On 8th March, International Working Women’s Day, the BBMP Contract Powrakarmikas Union of Bengaluru went on a strike and held a large rally to intensify their ongoing struggle for a life with dignity. They request all civil society organisations and individuals to stand by them in their struggle.
Although the contract Powrakarmikas (safai karamcharis or sanitation workers) face oppression from so many vantage points, they continue to emerge as a strong force against caste hierarchy, patriarchal oppression, and the advancing privatisation of state agencies. Their tenacity can only be admired.
Without the hard back breaking work that powrakarmikas do to keep the city of Bangalore functioning there would be rampant health epidemics in the city. The overwhelming majority of Powrakarmikas are women, and 97% of Powrakarmikas are from the Madiga community – a Dalit community that has been historically forced to do the dirty work that the dominant castes have refused to confront.
Today, our society has found a new way to continue the practice of untouchability through the avenue of state policy. Madigas face heavy discrimination in accessing other occupations,and as other castes shun this filthy work, the occupation of Powrakarmikas becomes hereditary and non-optional, ‘reserved’ only for the Dalits.
Every day, about 29,000 contract Powrakarmikas face injustice and abuse at the hands of contractors, the government, and society. They pick up rotting garbage, animal carcasses and human waste with their bare hands – cutting themselves on stray razor blades and being forced to handle even medical waste, used diapers and dog faeces. In addition, Powrakarmikas are also routinely insulted by residents – the very people who benefit from their work – as they are denied water, cursed and abused, and treated without any dignity. Pushing the rickety carts day and and day out through our streets takes its toll on their health.
Every day, the women have to put up with verbal, physical, and sexual harassment from their contractors – most of whom are men from the dominant Reddy community. They have no recourse to any kinds of redressal – there are no workplace sexual harassment committees as mandated by law, and neither can they afford to take the legal route — because of the highly insecure nature of their contracts.Any form of individual protest puts them at immediate risk of abuse and loss of their jobs.. In addition, as women in public spaces, they are denied privacy, security, and even a space to relieve themselves.
For the arduous nature of work that they are expected to do, they barely receive anything remotely resembling a liveable wage. They are systematically denied payments, and those that do receive money usually only get around Rs. 3000/month, a mere fraction of the Rs. 14,400/- that they are legally entitled to – a sum that itself was won after many years of struggle. They demand the abolition of this illegal contract system, which is nothing but modern day slaverysteeped in corruption that drains the BBMP’s coffers and taxpayer’s money.
Faced with all these injustices, many Powrakarmikas in the city have decided that they are no longer willing to suffer in silence, and are fighting very hard for a life with dignity, despite the risk of dismissal. They have achieved many successes in their fight so far, including back payment of 10 months wages for some workers, an increase in the minimum wage, a promise to provide improved carts, and provision of breakfast in some areas – although there is much more to be done.
It is with this in mind that the BBMP Contract Powrakarmikas Union, most of them Dalit women, are organising a strike and rally for their rights and against caste and gender oppression on this International Working Women’s Day on 8th of March.
We, as ordinary citizens, civil society organisations, students, ought to join hands with them in their ongoing struggles over the coming days and years. This could involve, joining Powrakarmika-led protests, writing statements of support, and educating your own organisations about the issues and struggles of Powrakarmikas, and so on.
Please reply to this mail outlining how your organisation will support this struggle.
- Immediate payment of revised minimum wages, which were due from August 2016 and arrears as well.
- Constitution of a Committee comprising BBMP officials, Union representatives and civil society organisations to look into the abysmal conditions of these workers including working and living conditions, occupational health hazards, etc. and submit a report to the State Government and BBMP for immediate action.
- Regularise the workers until which time the contract system should be abolished and workers should be paid directly
by the BBMP.
- Provision of all facilities including drinking water, latrines, rest rooms, protective wear as also declaration of weekly off, national holidays and festival holidays for contract powrakarmikas.
- Immediately ensure full compliance with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and give the widest publicity to the constitution of this committee and the procedure for filing complaints. This is to ensure real gender equality.
Also we request the residents of Bengaluru to:
- Kindly segregate your garbage as the law mandates it.
- Please don’t dump solid waste and other similar waste in the drainage in front of your houses.
- Please don’t throw snacks covers like chips, kurkure covers, etc., coffee, tea, juice paper and plastic cups, gutkha packets, cigarette and beedi butts on the road.
- Kindly carry a plastic bag and a small piece of tin sheet or wood with you while you take your pets for a walk. In case your pets answer nature call on the road kindly pick it using the small piece of tin or wood and put it into the plastic cover and dump it in the garbage bin.
- Dont spit on roads and walls.
- Segregate garbage at home and use it for your garden as manure. You can see how useful it could be and how you are helping in reducing the garbage accumulation, thereby contributing to environment conservation.
- If you witness any incidents where the powrakarmikas are not receiving minimum wages, safety measures, etc., kindly bring it to the notice of the local corporator.
Quoted from the Press Note
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