CITU Spearheads Temple Workers Struggle in Kanyakumari
The famous Nagaraja temple in Nagercoil, the headquarters of Kanyakumari district. The name of the town is derived from the temple's name.
Temple workers attached to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department in Kanyakumari were being exploited until the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) came to their rescue in 2000. The threat of transfers, intimidation by officials, terminations and disparity in pay were the common problems of the workers before the CITU intervened.
The CITU has ensured permanent jobs for the workers, who were either recruited as daily wagers or temporarily, and payment of dearness allowance (DA) and pending arrears for 38 months up to November 2020.
The CITU is now close to winning the rightful wage for the workers as prescribed by a government order (GO) issued in 1998. The state government has issued orders to release Rs 2,000 as interim relief per month until the wage disparities are sorted out.
LEADING STRUGGLE SINCE 2000
The temples in Kanyakumari district and Shenkotai Taluk, in Tirunelveli district, are administered by the joint commissioner, incorporated and unincorporated Thirukovilgal (temples), located in Suchindram, a famous holy town in Kanyakumari. Around 490 temples are controlled by the
administration of which 430 temple workers and 32 administrative staff are employed.
The number of workers has come down from the sanctioned strength of 804 in temples and 65 in administration (2014 order) as a result of no recruitment for several years. The actual sanctioned strength in the district is 1,036 and 131 in temples and administration respectively. The temple workers include chief priests, assistant priests, pujaris, music instrument players, garland knitters, and sanitation and security workers.
“The CITU has been working effortlessly to protect the temple workers and their rights against the neglect of the state government and the administration. Initially, the workers were treated literally as slaves with officials threatening to transfer and terminate them,” Aji Kumar, the general secretary of the temple workers union, told Newsclick.
The officials, according to Kumar, were threatening workers who refused to collude with them by threatening to transfer them. Working on paltry wages from 5 am till 8 pm, they couldn’t afford to travel and find new accommodation in other places, he added. “The CITU has eliminated the threat of transfer. Travelling to faraway places and taking a rented house is beyond the capacity of the workers.”
The CITU also has ensured permanent jobs for workers recruited as daily wagers and temporarily in 2010 and 2019. The workers enjoy the status of ‘department workers’ even if they draw consolidated wages thanks to protests of CITU.
INTERVENTION IN WAGE DISPARITY
The workers’ wages are extremely low in comparison with workers of other government organisations or corporations.
Even a small hike, including a DA of Rs 85, eluded them for several years. The CITU ensured that the workers were paid DA and gratuity not paid since 2006 through massive protests and legal fights.
A GO issued to ensure fair wages for workers in 1998 never benefited the temple workers, who had to put up a legal fight to get an interim relief of Rs 50 and Rs 100. “The order was implemented immediately in all the other districts and for the administrative staff in Kanyakumari district. The CITU continuously struggled to address the wage disparity. Recently, we met the HR&CE minister to appraise him of the situation. Now, the government has ordered an interim relief of Rs 2,000 until the pay scale is modified as per the GO,” Kumar added.
The state government also increased the grants for temples in Kanyakumari from Rs 1 crore to Rs 3 crore. The demand was raised in the Assembly by a CPI(M) MLA during the discussion on demand for grants.
“The DMK government has taken a few steps to ensure the rights of the temple workers. But only the CITU is working for the welfare of the workers. Other parties who claim to be working to save Hindus have not spoken about our issues,” Siva Kumar, an office-bearer of the temple workers union, told Newsclick.
The workers and the CITU are demanding that the government and HR&CE department fill up all the vacancies to ensure the smooth functioning of temples. “Right-wing groups are trying to intervene in the administration of temples in the name of seva sangam and trusts. Cases have been filed against officials of temples for misappropriating funds. The state government can ensure the effective administration of temples by filling up the vacancies and paying the workers as per the law,” Kumar said.
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