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Understanding The Predicament Of Women Hawkers in Mumbai Local Trains

This paper focuses on their daily life struggle as women from marginalised communities and the business structure of the hawkers, while highlighting the issues of labour market, legal status of the train vendors, safety concerns etc.

This research paper by Pallavi Wardhan was presented at Indian Association for women studies conference.

This paper intends to highlight the living conditions of women hawkers, in Mumbai local trains. For some, railway hawkers are a menace, while for others, they are of great help; a wonderful resource of affordable shopping, without having to spare separate time to purchase stuff. Mumbai local train is city’s lifeline, as most working class population use the local train for commutation, on a daily basis. As Mumbai continues to become overcrowded by day, the number of people commuting in local trains has also increased. Through this crowd and chaos, train hawkers manage their way inside the trains. But more often, the hawkers are treated as insignificant human beings, who are capable of creating an unsafe and unhygienic atmosphere in the train. Women hawking in trains lead vulnerable lives because a) they are illegal vendors. If caught, they have to pay hefty fines. b) the profit margin from selling in train is bare minimum. c) like every other public space, women are unsafe even in this field of employment.

The hawkers selling in Mumbai trains fall under unorganised / informal sector. The term unorganised sector is described as “… consisting of all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale or production of goods and services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with less than ten total workers.” This sector is not directly monitored by legislative intervention. In India, 95 per cent or around 195 million women are employed in the unorganised sector or in unpaid labour.

This paper focuses on their daily life struggle as women from marginalised communities and the business structure of the hawkers, while highlighting the issues of labour market, legal status of the train vendors, safety concerns etc. For margnalized populations, public space is often a place of discrimination, ignorance and violence, even when they heavily rely on these public spaces for their living. Each city subtly tells its people which part of the city they belong to and in which part they will remain unwelcomed. This paper will make an attempt to learn and understand the functioning of public space, particularly in context to women hawkers in local trains.

Women in the development procedure remain invisible, inspite of their presence here since ages. More often, women’s nature of work is majorly informal. Thus, they remain unpaid or are considered a cheap source of labour, their work stays unrecognised; pushing them away from standard employment indicators. In unorganised setting, women work in inferior conditions to the organised sector, which lacks financial and legal security.

It is necessary to acknowledge the passion of women hawkers to be financially independent, even when they know that their survival is merely hand to mouth. Apart from low earnings, they also have to be utmost careful about not losing their earnings to authorities. Their unrest with the system remains constant, with their right to survival at stake. Old and middle aged women, teenagers, girls, married women are most commonly found in female hawking category in trains. Some of these women take up hawking profession as a tradition or an easy way to look after the kids when at work (many of them carry their children along; jumping from one local to another). Their daily routine is a challenge.

This paper would look to uphold the divide in the job quality between formal and informal sector, examining the existing gender inequality in employment field which in its true characteristic way is discriminatory. Research methodology used for research will be descriptive and correlational model, with ethnographic method and focused group discussions.

In conclusion, the paper would make an attempt at criticising the existing policies and system’s interventions, and also suggest ideas for bettering the employment conditions of train hawkers.


In Mumbai, distance between two places is measured not by kilometres, but by the time needed to reach that place via public transport. That is the reason why local trains are regarded as Mumbai’s lifeline. For 167 years now, Mumbai railways have managed to serve zillions of commuters. Mumbaikars usually share a love-hate relationship with the local trains. Love because it’s the fastest, cheapest and most reliable mode of public transport; hate because the locals during peak hours is a nightmare due to the crowd. Someone on the phone, someone watching videos, someone knitting, some someone reading and most of them chit-chatting (not necessary with known people) – is the usual scene in the train. Some bond over boss-ranting, home chaos while some engage in political discussions. On spending years in the locals, Mumbaikars have made friends and enemies, in equal numbers.

Hawkers are an integral part of local trains in Mumbai. They can be found in each compartment, every single day. From fake jewellery to cosmetics, stationary, snacks, clothes, lotions, chaat, potions and nimboo mirchi, stacks for everything from headache to refreshments, you will find them all, in the train. Some hawkers also have a special jingle or a song to grab everyone’s attention.  Legally, these hawkers are prohibited from selling anything in the local trains. The Indian Railway Protection Force Service (IRPFS) is a security force, established by the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957; enacted by the Indian Parliament for “the better protection and security of railway property”, with powers to search, arrest, investigate and prosecute, though the ultimate power rests, in the hands of the Government Railway Police. The force is under the authority of the Indian Ministry of Railways. If these authorities find them hawking in the train, they have to pay a hefty fine or their goods are taken away, as a punishment. Yet, we see them in almost every compartment of the train.

