Wrinkles formed on the forehead of Arun, as he shouted, “Abhi toh li angdaayi hai, aage aur ladayi hai (This is just the beginning, there is a long struggle ahead).” He seemed visibly angry as he raised the slogan. Arun’s friend had died while cleaning a drain in the scorching heat. Along with Arun, hundreds of safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) thronged outside the Municipal Corporation office demanding regularisation of their services on Saturday, June 1. Although the call was for a joint protest by the workers under the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC), mostly safai karamcharis were present. The protesting workers asserted that the Safai Karamchari Union, Drivers’ and Cleaners’ Union, Sanitary Supervisor Employees’ Union and the clerical staff of the JMC form the backbone of the corporation. But unfortunately, they are deprived of their rights despite their repeated appeals.
Among the slew of demands put forth by the workers, the primary demands included: regularisation of workers who have been working under JMC for 7 or more years and sanctioning of holidays. “We are raising very genuine demands. There are workers who have been working for last 7 years to 13 years, yet their services are not regularised. What is the reason for this? As per JMC, after 7 years, the services should be regularised,” questioned Ashwani, general secretary of the Safai Karamchari Union. Rinku Gill, president of the Safai Karamchari Union said that the workers will not withdraw the strike until all their demands are met.
‘BJP has Failed Us’
“Jo Modi ji TV pe paaun dhote hai who sab natak hai, hamare liye kuch kiya toh nahi. (Modi ji washing feet of sanitation workers on TV is just a spectacle. He didn’t do anything for us.),” said a worker. Workers said that the government has given them assurance after assurance but nothing has happened till now. Another worker said, “Don’t we look like humans, then why don’t we get any holidays?” The workers are assigned duty even on Gazetted holidays and Sundays. There is no weekly off or any holiday. “This is simply against Indian labour laws,” said Ashwani.
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“BJP kya hamari madad karega. Unke log toh seedha aakar humko Bhangi bolte (What help will we get from BJP. Their people come and call us Bhangi (derogatory term used to denote a caste)),” a worker shouted from behind.
Rampant Corruption, No Safety
The workers alleged that they not are given broom, masks or gloves not even Employee State Insurance (ESI). “They don’t care whether we die or live, we are treated as second grade citizens. We don’t have money or any savings. And there is no assurance from the department as well,” one of the protestors said. Few alleged that a part of the salary they receive is taken away by the higher authorities. “Out of the measly Rs. 6,700 that we get, a part is taken by the mayor, another part by the deputy mayor and the rest is left for us. We are not even able to feed our kids,” said another worker.
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Recently, a sanitation drive was announced which was cancelled after workers protested. “Who organises a sanitation drive in this scorching heat? Sanitation drive is held twice a year – in winters and summers. We had asked for it last month itself. Yet they announced it this month. Even though that has been cancelled, you can’t ignore the inhumane attitude that they have towards us.”
A charter of demands cum memorandum was submitted by the protesters to the Commissioner of the Jammu Municipal Corporation, stating that in case the demands of the Union are not conceded, the Union will be forced to protest in the following days through work down/tool down strike.