Sanitation Worker's Body Found Hanging in JNU Campus: Irregular Payments Suspected as Reason for Suicide

Vijay Valmiki, a sanitation worker with over 12 years of service, was found hanging from a tree inside the JNU campus.
Sanitation Worker's Body Found Hanging in JNU Campus: Irregular Payments Suspected as Reason for Suicide

New Delhi- On May 20th, a tragic incident shook the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) when the body of Vijay Valmiki, a long-serving sanitation worker, was found hanging from a tree.

Vijay Valmiki, a resident of Kusumpur Pahari, a locality primarily inhabited by Dalit sanitation workers, had dedicated over 12 years of his life to his work at JNU on a contractual basis.

Valmiki’s death has not only devastated his family and friends but has also highlighted the chronic issues plaguing sanitation workers in the area. This is a grim reflection of the severe hardships they endure daily.

Speaking about the events that followed the discovery of his body, Gopika, the JNU Student Union Councillor said that it was the other safai karamcharis who discovered the body of Valmiki.

“We cannot say for certainty what led to the death as the postmortem reports have not come out yet but according to the workers union, his payments were done,” the student councillor stated.

“But over the years, there were several months where payments were irregular.”

She further talked about the family of the deceased worker, who were visibly shaken up. They are still not in a position to talk, owing to their emotional state.

“Currently, the JNUSU and the workers' union are supporting the family and assisting with the funeral arrangements,” Gopika added.

The Mooknayak also reached out to the JNU administration who stated that the salary of the deceased employee “has been paid by the concerned vendor regularly.”

They added that the University has “directed the vendor to extend all necessary help including any ex-gratia payment, to the family of the deceased employee on an urgent basis.”

Through a notice released by the administration and signed by the registrar, they said, “The University is deeply saddened by the loss of one of the outsourced staff yesterday and extends its heartfelt condolences to his family members. In light of this tragedy, the University is committed to providing its support to the family during this difficult time.”

The administration stated that the local police have already begun investigating the incident. They urged everyone to stay vigilant and refrain from spreading unverified information on campus. Additionally, they requested that all respect the privacy and dignity of the deceased and his family during this difficult time.

Contractual Workers Regularly Protest Against the Administration and Vendors:

Contractual Workers of Jawaharlal Nehru University strike regularly, demanding for fair wages and respect.

The Mooknayak had reported on the protest that took place in January of 2024, where Contractual sanitation workers at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) staged a protest at the office of the Central Labour Commissioner in Shrameva Jayate Bhavan, Dwarka. There, the workers met with Assistant Labour Commissioner Rajnish Sangwan to present a detailed complaint outlining several critical issues:

  • Denial of Legal Minimum Wages: Despite being a central university, JNU does not pay its sanitation workers according to the minimum wages set by the central government. This practice, which constitutes 'forced labor' under the Minimum Wages Act, disproportionately affects contractual sanitation workers, who are the biggest sufferers.

  • Denial of Salary Slips: The workers alleged they are denied their basic right to receive salary slips every month. This deprives them of essential information regarding deductions from their wages, a responsibility of both the service provider and JNU.

  • Random Retrenchments and Denial of Regularization: Contractual workers face arbitrary retrenchment by the administration and service provider, violating the law. Despite decades of service, these workers are denied the legal right to regularization.

  • Violation of Equal Pay for Equal Work Order: In 2018, the Deputy Central Labour Commissioner ordered that JNU pay contractual workers the same wages as permanent workers for the same roles. JNU continues to violate this order, depriving workers of substantial amounts of their earned wages.

  • Denial of Maternity Benefits: Despite having a female Vice-Chancellor, JNU denies maternity benefits to women contractual workers. Recently, a woman exercising her leave rights under the Maternity Benefit Act was denied wages for her leave period, highlighting a significant disconnect between the university's stated values and actual practices.

  • Union-Busting Tactics: JNU, along with the service provider, allegedly employs threats and intimidation against workers who assert their rights. This union-busting environment has led to punitive actions against union leaders, with AIGKU JNU President Urmila Chavan and Secretary Sucheta De being barred from entering the campus.

·       These allegations and demands highlight the severe exploitation and mistreatment of contractual sanitation workers at JNU, calling for urgent reforms and accountability.

A similar demonstration happened last year when a 'Samman rally' was organized by contractual workers on the JNU campus on September 18, 2023, to address pressing issues.

Demonstrators highlighted problems such as delayed salary payments, making it challenging to support their families financially. They also emphasized the caste-based discrimination they face from contractors and university authorities.

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