New Delhi- On the 22nd of January, as the public rejoiced in the Ram Mandir event, members of the Valmiki community, who serve as sanitation workers, found themselves facing severe detention outside the residence of Delhi's Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal.
Their original intention was to present a copy of the Valmiki Ramayana to the CM and engage in a discussion about the challenges fueling their ongoing 7-day strike at the Delhi Government Hospital in Burari. The purpose of their strike encompasses addressing various issues, such as corruption, caste-based discrimination, and instances of sexual harassment within the workplace.
The Mooknayak talked to Harish Gautam, who is the state executive member of Safai Kamgar Union, about the protest, alleged detainment and subsequent goals of the protest.
Revealing about the upcoming protest, the executive member exclaimed, “We have announced that if by today evening our pleas are not heard, we will be shaving our heads as a sign of protest!”
This follows the forceful detainment experienced by sanitation workers from the Valmiki community. On the morning of January 22nd, while some in the nation celebrated a 'Mini Diwali,' the community encountered obstruction from the police force. Discussing the specifics of the demonstration, Gautam revealed, “Yesterday morning, we staged a silent protest by applying tape on our mouths. This was symbolic of the disrespect our community has been facing lately. We walked to the Chief Minister’s residence with a copy of Valmiki’s Ramayana. At around 9:30 in the morning, we were physically abused and forcefully detained by the police during our peaceful demonstration. Male protestors were taken to the cyber cell of Maurice Nagar Police Station, while female protestors were taken to Civil Lines Police Station. We were finally released in the evening, around 5:30 PM, after our names and personal details were recorded.”
The activist continued, “We mainly come from the Valmiki community, and it was the sage Valmiki himself who brought the Ram in front of people. 22nd January was an important day for many people because of the Ram mandir in Ayodhya but at the same time, Valmikis in the city are being disrespected.”
A statement was later released by the Safai Kamgar Union, which said the following: “The sanitation workers of Delhi Government-run Burari Hospital today held a protest demonstration outside Delhi Chief Minister, Shri Arvind Kejriwal's residence. While the Sri Ram Temple celebration is going on, Valmiki sanitation workers were arrested from outside the residence of Delhi Chief Minister. It should be noted that the majority of these workers are from the Valmiki community, and they have been on strike for the last seven days against rampant corruption of the contractor and hospital management, repeated incidents of sexual harassment at the hands of supervisors, and casteist discrimination at the workplace. Moreover, because the workers are raising these issues they are being retrenched.”
“The sanitation workers wished to meet CM to present him with a copy of the Valmiki Ramayana, as well as to talk about their issues regarding the extremely corrupt and exploitative contractor and hospital management. Instead of the Chief Minister meeting them, male workers were forcefully detained, and beaten up, while four women workers and one female activist were separately taken in another police van. At the time of writing this statement, the workers and activists had been released and a high-ranking official from the CM’s office was going to meet a delegation of the workers in late evening.”
“The sanitation workers have resolved to intensify their movement if their issues are not resolved, and their retrenchment is not stopped. Moreover, they have also demanded that the corrupt hospital officials be immediately suspended, an inquiry instituted against them, the contract of Global Ventures should be terminated, and penal action be ensured against its officials.”
What is the Week-Long Protest About?
During the conversation, the union member further explained the need for the protest. He said, “Yesterday was the 7th day of the protest, which was started mainly due to the fact that sanitation workers from Burari Hospital were not receiving their salary. Due to our demonstrations, the salary was deposited by the 4th-5th day but the companies who employ us through contracts are now denying taking us back for work. This signifies the nexus between such companies and the administration which tends to punish anyone who dares to raise their voice against the injustice.”
The demonstrations were just a part of the whole process. Gautam claimed, “On 15th January, we had gone to meet with the Managing Director of Burari Hospital, Dr. Asish Goyal. His personal assistant told us to wait for a few minutes but later we are informed by a security personal that the MD has left the office. It was our aim to first resolve the issue through discussions between the workers and the administration. Also, this was not the first time we tried to have a talk with them. For the last six months, we are informing them about our issues through mails and applications.”
“It is crucial to highlight that in other government hospitals where Global Ventures secured the tender, such as Ambedkar and Indira Gandhi Hospitals, sanitation workers have not been paid their salaries for the past three months. Employees from these facilities have joined our collective pursuit for justice.”
The union member continued about the fight being more than just about the salary. He alleged, “The administrative staff has been putting us through intense physical and emotional abuse. Female workers are misbehaved with and touched inappropriately; we are subjected to casteist comments from the staff. Once when we demanded to be paid the minimum wage, the administrative staff commented, “Are these the faces which deserve to be paid seventeen thousand?”
Comparing the situation with slavery, Gautam commented, “This is modern day slavery. Earlier, it was the Zamindars who held power over us, now it is the contractual companies. “