Hundreds of women sanitation workers protest in Bengaluru, Mayor asks, “why today?”

The protesting sanitation workers allege that the BBMP has not been paying them the promised amount.
Hundreds of women sanitation workers protest in Bengaluru, Mayor asks, “why today?”
Hundreds of women sanitation workers protest in Bengaluru, Mayor asks, “why today?”
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On International Working Women’s Day, hundreds of pourakarmikas (women sanitation workers) gathered outside the BBMP head office near Bengaluru’s Hudson Circle to protest against the oppression they face every day at the hands of the BBMP contractors.

On August 4, 2016, the Karnataka government announced a pay hike for the pourakarmikas. The state government promised to credit Rs 14,400 every month henceforth into their salary accounts. A grand ceremony was conducted outside the BBMP head office and hundreds of sanitation workers had rejoiced momentarily.

However, the protesting sanitation workers alleged that the BBMP has not been paying them the promised amount.

“We have got photocopies of our passbooks to show the BBMP that we are not lying or trying to defame them. You can see for yourself. We are still getting paid only Rs 7,030 and they have not been paying us the promised amount,” said Dhanalakshmi, a 36-year-old pourakarmika.

Dhanalakshmi says that sanitation workers do not have days off. They have to work seven days a week and have to work for half a day on Wednesdays and Sundays.

“We have to work from 6.30 am to 1.00 m every day. On Wednesdays and Sundays, we have to work from 6.30am to 11.00 am. We don’t get leaves for festivals and even if we are sick. Most of us are over 35 years old. We get a meagre Rs 7,000 a month, and if we fall sick, we lose Rs 230 for that day. The rent and electricity for my house come up to Rs 4,500 and I am left with nothing. Most of the time, I struggle to feed my sons,” Dhanalakshmi said.

The BBMP provides free mid-day meals to the sanitation workers and Dhanalakshmi says that when she is running short of money, she sometimes packs food for her sons while the contractor is not watching.

“The contractor, Soma Reddy, threatens to fire us if we are caught packing food. He tells us that the food is meant for pourakarmikas only and not for our family members. Last month, I fell sick and could not go to work for two days. When I went back, he told me that I was fired. I had to beg him to give me my job back and after a week of convincing, he let me get back to work. That month, I got only Rs 4,000 and I had to borrow money from him to pay the rest of my household expenses,” Dhanalakshmi said.

The BBMP has to provide the sanitation workers with cleaning equipment like brooms, and dustbins to collect the waste. However, many of them allege that they end up buying brooms every month.

“They do not give us dustbins or baskets to collect the waste. We have to carry them in gunny sacks borrowed from residents,” said Saroja another sanitation worker.

But the Bengaluru authorities did not even have the patience to listen to the protesters. When the agitation gathered momentum, Bengaluru Mayor, G Padmavati and BBMP Commissioner, Manjunath Prasad dismissed the pourakarmikas’ cause and urged them to leave the premises.

“We have a Women’s Day celebration here and the inauguration ceremony will begin in a few minutes. This protest will disturb the celebration, please go back to work,” Mayor Padmavati said.

The BBMP Commissioner also dismissed their cause and urged them to leave. “We provide you with free meals, is that not enough of an incentive? Every time, there is an important celebration, you (pourakarmikas) stand in protest. We are providing you with enough incentives already. How much more can we do?” Manjunath Prasad questioned.

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