Mumbai city is experiencing huge population growth; people from various parts of the world come to the city of dreams for employment purposes. This has resulted in massive increase in the crowd, in public transport. Local trains are the most common transport used by Mumbai people. Hence, the frequency of trains across the three lines: central, western and harbour, is quite high in Mumbai. Even though the frequentness between two trains is merely a gap of two to three minutes, the trains are always overcrowded with commuters, at peak hours. In such a situation, train hawkers become a menace and unwanted crowd, in an already crowded space. While for others, train hawkers are a blessing in disguise; a great resource of affordable shopping. But these hawkers who – earn their daily living by changing number of trains, hopping compartments, getting treated as an insignificant crowd, living in constant fear of getting caught and losing their hard earned money to the authorities, and compromising safety for responsibilities, sought to hawk in the local train even when they know that they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and there is no one to protect their rights; they are living on the edge. In this paper, I have attempted to look closely in the lives of women hawkers in Mumbai locals.


Usually the people who benefit from growth acquired by the development model, which is adopted by the developing countries, is a small segment. There is wide social and economic disparity in our society. And, the one at the bottom of the social ladder, due to this disparity, has remained in the same social strata for generations. This population is socially marginalised, with little or low standard of living and economically backward.

Hawkers in Mumbai locals are illegal sellers, and they fall underunorganised / informal sector. The term unorganised sector is described as “… consisting of all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale or production of goods and services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with less than ten total workers.” The Kenya Report on Employment Incomes and Equality, of the International Labour Organisation described the characteristics of the informal sector as (a) ease of entry (b) reliance on indeginous resources, (c) family ownership of enterprises (d) small scale operation (e) skills acquired outside the intensive and adopted technology and (f) unregulated and competitive markets.

The informal sector is a multi-situation syndrome. It is characterized by non-uniformity in the nature, characteristics and conditions of jobs. The informal sector consists of regular workers and casual labour, self employed and those working for others, illiterate to semi-educated, in all age groups (including below and above the normal working age bracket). This combination of differentiated and distinct characters is more pronounced when we talk of informal sectors in the urban areas; of a country like India.

This sector is not directly monitored by legislative intervention. In India, 95 percent or around 195 million women are employed in the unorganised sector or in unpaid labour. Due to unavailability of trustworthy sources, there is no ideal way to find out the exact statistics on informal sector’s size and its contribution to the economy, which confirms our claim that the concerns of the informal sector remains unattended and inadequately understood by the Government. The workers in the informal sector have little or no social security, provided by their employers and even the state.  Especially in a country like India, workers in the unorganized sector enjoy almost no working class rights through coverage under labour and social security laws. If any laws exist for them,they are observed in their violation (Advani and Saini, 1995; Saini, 1995). India’s socio-economic development depends on organised sector in quantitative manner, but it largely depends on informal sector for qualitative aspect of development. The informal sector is the result of the under-development which is a necessary evil of the capitalist sector and underdeveloped agricultural economy.[8]

Along with having no social security, the informal sector in its diversified work structure has put women workers at the bottom most strata. They receive the lowest returns and least scope of growth. The disappointing social status of women in the labour market is a known phenomenon, which is a result of the age-old social norms that demoralises women’s integration in socio-economic development and improvement. Women workers fall majorly in the informal sector category.

Gender Disparity In Labour Market

Gender disparity is one of the most critical challenges faced across the world today, in the labour market. Their quality of employment, once women enter the labour market, has several limitations. Gender inequality in labour market exists, constraining women’s choices, caused by various factors such as personal preferences, socio-economic constraints, gender role conformity, lack of access to safe transportation, child care (women are regarded as the primary caregivers of the children), migration, lack of job opportunities, occupational segregation, societal attitudes that give preference to early marriages over jobs and education, a general disapproval of working women, etc. But, women who are are severely affected by poverty have no option but to participate in the labour market, irrespective of the gender norms. Education has the scope to liberate everyone, but the access to it is made difficult for those who belong to the lower social status, and women from informal sector fall in this category, due to their “intersectional identity” as women belonging to lower socioeconomic class of the society. 

