New Delhi- In a powerful act of protest, sanitation workers from Burari Hospital conducted a symbolic funeral for Arvind Kejriwal after their aspirations to return to work were dashed by the state. Unfortunately, Delhi Police violently disrupted the demonstration. During the clash, law enforcement brutally dispersed the protestors and confiscated the idol of sage Valmiki, a significant symbol for the community, from the protest site.
Despite the tumultuous events, there seems to be a glimmer of optimism on the horizon, according to statements from the workers' union. The Mooknayak spoke to Harish Gautam, who is the state executive member of Safai Kamgar Union.
The activist opened up about there being a sign of hope after the protests which included a funeral process and ‘samuhik mundan’. He revealed, “We met with the State Health Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj at the secretariat after the protest. We were promised that all of us will be taken back to work. A written statement substantiating the promise is to be delivered to us by today. We were now waiting for the letter but are still sitting at our protest site, outside the hospital.”
Earlier, another delegation had met labour minister's office on January 23. After his intervention, the workers were given some similar assurances and intervention from his office, which were supposed to reach the workers by the afternoon of January 24, but in vain. When no such solution came out from the visit, the workers decided to accelerate their protest. They orchestrated a symbolic last rite ritual of Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and went for a ‘samuhik mundan’ ( community shaving of hair) on Wednesday evening.
This action represented how the sanitation workers felt neglected by the Delhi Government. It's a worrisome incident, especially when contrasted with the current celebrations for the Sri Ram Temple. The concern here is about the unfair removal of Valmiki sanitation workers while they have valid complaints. The feeling of not getting enough support from the Delhi Government, along with police involvement in coordination with the hospital administration, suggests a problematic stance against the people.
Even the protest was not able to go on in a smooth manner. Sanitation workers of Burari Hospital who were protesting were brutally removed on the afternoon of the protest. The statue of Valmiki installed at the protest site was broken and stolen by the Delhi Police. To make matters worse, three workers and an activist were arrested during the eviction and taken to Burari Police Station. A case was filed against them under multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 186, 353, 323, 120B, and 34.
The taking of the idol, in particular, felt like an attack to their identity. Gautam remarked, “Our idol was taken by them. We do not know what position it is in. It was not only worshipped by our community members but also acted as a symbol of our protest. This is nothing but grave disrespect to us and our community. We are also demanding the return of the idol with due respect. We too want a peaceful end to the protest, but the arrogant behaviour of the hospital’s administration is not letting that happen. We want to get back to our work.”
But hoping to get back is not an easy path. The activist alleged, “A female sanitation worker today went to the office to rejoin. She did not know that we were waiting for the letter from the government. When she went, she was being asked to write an apology letter to the administration stating that she has done a grave mistake protesting and will not do such a thing in future. If she repeats the mistake, she will be okay with being removed from work. Many workers who rejoined have submitted such letters.”
Why are the Workers Protesting?
Sanitation workers at Burari State Hospital are now in the midst of their 10th day of protest, spurred by the withholding of their salaries for over two months. Following their demonstration, which successfully prompted the release of overdue payments, the hospital administration has, however, refused to reinstate them out of concern for potential future protests. In addition to exposing widespread corruption within the administrative ranks, the sanitation workers have also brought to light instances of gender-based discrimination and caste-related mistreatment experienced by them in the workplace.