“Despite 74 years of Independence, the sewer worker is still a slave and caught in the shackles of Casteism”

sewer workers

New Delhi, November 27th: A “Roundtable with Sewer Workers” was organized on 27th November, Saturday, 2021 in New Delhi from 2:00 pm- 5:00 pm in which sewer workers from Delhi came together along with Worker Unions and Government bodies. The workshop was attended by more than 100 sewer workers.

The Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) has worked on the social, economic, and working conditions of the sewer workers in Delhi, especially among workers working under a contractual system.

Mr. Ashok Kumar (National Coordinator, DASAM) spoke about the exploitative contractual system and informed that DASAM has submitted a presentation in front of MLA’s of Delhi, for contractual sewer workers and urged them to raise their issues in the Parliament. He added that they’ve conducted a survey on the socio-economic working conditions of contractual sewer workers where they’ve found that the contractual workers receive no work permits or id cards, which further adds to the problem and especially in the case of accident or death, there is a struggle to prove that the worker died while engaged in sewer work.

Adding to it, Ms. Ena Zafar (National Coordinator, DASAM) elaborated that during DASAM’s course of work, they’ve witnessed that although outlawed, Sewer Workers face untouchability. Even when the worker asks for water from some household, he is outright denied or asked to ‘take away the bottle with him.

The discussion was open to sewer workers. Their names are not being disclosed as they fear that they will be removed from their jobs. They highlighted several key points:

∙ We’ve been working in the sewer for more than 10 years hoping that maybe someday, we will be provided with a permanent job.

∙ We earn less than the minimum wage provided by the govt. and do not receive any benefits from the government. If someone in our family gets sick, we have nowhere to go for treatment. ESI, PF are basic facilities which we are deprived of.

∙ The contractor hires workers for only 4 months every six months despite getting a contract for six months. We have to do odd jobs to sustain ourselves.

∙ After one contract ends, we have to worry if we will be hired again or not.

∙ We are scared to even raise our voice against any injustice either by the contractor or the neighborhood we work in. A constant threat of losing our job looms on our heads.

∙ Injuries while opening the sewer is so common that we do not even count it as an injury and after such injuries, we are left on our own to treat it.

∙ Also, when there is a delay from the authorities’ side to provide us with our uniforms, we have to pay the price for not being in uniform and our salary is deducted as a penalty.

∙ DESPITE 74 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE, THE SEWER WORKER IS STILL A SLAVE AND CAUGHT IN THE SHACKLES OF CASTEISM.

After hearing from the sewer workers, the panelist shared their suggestions with the attendees. The panelists included:

∙ Mr. Sanjay Gehlot (Chairman, Delhi Commission for Safai Karmchari)
∙ Mr. Virender Goudh (President, Municipal Workers Lal Jhanda Union. CITU)
∙ Mr. Ved Prakash Bidla (President, Delhi Jal Board Sewer Department Mazdoor Sangathan)
∙ Mr. Beerpal Parcha (Member, Delhi Jal Board Sewer Department Mazdoor Sangathan)
∙ Mr. Krishan Gopal (Secretary Delhi, Municipal Workers Lal Jhanda Union)
∙ Ms. Shashi Raj (Deputy Convenor, Delhi Democratic Alliance)

Mr. Virender spoke about the struggles the workers and unions have to face while getting approval for minimum wage. The benefits of the minimum wage which was announced previously have not reached the worker and other directions for minimum wage have been released. The workers continue to receive money below the minimum wages as whatever amount is added, is taken over by the contractors announced. He asked ‘why is sewer work, which falls in the category of daily work, outsourced?’ He also spoke about the unfair labor code which deprives the worker of joining any union thereby opening avenues to never-ending exploitations.

Ms. Shashi said that despite the slight engagement of people from different sections of society, the majority of the workers belong from the Dalit community which has been historically oppressed and is still being oppressed. The workers are crying for a basic facility for risking their lives which goes deaf on the ears of authority. Why? As everyone knows, who is working in the sewer!

After hearing everyone, Mr. Sanjay Gehlot shared his journey that how he started working as a Safai Karmchari, never neglected his education and is now the Chairperson of Delhi Commission for Safai Karamcharis and said that he is willing to work for the upliftment of the community as he understands the struggles and pain of the people who are employed in this. He insisted on the unity of the workers and suggested that the workers all over India should unite and get their demands accepted. He added that his blood boils when he hears the word ‘contractual system’ as he knows how exploitative it is to the workers. He is ready to challenge the system and has been making continuous efforts to make all the workers permanent who are employed in the contractual system. He ended by reading the Preamble of the Indian Constitution and said that it guarantees all the rights that we’ve been struggling for, so there is no need to worry, We are on the right path. We should not be afraid of anything or anyone.

Organized by Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM) in collaboration with Delhi Jal Board Sewer Department Mazdoor Sangathan, Jal Mal Kaamgaar Sangharsh Morcha, DJB Employees Welfare Association (Regd.), Sewerage and Allied Workers Forum, National Domestic Workers Union, Municipal Works Lal Jhanda Union (Regd.) CITU, National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), Institute for Democracy and Sustainability (IDS), National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers, Magadh Foundation, Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre (PMARC), National Movement for Land, Labor & Justice (NMLLJ), All DJB employees welfare Association.

For more information, contact: dashaktimanch@gmail.com

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