Karnataka Powrakarmikas (Safaikaramcharis) Bengaluru Declaration
A state-level conference of sanitation workers (powrakarmikas) was held on 06.11.2022 at Ambedkar Bhavan in Bangalore by the BBMP Pourakarmika Sangha, Karnataka Pragathipara Pourakarmika Sangha, Karnataka Pragathipara Tajya Sagisuva Vahana Chalakara Matthu Sahayakara Sangha (all affiliated with AICCTU), demanding that all powrakarmikas in the state be made permanent. Thousands of powrakarmikas participated in this convention.
In the conference, the President of the BBMP Powrakarmika Sangha, Com. Nirmala said that an indefinite protest was organised in July, 2022, demanding permanent employment and other basic facilities for all the powrakarmikas of the state. At that time, the Chief Minister of the State had promised in writing to make permanent the powrakarmikas working in all the local bodies across the State and had also constituted a committee for the same. But before the report of the committee could be finalised, the government announced that only 11,000 powrakarmikas will be recruited across the state, whereas there are more than 48,000 powrakarmikas presently working. Thus, she demanded that all the powrakarmikas should be made permanent immediately. She said that they are holding this state-level conference to send a warning to the government that they will launch a massive struggle for the permanent status of the powrakamikas in the coming days.
Com. Ratnamma, the general secretary of the Union, said that the workers will not rest until the powrakarmikas are made permanent, and called upon the powrakarmikas to gherao the Vidhana Soudha, if necessary.
Com. Keshav Nayak, general secretary of the SWM auto-drivers and helpers union, demanded that the government immediately treat all drivers and helpers as powrakarmikas. “In all the urban local bodies of the state, even today, vehicle drivers and helpers are employed under the sham contract system and are not provided with any service facilities as required by law,” he said and added that due to this, these workers are facing severe hardships.
AICCTU State President Clifton D’Rozario said that for centuries now, the society has thrusted brooms into the hands of Dalits to ensure they only sweep garbage. “The government is hell-bent upon continuing this caste-based profession. We should not allow it and we need to be careful that the children of our powrakarmikas do not sweep roads and collect garbage. And for that, the government must provide free education to all the children of powrakarmikas,” he said.
Several powrakarmikas who participated in the convention spoke and shared the hardships they were facing and vowed to gear up for a massive struggle to make their jobs permanent.
We, Powrakarmikas, have been fighting for our rights and dignity in the face of structural violence of caste and gender, and anti-worker and anti-Dalit neo-liberal policies of the State and its instrumentalities. Rulers changed, Independence was even achieved, yet the plight of the Powrakarmikas in this caste-based occupation has only worsened with the forms of oppression and discrimination intensifying and morphing as per the economic policies.
We bear with us the legacy of the working class and anti-caste struggles, particularly of Powrakarmikas, from across the country, throughout history, and are proud of this glorious legacy of resistance and are determined to carry it forward to victory.
We are the lakhs of Powrakarmikas, employed across the State of Karnataka, in every city, town and village, to sweep the streets, clean the drains, door to door collection of garbage, etc.
We Powrakarmikas, who are mostly Dalit, and in cities/towns/villages, predominantly women, are compelled to work in the most unscientific, unhygienic and dehumanising conditions to protect the health of everyone else.
Bending our backs to sweep, pushing broken down push-carts, driving stench-filled vehicles, we are forced to handle all forms of rotting garbage, human/animal waste and carcasses with bare hands, from early in the morning to late afternoon, without even a single holiday being denied any job/wage/social security and not even provided drinking water, toilets, rest-rooms, etc.
We assert that Powrakarmikas are the true protectors of health and prevent the outbreaks of epidemics that could take the lives of the people, and yet the lives and livelihoods of Powrakarmikas are precarious.
We condemn the caste system that pre-ordains for Dalits the job of removal of garbage and sewage. This work, euphemistically called solid waste management, is nothing but a dehumanising occupation forced on Dalits through inter-generational continuity.
That since this caste-based heredity profession is seen as dirty, unclean and unhygienic, Powrakarmikas and their families face ostracization, social immobility and segregation.
We will no more tolerate the failure of the Government and local authorities to ensure us permanent status, proper wages, humane working and living conditions.
We refuse to be forced into the inhuman practice of rendering manual scavenging labour which is extreme form of “untouchability” abolished by Article 17.
We will no more tolerate the physical, sexual and verbal abuse and indignations that we face on a daily basis.
We reject the contract labour system as a den of corruption and exploitation of the Powrakarmikas, and will fight to a put a full end to it.
We declare that the caste system coupled with the neoliberal policies of contractualisation has led to further impoverishment and exploitation of Powrakarmikas, denial of wage/job/social security and being deprived of social dignity, education, proper housing and the fundamental choice of opting for other occupations.
We condemn the governments for being unconcerned about the serious occupational health hazards including back problems, joint pains, high blood pressure and respiratory and heart related illnesses that Powrakarmikas suffer from.
