Posted by: kaegw | June 18, 2008

Using their heads to move a pile of rubble

Debby and I are in India visiting two of our kids who have been wandering around here for the last seven months. It’s a fascinating culture. I tend to pay attention to things I know, so I’ve been watching the construction business here.

We were staying at a little cheap hotel and I could see a construction project out our window. A large pile of construction rubble (broken concrete, rocks, etc.) was within view. Since labor is cheap in India, their method to move the pile involved no equipment more complicated than a shovel.

Several women, wearing the traditional saris, made the process fascinating to me. Each woman walked quite erectly with a wide wicker basket balanced on her head. The basket seemed about 3′ wide and less than a foot deep. Men standing at the rubble pile loaded this basket and helped her lift it onto her head (the lifting seemed to take two people but the carrying was a solo activity).

The women kept making the trip back to the pile with empty baskets on their heads, then walked away with full ones. I watched for a while, intrigued by a very different method and set of relationships than I’ve ever seen on the job. I wondered a few things.

How do the women get treated on the jobsite? Do the men harrass them? Flirt with them? Ignore them? Does anyone go through an economic analysis of using labor vs equipment? What happens here with work site injuries? Do more primitive work methods bring less worker satisfaction since less gets done or is the level of worker satisfaction independent of technology and production?

The only thing I know for sure is that when we got back from a day of touring Mumbai, the pile of rubble was completely moved. The next day they were placing concrete for a 4th floor slab and the woman material movers were carrying concrete in baskets above their heads.


  1. Actually, I think that most of the people working on these sites are related and/or married. Also, the women are tough as nails. They generally rest less than the men and just keep up their circuit unfailingly.

  2. A typical scenario on many jobs is time wasted trying to figure out an easier way, using a machine, until someone tired of all the talk grabs a sledgehammer or a shovel. Next thing you know, with everyone pitching in, the job is done.

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