A note on the current agitation by Safai Karmacharis in Ahmedabad, prepared by Pratik Sinha:
A joint press conference was held on Monday at the office of Jan Sangharsh Manch in Ahmedabad by Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha (GMS), Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM) and Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samit (UDALS). Hiten Makwana, who is the leader of the safai kamdar (sanitation workers) of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) represented GMS while Nirjhari Sinha and Jignesh Mevani represented JSM and UDALs respectively. The press conference was held to talk about the ongoing strike by safai kamdars of AMC which started on 22nd August, 2016 and entered its 8th day on Monday.
On Sunday, around 30 safai kamdars including 4 ladies were first detained by Gujarat Police for long hours for the simple act of protesting and an FIR was registered late in the night. While detaining the safai kamdars, police abused and manhandled the workers. Even the women were manhandled and no lady constable or officer was present in the police van that took them to Police Stadium in Shahibaug Ahmedabad. Some safai workers including a couple of women also suffered injuries. They were detained in the stadium for over 12 hours with no facilities for toilets.
Hiten Makwana stated that the main demand of the protest is permanency of jobs. Safai Kaam (sanitation work) which is permanent in nature does not have a single permanent employee in the West Zone of Ahmedabad and the workers are deprived of all the benefits that come with a permanent job including health, residency and retirement benefits etc. Instead of following the principle of equal wage for equal work, these workers are firstly forced to work as daily wagers and paid much reduced wages as compared to permanent workers. Hiten Makwana also demanded that action should be taken against the police men who manhandled the workers including women.
Nirjhari Sinha pointed out that even though sanitation work is defined as an essential service, the lives of safai kamdar are not considered essential. They work in the most adverse conditions from cleaning gutters to picking garbage to spraying anti-malarial drugs, all of which lead to severe health issues, but the terms of employment does not even give them any health coverage.
Jignesh Mevani stated that in many Municipal Corporations/Municipalities, even minimum wages are not paid and the authorities can be held under Atrocities act for the same. He also stated that the fight is both against caste system as well as for alternative sustenance which includes jobs and agricultural land. He demanded that Government should act on the list of demands that UDALS has submitted to the Gujarat Government, each of them being constitutional demands. He also extended solidarity to the strike by AMC workers.