Saturday, August 23, 2014

Workers sacked in Gujarat for protesting against manual scavenging, called "national shame" by Gandhiji

Dharna against manual scavenging on August 22
By Our Representative
In what is being seen as a gory case of official high-handedness by voluntary organizations working on Dalit rights issues, as many as eight cleaning contract workers, who were being forced to manually clean up human excreta at public places, have been sacked from their jobs for staging a protest on Independence-day eve. Working as manual scavengers under the Dudhrej municipality of Surendranagar district, Gujarat, these workers’ fault was that they took part in a fairly representative rally, followed by a dharna, against the despicable practice, which Mahatma Gandhi once called “shame of the nation.”
The dharna was withdrawn immediately after oral assurance from the officials that they would “look into the problem of all manual scavengers.” However, to their utter surprise, instead of regularizing their jobs, they were orally asked not to come on job from the next day.
Demands of the manual scavengers included provision of protective equipment, mechanical cleansing of human excreta at public places, institution of cases under the anti-atrocities Act against officials who forced them to clean up human excreta manually, early implementation of the laws banning manual scavenging and dry latrines, payment of minimum wages, receipts showing they were members of the provident fund scheme, and regularization in service.
Protesters raise slogans against manual scavenging
In a fresh representation to the district collector on August 22, and made through the Safai Kamdar Hak Rakshak Samiti, Surendrangar, and signed by its leader, Baldevbhai Maganbhai Rathod, the contract workers said, “While the officials orally promised on Independence day even to withdraw our programme, telling us that our demands would be met, this has not happened. Instead we were sacked. We were later told that we would be taken back, but this has also not happened.”
The Samiti said, this is the reason why the manual scavengers of Dudhrej are being “forced to sit on indefinite dharna outside the district collector’s office.” The Samiti is being supported by Navsarjan Trust, a well-known Dalit rights organization based in Ahmedabad.
One of its volunteers, Natubhai Parmar, who is in Surendranagar, told Counterview, “What is particularly shocking is that, the officials are totally indifferent towards the demands. This is clear from the official reply they have handed over to the Samiti. For instance, all know that the workers are being paid Rs 160 per day, which is around Rs 80 less than the minimum wages. Yet, the officialdom says they have no representation.” 
In district collector's office, while handing over representation

This is the third protest against manual scavenging in Dudhrej, a town about 100 kilometres from Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s business capital. On warpath since last month against the despicable practice, their first protest rally was on July 27, which was followed by media reports (click HERE to read).
Ever since, while the district officialdom remains in”different, there is no pressure from the state Capital, Gandhinagar, too, to act against the practice. The manual scavengers, on least two previous occasions, have sent copies of the representation to local officials to Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel.
Giving the instance of three manual scavengers who took lead in the earlier protests, the representation said how Bharatbhai Bhikhabhai Valodara, Hiteshbhai Bariya and Indubhai Mayawada are being asked to plead with different officials to take them back on job, but to no avail.
“You took a lead in the rally on August 14”, a senior municipality official has been quoted as telling Valodara while refusing to take him back on job. The other two were told that they could go and bring pressure from wherever they liked, but they would not be taken back on job, as they protested against the municipal authorities.”

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