On Saturday, July 2, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced that the services of pourakarmikas, the state sanitation workers, will be regularised. In the announcement that came soon after the pourakarmikas began an indefinite statewide protest on July 1, the CM also made a couple more assurances – that pourakarmikas’ jobs will be made permanent within three months, contract drivers of garbage vehicles and helpers will be brought under direct payment, and a committee will be formed to help make their jobs permanent. Despite this, the protests continue as the Chief Minister’s promises have not been given in writing.
Maitreyi Krishnan, a state committee member of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), said, “These were the assurances made to us, which we asked to be presented in writing, to which the CM agreed. Unfortunately, in the minutes of the proceedings that have come out, certain essential aspects are missing. Firstly, the three-month time period mentioned earlier to make pourakarmika jobs permanent is missing. Secondly, a complete silence has been maintained on drivers and helpers.”
The workers say they are not convinced by mere verbal promises, since they have been agitating every year over a new issue with the government failing to meet their demands. Speaking to TNM, Nagamma, who has been working as a pourakarmika for 20 years, said, “We don’t have any trust or faith in the government. If they want us to believe them, they should come to the site of the protest and address us directly. They beg us for votes and when we vote, they do not stand up for us.”
Questioning the lack of assurances in writing, Kaya, a BBMP supervisor associated with the Pourakarmikara Sanghatanegala Janti Horata Samiti, asked, “Why has the three-month duration not been given in writing? Officers are only playing with us. If they had given us proper wages, the work would have been going on smoothly. The CM says something and the officials say something else. Why can’t they address us directly?”
The workers, most of whom are Dalit women, face oppression on multiple levels. Many pourakarmikas in their accounts expressed how often citizens speak to them rudely because of the nature of their work. Similarly, many officials too do not let them enter their offices, or ask them to stand at a distance while talking to them, the workers said.
“This is an unimaginably exploitative system where workers have been working for 25-30 years. Others have made money based on the labour of these pourakarmikas. There are struggles for everything – for toilets, for minimum wages. They were brought under the direct payment system also after a huge struggle. Whatever they have today is because they demanded and agitated for it. It is high time that the government realises that the city runs because of pourakarmikas and gives them their due. At the same time, citizens must realise that we are healthy and without illnesses because of pourakarmikas, and come out in their support,” Maitreyi said.
The indefinite protest that began on July 1 across the state does not appear to have an imminent end in sight. Pourakarmikas are determined in their cause and have said that they will not budge unless all their demands are clearly promised to them in writing by the government.