Via- freepressjournal

In a country like India which is experiencing population growth and limited capital resource, cannot afford to ignore the benefit of human resource contribution to economic growth. Women working in the informal sector constitute 95% of the total working population. There, not only do they face gender discrimination, but their contribution to income generation is lower than that of the men, working in the same sector. Meaning – half of the population contributes to less than half to the national income. Women continue to be employed in jobs that are mostly low-paying and in low-valued occupations such agriculture, textiles, and domestic service. Much of female employment in india is self employment and unpaid work (in family owned enterprises). No matter whether they fall in which employment category – organised or informal sector, rural or urban, casual and salaried, women workers in India get paid a lower wage rate. Lack of quality jobs and increasing wage disparity are key markers of inequality in the Indian labour market. In addition, when women are a part of paid employment, on average, they work for fewer hours for pay or profit either, since they opt to work part-time or because part-time work is the only option available to them.

According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, published in April 2018, just by giving equal opportunities, India can add up to  $770 billion—more than 18%—to its GDP by 2025. Even if we analyse the gender wage gap existing in an organised sector across different occupations and different enterprise types, there is still a noticeable disparity. A woman professional, working at a higher position as a manager, CEO, legislator.etc, earns less than her male counterpart, indicating presence of Glass Ceiling Effect – An invisible barrier that does not allow women and minorities to rise to the highest rank, Glass Ceiling can be seen in both organised and informal labour markets, even in today’s world. But, these women account for only one percent of the total female work force and this gap is the lowest as they are not aware of their rights. Globally, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, leading to lifetime of wage inequality between men and women, where more women are pushed into poverty.

Quality Of Employment In Formal Sector vs Unorganised Sector

The ‘alternative’, ‘atypical’ or informal workforce has grown in developed and developing countries alike (Charmes, 2011; Katz & Krueger, 2016). The First Indian National Commission on Labour (1966- 69) defined, unorganised sector workforce as –“those workers who have not been able to organize themselves in pursuit of their common interest due to certain constraints like casual nature of employment, ignorance and illiteracy, small and scattered size of establishments”.  In a developing nation, the informal employment sector becomes the backbone of the economy. When the traditional wage employment sector fails to provide job opportunities to individuals, they sort to different employment alternatives to fulfill their necessities. The characteristics of the continued existence of this informal labour market, in a developing world are – appalling working conditions that include lower remuneration, lower labour standards, uncertainty of employment (the worker can be fired from her/his job without intimation), minimal or no social security, having no access to employment networks etc.

Informal sector employs a wide population of the workforce in India.(Ghatak, 2017) and the formal sector depends on it for good and services. Thus, the quality of life of the people in India will be improved only when conditions become better for those working in the informal sector. Organisations in organised sector are licensed, abide by the labour laws, provide quality employment  including better pay, social security, offers leaves etc. Some even provide medical and pension schemes. One of the more recent evolutions of informal employment has been of informal employment within formal enterprises. In the interest of flexibility and cost-reduction, many formal firms in India and across the world increasingly hire workers on a temporary or informal basis.

Labour regulations, in more ways than one, have implicitly supported this informalisation or ‘contractualisation’ of the work force.(Abraham, n.d) Being employed in formal enterprises allows these workers access to more capital and technology. Consequently, their productivities may be higher and earnings relatively more than their counterparts in the informal enterprises,  in the informal enterprises, leading some to conclude that this informalisation has been for the benefit of the workforce (A.K. Ghose, 2016). There is increasing precariousness of employment within the formal sector played out as outsourcing or subcontracting as well as contractualization and casualization of the workforce. But, these workers are recognized as workers. For many working in the informal sector, that recognition is itself a site of struggle. This non-recognition is not limited to perception by outsiders; informal workers themselves do not identify as workers. This creates a major obstacle for organizing as the very basis of collectivization, a common purpose or identity, is missing (Learning From Marginalised Workers, 2015)

