Sanitation workers are agitating for their rights: minimum wages and permanent job; the municipal corporation has responded by terminating them and pushing them behind bars
On the eve of the New Year, when most of us were preparing to welcome it with new hopes, some people were preparing for a battle for their existence in our own backyard. The safai karmacharis of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, consisting mainly of Valmiki community members who are better known as the Dalit of the Dalits, have been keeping Ahmedabad clean for several decades now.
About 5000 such workers went on an indefinite strike on December 31 because the administration refuses to give them the status of permanent employees, thus depriving them of several rights. If this one does not shock you, nothing else will: Working in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, comparable with only the worst job on the earth, more than 580 members of the Valmiki community have lost their lives in Ahmedabad on duty in the last 23 years. These brave men often go down the gutter to clean our shit with least safety and health measures and assistance from AMC.
For a moment, think about the manhole that stinks unbearably from as far as 20 feet because of the filth and the poisonous gases in it. Now imagine yourself getting into it, risking health and even life, because it is a very important job. In a civilized society, the safai workers deserve the maximum respect as their contribution to keeping the diseases away from us is more than that of even the doctors.
And now guess how much they are paid by AMC? Rs 105 for four hours and Rs 210 for eight hours of work that, if given a choice, nobody on earth would like to do! Well, thatâ€™s less than what you pay for a pizza and less than the minimum wages fixed by the government. Moreover, since all of them are contract and part-time workers, they have no rights otherwise available to permanent employees. They have no leaves and are not paid overtime either. The most important issue is that they do not have any provident fund and despite working for AMC for 20-30 years they would be left with no money in their old age.
Their association, Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha, had sent a representation to the municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad and the chairman of the standing committee, requesting the administration to make these workers permanent under AMCâ€™s 1982 policy of regularization of workers who have worked for over five years or 900 days. However, no steps have been taken by the administration to regularize their job.And when they demanded their fundamental right to minimum wages, hundreds of Safai Karmacharis were terminated by AMC.
The police arrested several workers on the very first day of the strike. In a week, all kinds of threats were issued. Paying such abysmal low wages to workers who belong to the Scheduled Caste not only amounts to forced labour under Article 23 of the Constitution, but also amounts to an offence under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The police refused to file a FIR against Municipal Commissioner Guruprasad Mohapatra and his deputy Devang Desai, violating the recent SC ruling. These threats, arrest and terminations only firmed up the unity of the safai-workers as they came out in large numbers to hold rallies across Ahmedabad on Tuesday.
Little wonder, workers of the Municipal Transport Service and jawans of the Gujarat Industrial Security Force and other industrial units of Ahmedabad joined them. The rally while passing by Income- Tax crossroads gave the statue of Mahatma Gandhi a symbolic bath to clean up the dirt gathered all these years. The workers also demanded that instead of spending thousands of crores on a statue (of Sardar Patel), the government spend the money for better livelihood, health and education of the poor. The big question is why is BSP, which has a good presence in Gujarat silent on the issue?
Why are Dalit representatives like BJP MLA R N Patel or the BJP M P Kirit Solanki silent on the issue? When will the so-called Dalit leaders stop taking their vote-banks for granted? When will police officers be punished for refusing to register FIRs? And when will we, as a society, wake up to ensure enough sun for those who wake up the sun for us?
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Originally authored by Pravin Mishra in Ahmedabad Mirror – Link