and Distance will be available on April 25 and May 1, respectively.
You can watch the films here.
According to the Maraa report, the workers, who earn between Rs 13,000 and Rs 15,000 a month, have not been paid since February. The report further claims that living conditions do not adhere to the prescribed safety standards and social distancing norms.
Apart from timely wages, the collective has demanded that companies and state and city authorities make arrangements to ensure food security, health care services and access to basic hygiene for the workers.
The short films, released between 2011 and 2014, work best when viewed as a trilogy. Together, they weave an intricate story around the often ignored aspects of the lives of migrants.
In Transience, released in 2011, works as an introduction into the migrants’ psyche and provides a piercing exploration of their lives. Presence, released the following year, focuses on stories among Metro workers about ghosts and spirits lurking around construction sites. This framing device sheds light on the workers’ fears and anxieties. The labourers, on whose backs cities are built, have themselves been reduced to ghosts.
In Distance, released in 2014, the idea of haunting takes on a different meaning. The Metro workers speak about old lovers, memories of their home towns, and their engagement with pop culture. We learn about the sexual aspirations and fantasies of the migrants, and are reminded that construction sites also house poets, philosophers, and dreamers.