On May 6, around 150 pourakarmikas (civic sanitation workers) gathered to protest and mourn the death of their colleague, 52-year-old Susheelamma, in Bengaluru’s Banaswadi. Susheelamma had COVID-19 and succumbed to the infection. Her colleagues sat on either side of a road, wearing masks, the demonstration yet another reminder of the circumstances that they continue to work in.
The pourakarmikas’ demands were:
> COVID-19 testing for the pourakarmikas for early detection and to be given medical attention as early as possible.
> Risk allowance for the pourakarmikas as they have to work in hazardous conditions in the midst of biohazards which currently includes trash from houses with COVID-19 patients.
> Extending the Rs 50 lakh insurance provided by the central government for frontline workers to pourakarmikas also.
> Alternative arrangements to collect waste from houses with COVID-19 patients as the trash they generate has to be treated as biomedical waste.
“Pourakarmikas are predominantly women and belong to the Dalit community. They have been fighting for their dignity. They were previously under the sham of a contract system, which was oppressive. After coming under DPS, their salaries are being paid on time. But the dignity that must be accorded to them is something they still have to fight for,” said Lekha Adavi, who is an advocate in Bengaluru.
Earlier in April 2021, pourakarmikas had staged another protest, complaining of not being provided with any protective equipment such as masks and gloves for over a year since the pandemic began. The protest had happened in KR Puram. In their past protests, porakarmikas have also been asking for drinking water at the workplace, toilet facilities, a place where they can eat their lunch and a place to rest. None of these have been provided from a very long time, according to the workers.
Maraa, a media and arts collective released a statement on Thursday, expressing support to the pourakarmikas. The statement mentioned that the pourakarmikas haven’t been paid proper wages and have been forced to suffer during the pandemic. According to the statement, a pourakarmika named Bangarappa was even threatened by his landlord. The landlord allegedly threw Bangarappa’s belongings out of the house to intimidate the worker.