The Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar is a huge parking lot for trucks located in the north west of Delhi. It’s the largest truck roadhouse in Asia, and handles between 2000-3000 trucks (and about 6000 truckers a day). With 6000 men moving in and out, there’s a lot of business to be done, so it’s like a miniature city with services for truckers and their trucks. And that means a lot of dodgy business, i.e. sex.
Child Survival India‘s (CSI) role here relates to safe sex education of the truckers and on providing a health service to them whilst they are passing through the transport nagar. To find out more about the truckers and the aid work here, we visited some of the organised events in the transport nagar by CSI.
Satish, a peer of CSI, was an owner of a transport company. On top of managing truckers, he ran 10 interpersonal communication (IPC) education sessions with the truckers that pass by every month. Of the 50-60 truckers, there are a couple who are not well, and he keeps a track of them. The IPC sessions involve group talks about sexual health and include a “body-mapping” exercise, which is an interactive drawing and discussion about the various body parts of a female and sources of STD. This exercise was designed to increase the engagement of the truckers as this kind of discussion would typically be taboo.
What is a typical trucker’s life like? I asked Kariji and Netabalu (two truckers who participated in Satish’s IPC session) for more information. They were currently delivering goods from Delhi to Visakhapatnam, a trip of about 1700km or 72 hours. Their sharing principle was simple: one guy drives, one guy sleeps. I looked inside Kariji’s new truck – there wasn’t a sleeping cab, they were just sleeping on the seats. They work away from home for many days at a time and do not see their families often. I asked Kariji (who had been a trucker since the 80s), what had changed. He told me that before, there was a real brotherhood between the truckers, there was less fighting, less theft. Things seemed like they were only getting harder.
CSI also runs 2 health clinics in the transport nagar and I visited Dr. Prem Sagar Gutta, to talk about the services he was being paid to offer to truckers. He would perform testing for STDs and interview them on their sexual activity and could get a lab report on their health in 24 hours (normally within the lay-in time for most truckers in the transport nagar). For the truckers, the consultation was free and medicine was provided at cost. This was an added incentive for them to go there and be checked out.
The next day, we returned to the transport nagar and saw a street play organised by some shop owners. The themes of the street play were around the same topics of sexual health and the lives of the truckers, to engage and educate them. At the end of the street play, another IPC body-map session was performed and a new set of truckers were educated and informed.
It was during the street play, which attracted a lot of attention, that I noticed it also included the attention of some rag pickers and children on the street. On the way back to the office, I noticed the underside of all that we were educating: the reality of women and children on the street. Two kids were collecting garbage and carrying magnets on rope to collect scrap metal, a group of ladies were taking shelter in the 42C heat under a truck together, and a woman was leading 4 children through the roads of the transport nagar.
I spared a thought for the truckers, those in the transport nagar serving them, and those being exploited and trying to find a way to just live. A just and equitable solution to the problem was just one step too far away. Education and change was happening, but it was going to take time.