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‘Don't Shower Flowers on Sanitation Workers, Provide Them Masks’

Amid COVID-19 pandemic, sanitation workers are risking their lives, yet continue to face public ire. In Rampur, a youth allegedly died when disinfectant was sprayed into his mouth, his relatives said.
sanitisation workers and COVID-19 crisis

Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Hans India

Lucknow: The hazardous working conditions of sanitation workers, who are working during the pandemic without adequate safety gear, came to light recently in yet another incident of alleged brutality. A young sanitation worker in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh allegedly succumbed to the effect of a corrosive chemical that was sprayed into his mouth, as also of multiple injuries.

According to the relatives of the deceased teenaged youth, he was not just beaten but a chemical disinfectant was sprayed into his mouth. The sanitation worker, Kunwarpal, had gone to a village in Rampur district to spray the disinfectant as part of his job to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The local police, however, was quoted by PTI as saying that the viscera was being examined and only after that the cause of death would be ascertained. They ruled out any assault, claiming that there were no injury marks as per the post–mortem report.

The teenaged youth was a native of Mutiyapura and was reportedly sent to Pempur village on April 14, along with his colleague for spraying disinfectant in the village. As per reports, while he was spraying, a few drops of the chemical accidentally fell on the food being consumed by a  person identified as Indrapal. 

According Kunwarpal’s relatives, an irate Indrapal and a few of his friends reportedly thrashed the sanitation worker and allegedly forcibly put the nozzle of the sanitising machine into his mouth and sprayed the disinfectant. 

The sanitation worker was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital in Rampur and was later shifted to TMU Medical College in Moradabad as his condition started deteriorating. He died on April 17, while undergoing treatment.

Meanwhile, a case has been registered against Indrapal and his aides under Sections 147, 323 and 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in Bhot police station. However, no arrests have yet been made.

The Bhot police station in-charge, Yogendra Singh, told NewsClick that a hunt had been launched to nab the culprits, who have been absconding since the incident took place. "In the FIR one person Indrapali is named and four others are unnamed, and they are absconding. The guilty will be punished," he said.

Meanwhile, Harishankar, the brother of the deceased sanitation worker, told Newsclick over phone that: “"Kunwarpal had gone for sanitisation work in Pempur village on April 14. He was appointed by the municipality and was doing his duty, but Indrapal along with his other aides forced my brother to drink the disinfectant that he was spraying.”

A distraught Harishankar added: “This is how we treat sanitation workers who risk their life during pandemic and are sanitising villages so that people can be saved." 

‘Ensure Safety of Sanitation Workers’ 

In India, more sanitation workers die while cleaning septic tanks and sewers than jawans fighting terrorists, as per a report by a South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Ironically, the Rampur incident took place at a time when people in some states have been showering flowers on sanitation workers from their terraces to thank them for their service during the novel coronavirus lockdown. In fact, along with doctors and health personnel, it is sanitation workers who are on the frontline in the country’s battle against COVID-19.

Commenting on several such incidents including the latest one in Rampur, Meerut-based dalit activist Satish Gautam told NewsClick, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier used the term ‘divyang’ (divine body) instead of viklang for people with disabilities. Now, he has lauded sanitation workers and declared them as 'corona warriors', but what is ground reality? These workers have been mistreated since decades and now, during the pandemic, they are being beaten and killed by the very people they work to protect. It does not make any sense to shower flowers on them to make feel them special for a brief moment, while their family members are made to stand endlessly in queues for ration. Is this justified?"

Gautam alleged that the Adityanath government had ensured that food and ration will be distributed to every hungry person in the state, but family members of sanitation workers have been running short of essential commodities.

"What is the benefit of giving names to these workers on the ground when you cannot provide them ration wherever they are in dire need," Gautam said, accusing the government of coining such names for poor workers for their party’s political benefit. 

Sanitation Worker Died After Inhaling Disinfectant

This is not the first such incident of the highly hazardous working conditions of sanitation workers in the state. On March 23, a 30-year-old dalit sanitation worker died in Sirathu Nagar of Kaushambi district after he inhaled the disinfectant he was spraying in a village. The incident was not reported widely by the mainstream media, and only few local media outlet carried out this news. 

Sandeep, a native of Alimau village of Hathgaon block of Fatehpur, district, a contractual sanitation worker, was deputed 100 kilometres away from his home, according to local reports.

"On March 23, Sandeep was spraying a pesticide solution to keep to protect the public from epidemics like coronavirus. The gas of the medicine entered his body through his nose as he breathed, after which he fell unconscious. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he succumbed during treatment," Gautam told NewsClick. 

It was alleged that Sandeep died as he was not given safety gears before going for spraying the disinfectant. 

Speaking on no let-up in deaths of sanitation workers and the way they are being treated during the pandemic, Bezwada Wilson, national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan, an organisation working to eradicate manual scavenging, said such deaths are not only happening in Uttar Pradesh but everywhere in India.

Sanitation workers stopped working after they were not given masks and other safety gears at Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) Hospital. "I have written a letter regarding this to every chief minister but all fell on deaf ears. How shameful that the government is spending crores to eradicate coronavirus but cannot provide adequate masks and PPE kit to sanitation workers who are putting their life at risk," he said.

Alleging that the government was treating sanitation workers like slaves, Wilson said: “The sanitation workers is working for our safety but they are ones who are being treated like they are not Indian citizens,"  he added stated. 

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