Coolie Number 934

NE

It is 8 am. Prem Singh has reached the gates of the Attari Integrated Check Post (ICP), which is manned by the Border Security Force (BSF). He queues up with his colleagues to enter the sprawling grounds of the post. He has braved the bone-chilling cold, pedalling his way to the ICP from his native village on the Attari border. Like his other colleagues—many of them much younger—Singh, 60, is frisked by BSF personnel before being allowed to enter the ICP. Inside, at the trade handling section, the roll call is read out and Singh registers his presence—coolie (porter) number 934 at ICP.

The check post is bustling with activity. Trucks continuously ply from India and Pakistan, carrying goods and crossing over to the other side. Pakistan's import list includes gypsum, soda ash, cement, sugar, dry fruits, dry dates, herbs, glass and textiles. On the export list are soyabean, plastic granules, tomatoes, onions, liquefied carbon dioxide and fresh meat.

Prem Singh is among 1,500 porters at Attari ICP who take turns to work on alternate days. Today, he is working on the unloading section of the ICP, where he will handle consignments coming from Pakistan and stack them in a Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) godown.

His turn comes, after waiting for an hour, when he and nine other porters head to unload a truck carrying light soda ash. "For each bag, I get two-and-a-half rupees," he says, as he gets ready to lift the bags. For the next hour-and-a-half, he is busy lifting the bags from the truck and taking them to the godown. Two porters assist him in placing a 50-kg bag on his head and then he walks nearly 20 metres to hand it over to two others who are waiting to stack the bags.

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