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Shift focus from "overprotected" organised sector workers to unorganised labour: Top rights activist

By Our Representative
A well-attended seminar organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, in association with the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a national advocacy group campaigning to include social justice issues in political parties' electoral agenda, has reached the conclusion that there is an urgent need to campaign for building a mechanism to ensure that the existing legal provisions of social protection are implemented, and the focus should be on the unorganized sector. “Several laws guaranteeing people’s needs exist, but they are rarely implemented”, CSJ director Gagan Sethi, a human rights activist summed up the main sentiment.
The seminar saw around hundred demands having been compiled to be forwarded to political parties across India for inclusion in their electoral manifestos.Martin Macwan, founder of Navsarjan Trust, and director, Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), off Sanand, the new industrial hub near Ahmedabad following the Tata Nano plant taking shape there, suggested that the organized sector employees, especially of the government sector, are “too protected”, one reason why they remain indifferent to people's needs. However, nobody is there to look into the unorganised sector workers, whose basic human needs, whether minimum wages, healthcare, housing, or education to children, are never taken care of.
“Recently at DSK, we asked a simple question to the children who come to be trained at the centre: As most of them are in their teens, we asked them what they know of the national Parliament’s functioning. To our utter surprise, they knew nothing about electoral politics, beyond the Gram Panchayat. This is the state of affairs of our education. The teachers, sure of getting salary, do not teach, and the students, as a result, suffer. There is a need to understand why this happens”, he said, adding, “The need of the hour is look into the plight of the unorganized sector.”
“You do not need to go far. You just go to the road behind the Tatas' Nano plant. Once, small villages existed along the road. Now, for nearly 10 kilometre stretch, you don't see any of them. Instead, you can only see migrant workers, half naked, mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, living next to their makeshift dwelling units, with tin roofs. Most of the time they live in the open, without any basic provisions, whether water, sanitation or health. These workers are totally unprotected, yet few care to look into their problems”, Macwan said.
Taking the issue a little further, Priti Oza of Prayas said, “These unorganised workers, since they are all migrants, are not considered beneficiaries of government schemes where they work simply because their permanent place of living is far away. This happens despite the fact that for ten months in a year, they live next to the place where they work. They are not considered beneficiaries of ration card, of electoral ID card, of free medical care, of housing schemes.” She added, “The plight of the unorganised sector needs special attention, as it forms 50 per cent of the population.”
The seminar saw reiteration of the important demand that Baba Ambedkar's statue should be higher than that of Sardar Patel. Raising the issue high for inclusion in electoral manifestos, Macwan -- one of India's important Dalit activists -- said, “We do not believe in having iconic statues. But, unfortunately, those in power do not seem to understand any other language. The decision of Sardar Statue, to be built for Rs 2,500 crore, was taken without caring once about the need to take approval from the Gujarat state legislature. Even the opposition is quiet about it for some strange reason. Hence, we say, since Ambedkar’s stature is even higher, his statue should be higher than the Sardar’s.”
For the first time, a group claiming to represent sexual minorities in Gujarat was provided the NGO platform to up forward its demands. One of the members of the group, Swagat M Shah, said Section 377, which is obsolete, should be abrogated as it is “discriminatory” in nature. Claiming to represent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LTBG) groups, Shah said, Section 377 doesn’t just considers all LTBGs as criminals but “prohibits oral sex and masturbation” between husband and wife in a room. “The Supreme Court order is discriminatory. It has declared 20 per cent of adult population as criminal”, he said.
The seminar was held following Gujarat’s 20 grassroots community-based organizations (CBOs) working in Songadh, Mandvi, Navsari, Tapi, Ahmedabad city, Surendranagar, Shehra, Devgadh Baria, Daskroi and other places worked out demands for the tribals fighting for control over natural resources, especially land and forests, in the scheduled areas of Gujarat’s eastern tribal belt, and the Dalits seeking an end to untouchability practices across Gujarat. There were also important demands for electoral reforms, such as 50 per cent reservation to women in all electoral bodies, and separate electorate for Dalits and tribals.
Then, there were demands for reservation in the private sector industries for Dalits, tribals and other vulnerable sections in view of expanding wings of the industry, bringing about an end to indiscriminate land acquisition, provision of proper resettlement package to those displaced because of development projects, resurvey of below poverty line (BPL) families in order to include those left out, an end to the contract system of employment, increase in the proportion of budgetary allocation for Dalits and tribals, and a ban on caste-based manual scavenging across Gujarat and India.

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