Issues Of Women Hawkers In India

The Hawking/ Vending profession has existed in India for years now, making these hawkers an integral part of our city’s culture and also our economy. They fall under the informal sector of the labour market. Avek Sen describes, “They are illegal to the courts, inconvenient for the authorities, necessary for parties and unions and thus they are seen as categories of hawkers and beggars, divested of history and identity and hence of rights and needs. Their presence is acknowledged when counting them up for surveys, and when they have to be represented in law, policy, unions and quotas. These are some of the country‟s most vulnerable and, in every way unrepresented people thrown to their own resources in devising what they do for a living”[17] A mere hand to mouth survival, life of a hawker in Indian city is rather disheartening. Their profession demands an endless daily fight for existence, because of reasons such as low profit earnings, low sales, fear of losing their hard earned money to the system. But they have no option but to continue with their struggles.

Photo by Puneet Chandhok

 All women are working women, even if they don’t step outside their house for a “job”, because they continue to work at home as their ‘family responsibility’. Though working for time immemorial, women remain invisible in the development process. They constitute a major population that works in the informal sector. They are unskilled, form cheap sources of income, their work remains unrecognised and they get paid less than their male counterparts. The reason why they are “allowed” to consider hawking as an option to make ends meet is because it involves low cost of entry. The working conditions of women hawkers are very poor. Not only do they lack social protection, but they are exposed to innumerable health, safety concerns, pollution and extreme weather conditions as well. Their vulnerable state of living includes zero or minimal access to sanitation, hygiene and water. If these factors take a toll on their health, more expenses and loss of working days is guaranteed. They also have to save themselves from street crimes like sexual harassment, violence, trafficiking, theft etc. Apart from all this, the system makes their life more miserable because if they land up in trouble for being “encroachers”in public (since they are anyway considered as insignificant and unsocial elements) not only is their labour is at risk but they also lack social security.

Hawkers are a common sight in local trains in Mumbai. In the hawkers category, female hawkers in trains is one of the most common categories, that includes – middle-aged women, young girls, teenagers and old-aged women. Hawking requires immense physical labour. These women start off early in the morning, by first purchasing the goods from a local wholesale market and then they begin hopping from one train to another.


Marginalisation is often based on social notions such as gender, class, caste, religion, socioeconomic position, geographic location etc. Marginalisation means to be marginal. It states dynamics between the one who dominates (privileged and powerful) and the one who discriminated against (powerless). Public space is for public use (adapted from Moudon, 1987). A good public space must be accommodative for everyone including the marginal, the forgotten, the silent (Badshah, 1996), and undesirable people such as informal street hawkers, differently abled people, women, children, economically and socially marginalized people etc. But sometimes, our public space cannot accommodate the rights of these people. Thus, they become marginalised in public space as well.

So far, these problems, as well as other social issues are clearly unresolved in the master plan of the city. Cities for the Citizen ‘(Douglas & Friedmann, 1998) serves a slogan. Informal sector and the marginalized become the forgotten elements in urban space (Out of Place, [Yatmo, 2008]). Women (from any social location) are part of this marginalised community. Women are allowed access to public space only for legitimate purposes, and are expected to walk the straight line between home to their place of purpose. Women do not have the right to purposelessly loiter. In 2011, the seminal work Why Loiter? (Phadke, Ranade, Khan, 2011) attempted to bring a paradigm shift in how women could claim full citizenship. Based upon 3 years of research work the book argues that in order to maximise their access to public space, women do not need “greater surveillance or protectionism,” but rather “the right to engage in risk.” Only by claiming the “right to risk,” they argue, can women truly claim citizenship.

In Mumbai, women use their identity as that of a worker or a student to access public space; employment and education form a legit reason for women to be in public space. Other acceptable forms include acceptable notions of womanhood that of a mother and religion. When it is neither, a woman gets exposed to prejudices and vulnerabilities, for being present in public space for no reason – “for loitering”. Ironically, sex work is not illegal under the provisions of Indian law. However, soliciting in public is. This brings to light our society’s desire for neat public and private boundaries, demonstrating the conservative morality to keep all sexual activities indoor (Phadke et al., 2011). Women hawkers fall in the various categories of a marginalised person – gender, class, geographic location, socioeconomic location etc. But, their poverty stops them from pursuing their occupation. They continue to work, taking all the risks of  crime, getting harassed and not abiding by the “societal norms”. They don’t solicit in public space without work but they are always open to social conjectures for choosing what they do.


