The University of Hyderabad’s (UoH) Student Union and sanitation workers held two protests on December 18 and 19, following the death of K Praveen, a sanitation worker who died by suicide on December 12 on the campus. The University administration has constituted a committee to probe allegations that Section Officer Mallesh abetted the suicide.
The sanitation workers TNM spoke to said that their workload had increased considerably in the last few years after several employees were laid off. “Earlier there were three people manning each hostel, but that has reduced to only two sanitation workers. If one of them is unavailable, the entire workload falls on the other person,” a female sanitation worker told TNM.
A sanitation employee from a Scheduled Tribe (ST, Lambada) community said that despite being a Dalit, Mallesh often used casteist slurs. “The day Praveen died, Mallesh had abused me and said that people from my tribe should not be working in cities. I tried to take my life after that but my co-workers, including Praveen, intervened. I remember Praveen telling me that he was facing the same ordeal. A few hours later, he took his life,” he said.
Another worker raised the concern that Mallesh would often show preferential treatment to some of the staff members and despite the presence of supervisors, they needed to seek permission from Mallesh if they needed leave. “Often our leaves aren’t granted. He is also very abusive and speaks to workers in a derogatory manner,” remarked another worker.
The workers also brought up the lack of masks, gloves, and other cleaning equipment necessary to do their job. They also expressed dissatisfaction at the fact that a part of their salary was cut without their consent for Provident Fund or for the Employee State Insurance (ESI), adding that their salaries were often delayed.
The students were also protesting the death of an office assistant, Vinod, in the University's Hindi Department. While Vinod died of cardiac arrest, students alleged that the Head of the Department’s negligence caused the death. Vinod had complained of chest pain but allegedly wasn’t allowed to go and seek medical treatment.
The Student Union, in consultation with the workers, demanded that the administration provide fair compensation and a job to Praveen’s wife Jyoti; remove Mallesh from his post; and increase the number of workers across all departments. They also asked for protective equipment as well as assurance that salaries are paid on time and workers are regularised.
Following the protests, UoH released a circular on the evening of December 18 assuring that the working conditions of outsourced sanitation staff will be streamlined with the help of their employer, that is their respective outsourcing agencies.
Further, on December 19, the administration constituted a three-member committee comprising Dr Ajailiu Niumai, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Dr S Raja Sethu Durai, a professor at the School of Economics, and Dr Bipin Varghese, the University’s Joint Registrar. The committee will examine the circumstances leading to Praveen’s death as well as make recommendations to improve the working conditions of the sanitation staff members.
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.
State health department's suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584
Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222
Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm
Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726
Click here for working helplines across India.