|Cultural programme at Vastrapur lake|
About 170 sanitation workers (safai sarmachari) of the huge New West Zone of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), on strike for nearly three weeks, demanding fair wages and permanent status, were detained on Sunday for participating in a cultural programme organized by the Gujarat Jan Andolan (GJA).
They taken away by the Gujarat police in three buses, even as they were silently sitting and watching the cultural expression, held in front of the gate of the posh Vastrapur Lake area's open air theatre. The GJA was not allowed permission to hold the cultural function at the theatre, where many high-profile, including government-sponsored, events have taken place.
The detention took place when a cultural group was singing songs in support of the safai karmacharis, with artist Pravin Mishra displaying paintings of manhole sanitation workers and their aspirations of permanency, residence and health.
A conglomerate of aware citizens and civil rights organizations, GJA simultaneously carried out a signature campaign in an open appeal in support of the safai karmacharis around the time when the detention happened.
|A painting by Pravin Mishra on display|
There are around 6,000 sanitation workers in Ahmedabad without any job security , with wages below the bare minimum, Rs 6,000 per month. As the safai karmacharis were being asked to sit in the police buses called to pick them up, people from the New West Zone joined in large numbers and expressed their solidarity.
In the New West Zone, overwhelming majority of the safai karmacharis have been working on contract for the last 15-20 years. They are known to wake up before the entire city does while it is still dark, even during winter days.
Failing to send their children in decent schools, safai karmacharis in Ahmedabad, as elsewhere in Gujarat, end their day asking for food from the neighbourhoods they work in, and eat whatever food they get -- good, bad, mashed, spoiled. And then the next morning, they start their routine again.
When they approached the AMC authorities to make their jobs permanent, based on the official rules and regulations, according to which those who work for more than 900 days in a 5 year period are required to be made permanent, they were denied the right.
The union they have formed was sought to be broken. Despite several representations and peaceful protests, the authorities have refused to heed to their demands. With no choice left but to fight for their rights, they gave a call of 'No Rights, No Work', and stopped work till their demands were met.
|Signature campaign in favour of sanitation workers|
In a statement, GJA said, the safai karmacharis are “ready to fight to the hilt, and their fight will get a huge boost if residents of Ahmedabad come forward and express their support and solidarity with this struggle. The solidarity of fellow Amdedabadis will go a long way in this struggle and force the authorities to react and remedy the current situation.”
*Senior Ahmedabad-based activist