Ethnographic qualitative research methodology was adopted to understand the predicament of women hawkers in Mumbai local. This method involved observing and interacting with the  participants – women hawkers that travel one train to another, selling their goods, in their real-life environment ie. in the local trains and on the platform. The central aim of ethnography is to provide rich, holistic insights into peoples’ world views and actions, as well as the nature of the location they inhabit (Hughes 1992). As Hammersley (1985) stated, “the task [of ethnographers] is to document the culture, the perspectives and practices of the people in these settings. The aim is to ‘get inside’ the way each group of people sees the world” (p152). Ethnography provided me with a wider understanding of the problems of women hawkers. In this research methodology, Individual method was used to observe the participants, and focus group discussions.

Ethnographic research helped in identifying and analysing unexpected issues of these women, exploring behaviours and emotions of the participants. Ethnography is a research methodology and as such it has a strong foundation in empiricism and naturalism (Hammersley & Atkinson 2007) – collectively these approaches emphasize the collection of data in naturalistic social settings. Ethical issues to be considered by conducting the research, as mentioned by Punch (1994)  – “the avoidance of harm, fully informed consent and the need for privacy and confidentiality” (p89). This research was conducted across all the  railway lines – Central, Western and Harbour and in the local trains.

Focus Group Discussion- Focus groups are defined as “group discussions exploring a set of specific issues that are focused because the process involves some collective activity” (Kitzinger, 1994, p. 104). Another qualitative research methodology used for collecting data to understand the living conditions of women hawkers in Mumbai locals is Focus Group Discussion (FGD) because it was a good way to gather the women hawkers and observe their discussions and experience of selling goods in Mumbai trains. I conducted a total of two FGDs, with five participants each. The groups were facilitated by me. It was conducted at Vikhroli and Kanjurmarg railway station.Focus groups yield large amounts of qualitative data and maximize face-to-face (FTF) participant–researcher contact compared to other qualitative methods (Parker & Tritter, 2006).

The key aspect of focus groups is the interactions between participants as a way of collecting qualitative data that would not emerge using other methods (i.e., individual interviews; Duggleby, 2005; Kitzinger, 1994; Peters, 1993). Focus groups are a social method of obtaining research data through informal group discussions on a specific topic.

Focus group discussion aspect of focus groups allows participants to discuss, agree, or dissent with each other’s ideas and to elaborate the opinions they have already mentioned. Therefore, the method not only helps one attain a deeper shared meaning of responses that enhances the trustworthiness of research results (Kitzinger, 1994; Stahl, Tremblay, & LeRouge, 2011).


The framework adopted to interpret the observations gathered by ethnographic research method, in order to understand the life of women hawker in local trains of Mumbai was Thematic Analysis. The procedure of identifying patterns or themes within qualitative data is Thematic Analysis. Braun & Clarke (2006) suggest that it is the first qualitative method that should be learned as ‘ provides core skills that will be useful for conducting many other kinds of analysis’ (p.78). Through this framework, the data collected by observing and interacting with women hawkers in Mumbai trains is  coded and developed to address their predicament.


The struggles and life experiences as hawkers shows them the brutality of this society; their poverty finds no end, their fight for survival continues from one generation to another. If they are lucky enough to educate their children in the meantime, only then their life can get any better. Women hawkers in the local trains or on the street are severely stuck by poverty. They have no option to enter this labour market, which is informal in nature that exploits their rights by giving no social protection. To understand the quandary of women hawkers in the local trains, I conducted Ethnographic Research and Focus Group Discussion. The research findings are narrowed down in following themes-

Activities – The women who hawk in the trains in Mumbai buy their stock from different wholesale markets, located in Kurla, Dadar, Kalwa, Crawford market etc., whichever is convenient for them. They sell various products from beauty items to stationary, toiletries, accessories, show piece eatables etc. They sell these items at a loss cost than the market price. The range of costs varies from Rs 2 to Rs 200-300. On everyday’s sale, they earn 200-300 Rs daily (the profits vary from one hawker to another, depending on what she is selling). These hawkers have the liberty to choose what they wish to sell. There are days when they are left with unsold goods. In such a situation, they take their baskets home because they cannot find any safer option to protect their livelihood.

