The Role of Dabbawalas in Indian Society

Indian-dabbawala

Indian railways are unique in that they have what are referred to as “dabbawalas” which means “lunch box men” in Hindi as the term “dabba” means “box” or in this case “lunch box” in Hindi and the term “wala” means “man” in Hindi. These dabbawalas deliver food which has been cooked by the loved ones of the people who are eating it (e.g. spouse who cooks food while their significant other commutes to work. The first spouse has that food delivered to second spouse so that it is hot and ready to eat after having started the work day). This system works extraordinarily well as holding a bag while traveling upon any Indian train is nearly impossible due to the volume of people who use the railway each day. There are 5000 dabbawalas in Mumbai, India and this collective makes an astounding 200,000 deliveries per day, equating to each member of the group making an average of 40 deliveries each. Each dabbawala carries approximately 145 lbs. of food daily. The system is actually quiet elegant as some members pick up food, some members commute on trains with food, some members travel by bike or other vehicle with food, and all members typically share responsibility in that they trade meals if they run across a partner who is traveling the direction in which they need to go. This helps boost efficiency and allows for more income to be generated than if these individuals decided to work solo. Food is often marked with specialized code words so that dabbawalas know where something came from and where it is intended to be. Food is typically prepared by a clients wife, mother, or sister, but as India is changing and more women enter the workforce, shifts in who fills which role are beginning to emerge. Those who do not have a significant other at home who is available to cook for them will often have food prepared by restaurants or hotels and delivered via dabbawala. It typically costs 550 Indian Rupees ($7.75) per month which is affordable and within reach for most Indian citizens as even lower income members of society like dabbawalas earn 13,700 Indian Rupees ($192.00) per month. This system continues to flourish even as India moves into the 21st century with modern fast food and traditional restaurant establishments available to most people, as the cost is generally lower than eating out and the quality of the food is virtually always healthier. This is one of many reasons as to why leaders within this sector of business believe that the continued vitality of the industry will continue to last into the foreseeable future

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