A pourakarmika (civic worker) working for the municipality in Maddur town of Karnatakaâ€™s Mandya district took his life on Tuesday, months after he was allegedly forced to clean a manhole without safety equipment. In a note, the pourakarmika alleged municipality officials harassed him to admit that he entered the manhole voluntarily and was given safety equipment.
Narayana (34) was asked to clean a manhole on November 3, 2020, allegedly by municipality officials in Maddur. The incident turned into a flashpoint four days later, when visuals of Naryana cleaning the manhole were shared with the State Safai Karamchari Commission. The photographs and videos show that there was no safety equipment used in cleaning the manhole.
Narayana's note mentions two officials â€” Murugesh, a Chief Officer, and Jasim Khan, a Health Inspector, in the Maddur Town Municipal Council. Following the incident in November, Narayana was allegedly harassed by the two officials to accept responsibility for cleaning the manhole and was also not paid his full salary amount, as it was allegedly slashed to Rs 6000. He was also asked to not turn up for work.
An audio recording reportedly of Murugesh was also leaked last week in which he claimed that he was confident that the then Mandya Deputy Commissioner MV Venkatesh will drop the enquiry into the incident and having four photographs would not be sufficient for the enquiry process. Venkatesh was transferred out as Mandya Deputy Commissioner last week.
Murugesh and Jasim Khan were charged in a First Information Report (FIR) registered at the Maddur police station on Tuesday under sections 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as under sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
"The issues began after the incident in November as he was asked to admit that he went to clean the manhole on his own and the municipality's report was along the same lines, saying that he had equipment like gloves with him. This was a cover up by the municipality and he was forced to clean the manhole without any equipment and with his bare hands," said MB Naganna Gowda, President of the Karnataka Urban Local Bodies' Outsource Employees Union (KULBOEU).
Narayana's death came to light at around 8.30 am and colleagues held a protest in the municipal council office on Tuesday against the treatment meted out to him. Another strike on the issue is being planned on February 26.
Narayana is survived by three children â€” two girls studying in classes 5 and 7 â€” and a boy studying in Class 2. His wife Aruna died five years ago due to an illness and his colleagues said that the incident has orphaned his three children. Since Aruna's death, Narayana and his children had been living with Madevi, Aruna's mother.
Madevi reiterated the claims made in the note and alleged that municipality officials forced Narayana to clean the manhole in November. "Later on, they tried to force Narayana to say that he went to clean the manhole voluntarily but Narayana did not agree to do this. In the last two months, the municipality officials harassed Narayana and we decided to file a complaint about this," Madevi said. She said that Srinivas, a vehicle driver working with the municipality, was removed from his job earlier this month while Narayana was not paid his full salary and only paid Rs 6000.
Since 1993, employing a manual scavenging worker is a cognisable offence punishable with imprisonment and fine. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, and a Supreme Court ruling has also reinforced the same. Yet, incidents of manual scavenging continue to be reported in Karnataka.
The incident comes a week after the Karnataka High Court wrote to the state government to issue directions to all authorities to strictly implement Rule 3, of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act and stop allowing anyone from manually cleaning sewers or manholes.