Environment – Train hawkers are looked up as insignificant and unsocial elements. They get yelled at and even humiliated by commuters, for disrupting their journey time. Along with that, a general mentally of the society forces the commuters to remain conscious around these hawkers from stealing their belongings. Because poverty causes crimes! In a country like India which discriminates individuals based on factors their caste, class, gender, community etc., women hawkers become easy targets of all these factors. Then, why do they enter this occupation? Hawking is the easiest employment option for the informal sector.

Express Photo by Puneet Chandhok

The women who are a part of this occupation take up hawking either due to convenience such as – no time constraints, no one to report to, can be as independent as she wants and most importantly, she can take care of her children while at work (some hawkers carry their kids with them in trains), tradition or those help their family survive. They stick to their routes for hawking. Train hawkers job involves various risks such as getting caught by the officials, having no one to fight for their rights and safety, and the mothers who carry their babies on them and enter/jump out crowded trains risking their and the baby’s life. Their responsibility of protection gets juggled between Railway Protection Force (RPF), Mumbai Police and Ticket Collectors. Technically, the responsibility falls under Center Govt. ie. RPF but because of their illegal status, their “rights” become illusionary. Their houses are located far from the town eg. Diva, Bhayander, Kasara etc. because they cannot afford to buy or rent a house in the city. Thus, they travel distance for hawking. If RPF catches them, as a penalty, they have to pay a fine of 1200 Rs to 2000 Rs to bail out themselves and sometimes their goods get confiscated by the officials. They collect it back by either paying a fine or by some mutual understanding. When a person earns mere 200-300 Rs daily, paying such a hefty fine is a nightmare. The participants said that many young girls and women help them in hiding their basket if they spot a RPF official, so that they don’t get caught. Generally, Railway Police remains as aloof as possible in the matters of train hawkers; they get involved only if a commuter complains about the hawker or there is some fight in the train or platform.

Interactions – Young girls who hawk on the train don’t get an opportunity to study. Family responsibilities empowers over education. In the day time they hawk and after that, they have to cook for their family or take care of their younger siblings. Many girls carry their younger siblings with them on the train since back home, there is no one to take care of them.Old-aged women usually hawk as they have to earn for themselves with nobody to depend on in their family. There are also some blind hawkers on the train.

When asked whether they have ever been cheated by any buyers, one of them promptly replied ‘Log sab ache he hote hai train mein. Kyun koi daga karega. Vishwaas hai humara Mumbaikar pe’ (People are nice on the train. Why will anyone cheat? I trust my city people). Anita (19) and Chaaya sell fridge covers and socks, respectively. Neither of them has ever gone to school. But they have no complaints. ‘yeh humara dhanda hai. Koi takleef nahi hai hume. Kabhi kabhi samaan pakad le lete hai but wapas dete hai. Sab ache log hai. Hum pass vagera toh nahi lete. Aise he bechte hai samaan’  (This is our business. We don’t have any problems. Sometimes our stuff gets confiscated, but they also give it back. We haven’t issued any pass; we sell goods like this only)  Then, there’s a kachori-wali claiming that her kachoris are fresh, popular and no one can challenge its quality. She assures the customers that they need not pay her without tasting the delicious kachoris.  Hawking in railway compartments is a business because one needs exuberant skills like – being extrovert, coming up with fancy jingles and making contacts. And each and every vendor is there because of their vulnerable condition. One day, a girl wearing municipal school uniform kept staring at the kachori wali. She even asked her the price, twice. Kachori wali could sense that she was extremely hungry but wouldn’t be able to spare 30 bucks for the packet. Thus, she taunted the little girl ‘kya kab se kachori ko dekh he rahi. Nahi le sakti na, toh choodh de dekhna’ (Why are you staring at the kachoris? You cannot afford it. Let it be) . The little girl, feeling humiliated, bent her head down and kept quiet. They both knew that they were vulnerable but still, the lady couldn’t relate her condition to the little girl.

A conversation between a seven year-old girl, selling tissue and a lady (she must be in her 30s)

Lady:  How much for one packet?

Girl: 10Rs

Lady: Okay, give me one packet for 50Rs

Girl: Huh. No. One packet for 10 rs. That way, five packets for 50 Rs. 

Lady: (Giving her 50 RS note) But, I need only one packet. Keep the money and give me just one packet. 

