UP in the air: meet the man who stays inside a roadside hoarding

Following Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on migrants from UP working in Maharashtra, The Indian Express tracks the life of a migrant from the state who works as security guard in Pune and has made a hoarding his home to save money.

Newsclip from The Indian Express issue of November 20, 2011

IN 2008, when workers of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) targeted North Indians in Pune, beating up auto-rickshaw drivers, hawkers and others, Ram Suhavan, a migrant from UP, escaped unhurt and unnoticed. It would have been hard to find him, living as he does in an advertisement hoarding.

Suhavan’s home in Pune, among the most expensive cities in the country, is a small space in between two sides of an advertising hoarding that stands at one of city’s busiest squares. One side of the hoarding displays an advertisement for residential apartments while the other hosts an ad for a car. The 3-ft wide hoarding that stands 60 ft above the ground, looks over a railway track where a train passes every ten minutes. For Suhavan who can’t afford a rented apartment, this is as good as it gets.

Suhavan, 43, is from Madedu village near Allahabad and works as a supervisor in a private security company in Pune. He has been living inside this hoarding for four years and now has company. His nephew Mohan too lives with him and seven other people from his village who have joined his security company as night watchmen, eat their meals and rest here during the day.

“When I came to Pune in 2007, I secured a job as security guard but had no place to live. I knew the hoarding contractor through one of my acquaintances. I told him I would guard the hoarding and would not charge him anything. He agreed and later he started paying me Rs 500 a month too,” says Suhavan. At work, he has been promoted as a supervisor and he has brought over a dozen other men from his village to join him in the security agency.

While Suhavan appears to have made peace with his home in the hoarding, the other boys living with him are far from happy. Sunder, who passed his class XII two years ago and landed in Pune two months ago with Suhavan says, “Look at our living conditions. Can we call this a home? When my parents call me and ask me about my home, I tell them I live in a nice house.”

The boys may not be happy but Suhavan says if they lived in a room in the slums instead, they would have to cough up rent and would not have been able to save anything.

Suhavan, who has studied only till class II and can barely read and write, hopes to get his 11-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son educated. Every month when he gets his salary – Rs 6,000 as supervisor and

Rs 1,000 for looking after the hoarding – he sends back about Rs 4,000 to his family.

Suhavan intends to stay here in the hoarding till he can. “l move out only if the contractor of the hoarding changes and the new one wants me to leave,” says Suhavan. He also has no plans to return to UP. “I came here because it was difficult to get a job back home. I left my village 15 years ago and worked in Punjab and Gujarat before coming to Pune. I keep bringing boys from my village to Pune simply because there are no jobs there,” says Suhavan. “It is difficult to live here but at least we have a job,” he says.