On Wednesday, pourakarmikas (civic workers) of KR Puram in Bengaluru staged a protest demanding protective equipment such as masks and gloves amidst the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the city. The workers alleged that they havenâ€™t been given masks or gloves for the past nine months. In addition to the protective equipment, the workers have demanded transportation facilities amid the 14-day lockdown imposed in the state.
In a letter to the Commissioner of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the BBMP pourakarmikara sangha (BBMP Civic Workersâ€™ Union) demanded gloves, a weekly bottle of sanitizer and shoes. They also demanded masks, specifically N95 masks, for those handling medical waste daily.
â€śWe have been working for many years and we are working even under this bad circumstance yet. We havenâ€™t received any of the facilities that we should have. The last time we got masks and gloves was in the previous year. We have been asking for three weeks (since the cases started increasing) but we still havenâ€™t been given masks and gloves,â€ť said Rathna, who is a pourakarmika in Bengaluru.
In addition to these essential items, in another letter, the pourakarmikas union urged the BBMP to make transportation arrangements for them until the end of the pandemic, citing a similar situation in the previous lockdown in 2020. The letter stated that in last year's lockdown the workers had to, in many cases, walk long distances to their places of work as the buses provided to the workers only travelled on main roads and on specific routes, making it ineffective. The letter also mentioned that many pourakarmikas had to pay for their own transportation to reach these buses, adding to their financial struggles.
In addition to these demands, the letter reiterated other unfulfilled requests such as sick leave with pay, medical support to pourakarmikas who test positive for the coronavirus, risk allowance, bathroom facility and drinking water at mustering points, among others.
The protests follow similar protests held in 2020 asking for safety equipment. It was reported in August 2020 by the BBMP in a submission to the Karnataka High Court that 816 pourakarmikas in Bengaluru tested positive for the coronavirus. Questions were raised about this submisison with activists pointing out that pourakarmikas were not quarantined in the city when positive cases were detected.