Girl : No no no.  I can’t. You either keep this money or take 40Rs from me (instantly removed 40rs from her pocket)

Lady: But I want you to keep this money. 

Girl: Okay. So, take these remaining 4 packets.

She kept the money, but gave her 5 packets. And she hurriedly got down at Kurla station, with her tissue packets and boarded the first class compartment. This incident stunted everyone around. Each of us had a smile on our face. There are two inferences that I could make. But the fact remains, it wouldn’t take long for the little girl to lose her innocence, in this brutal world.


Article 19(1)(g) of Indian Constitution gives every citizen the right to carry-on any lawful trade or business. This right lets the hawkers engage themselves in the trade, by being protected by the law. The right to carry-on trade is a fundamental right of the vendors and hawkers, but this right comes with restrictions such as, they are not allowed to hawk on every road in the city.

Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 is an Act of the Parliament of India, enacted to regulate street vendors in public areas and protect their rights. The idea of licensing came up to prevent illegitimate businesses which run in the name of street vending. It also aims at protection of hawkers from the harassment of police and other influential persons. It would serve the purpose of identification of vendors in the area so as to maintain the space management and it also helps in registration.

Hawker’s rights often contradict with commuter’s rights to road and street. Justice Ganguly, in his judgement said “This court is giving this direction in exercise of its jurisdiction to protect the fundamental right of the citizens. The hawkers and squatters or vendors’ right to carry on hawking has been recognised as a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution. At the same time, the right of the commuters to move freely and use the roads without any impediment is also a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (d).” Thus, we cannot unsee the grey area in the legal status of hawkers in India.

When it comes to hawking in the local trains or on platforms, their legality changes even further. The hawkers who sell goods in trains are considered as illegal hawkers. They don’t have a license to hawk on the train or on the platform. The central government manages trains and railway platforms, and it has the right to impose any restriction on the activity that disrupts public places, that also includes the employment and trade of the hawkers. Because hawking in train or railway platforms is illegal, the governing bodies have the authority to impose punishment on the hawkers. In simple words, those hawking in the local trains are very much visible to the human eye but yet they are invisible to the system.


A report by McKinsey Global Institute, published in April 2018 estimates that a higher participation of women in the workforce, raising the number of hours spent by them on the job, and including them in higher-productivity sectors will help spur such economic growth. First of all, it is important to improve measurement tools to analyse women’s participation in the labour market. Due to the structure of the informal sector, it gets difficult to analyse their presence in the market. And only then well-informed policies can be developed for their protecting the rights of women hawkers in local trains.

Promote formal education for females. Along with promotion of education, things that need to be taken into consideration while promoting formal education to women is – proper access to reach their schools and college, ensure safety while transportation and at the educational institute, improve sanitation conditions and create more job opportunities for them.  Education along with vocational training and entrepreneurship programmes will be beneficial in enrolling women in decent jobs.

Economic diversification will encourage formalization of all occupations and activities, reducing poverty through income diversification.

Promoting even distribution of family responsibilities across members of the house.

In order to narrow down gender inequalities and gender -specific vulnerabilities, policies addressing property rights and rights to assets become crucial.  Women in the informal sector get highly discriminated against on the basis of their rights to productive assets, access to public space, wages, financial security etc. Policies to reduce these gender gaps is necessary to secure women in the informal sector.

Informal sector has widened its scope of providing job opportunities to women (and others). It comprises home-based work, self-employment and other informal enterprises that help women in financially sustaining themselves and at the same time, giving them a levy of working as per their convenience. Thus, it is important to implement policies that improve the terms and conditions of women working in such occupations. This will encourage more women to participate in the labour market, contributing to the overall economy. 



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[1] National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, in their Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector




[5] National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, in their Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector



[8] Rob Davis, “Informal Sector Subordinate Mode of Production : A Model”, in Ray Bromly and Chris Gerry Teds.J, “Caused Labour and Poverty in Third World Countries”, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1979, p.68.

[9] http:


[11] Oxfam India’s new report on ‘Mind The Gap – State of Employment in India’,

[12] World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for women 2017 by Internation Labour Organisation

[13] Oxfam India’s new report on ‘Mind The Gap – State of Employment in India’,






[19] Stations and Areas in Mumbai


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