We demand that society cease their casteist and classist prejudices against Powrakarmikas by treating them with respect and dignity.
We are the inheritors of the legacy of working class struggles in India, which fought for and secured for all workers, rights including the right to organise, form unions and associations, right to wages, right to decent working conditions, right to social security, right against exploitation, etc.
We remember that the vicious oppression of Powrakarmikas has historically been challenged as well – be it the valiant struggles of the sanitation workers of Calcutta Corporation and Madras Corporation in the 1920s demanding union recognition, increased wages, housing and latrines, free medicine and treatment, end to corruption of the mafia that controlled their jobs, leave, etc., which have continued in Independent India throughout the country including in our Karnataka.
We recall with pride the anti-caste struggles of Basavanna, Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule, Periyar and, in particular, Babasaheb Ambedkar who described this as a condition of slavery and called out for this form of subjugation to be resisted by moving away from these dirty jobs reserved for Dalits.
We declare that we will not tolerate any discrimination and inequality that affects the exercise and enjoyment, of our civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
We declare that our struggle is for a society free from any oppression and discrimination and we will not tolerate any subjugation of a human being by another.
We vow to stand up against any oppressions and discrimination in society whether in the name of caste, religion, caste, gender, etc. and stand committed to justice, liberty and fraternity.
AICCTU seeks a united and determined declaration to struggle against the exploitation of Powrakarmikas, and for their total liberation and humanisation of working conditions, and are committed to launch agitations with the following Charter of Struggle.
Charter of Struggle:
- Declare the right to freedom of Powrakarmikas from all forms of oppression, discrimination and abuse.
- Battle for the right to social dignity of Powrakarmikas as the fundamental plank of struggle, and against all practices and policies that seek to undermine the dignity of Powrakarmikas.
- Realise the full potential of Powrakarmikas as citizens with the potential to play a refining role in democratising society.
- Declare that it is the duty of the Government to call for a special session of the Karnataka State Assembly to discuss the situation of Powrakarmikas, pass necessary legislations. The State has to acknowledge the historical injustice done to Powrakarmikas and express its deep regrets for the humiliation which Powrakarmikas have been subjected through centuries and declare its determination to take all steps to ameliorate the conditions of Powrakarmikas, immediately eradicate manual scavenging and humanise all sanitation work and make them free of all hazard and squalor.
- Organise and struggle to secure the demand of the State Government enacting a comprehensive legislation, being “The Karnataka Safaikaramcharis (Social Upliftment and Welfare) Act, containing provisions for, among others, conferment of permanent status to all Powrakarmikas, working and service conditions, welfare measures of Powrakarmikas and their families, etc.
- Specifically launch agitations for:
- Expediting the granting of permanent status to all Powrakarmikas in the State of Karnataka including sweepers, drivers, cleaners, loaders, helpers, UGD workers, etc.
- “Right to direct payment” of wages from the local authorities, and “equal pay for equal work” until are Powrakarmikas are regularised.
- Modification of the ratio of Powrakarmikas to population from 1:700 to 1:300.
- Provision of house-sites and house construction grants to all Powrakarmikas.
- Provision of proper education to children of Powrakarmikas including reservations, scholarships, etc. from nursery to PG.
- Provision of restrooms and toilet facilities, maternity benefits, weekly off and leave, gratuity, pension, death/retirement benefits of Rs. 10 lakhs lumpsum or compassionate appointment for their dependents, etc.
- Provision of special preventive and curative health services to address the occupational diseases that Powrakarmikas are prone to on account of the nature of their work.
- Reject the divisive efforts of the Government and authorities of categorising Powrakarmikas into sweepers, drivers, cleaners, loaders, helpers, UGD workers, etc., and declare that all workers engaged in waste management, irrespective of the specific job task they perform, are “Powrakarmikas”.
- Unitedly fight for granting of permanent status to all Powrakarmikas and the abolition of contract labour system and any efforts of informalisation of the Powrakarmika workforce by employing them, on exploitative terms, as direct payment Powrakarmikas, daily-wage Powrakarmikas, equal-pay workers, guised contract Powrakarmikas under contractors/manpower agency/labour supply contractors/SHGs/NGOs, etc.
- Ensure that the Government and local authorities conduct themselves as model employers and stop all unfair labour practices and undignified treatment of Powrakarmikas.
- Ensure that Powrakarmikas receive living wages and that their salaries shall be paid regularly and on time and to this end their salaries shall have first charge on the budget of the employers – Government or private.
- Given that the work is caste-ordained and in view of the vulnerability of Dalits on account of which they are traditionally recruited for sanitation labour, we will fight to ensure that children from such communities are provided with education and job opportunities so that they are not compelled into this occupation in the future.
- Assert our right to reduced working hours and provision of education, skill development, etc. for Powrakarmikas
- Fight for support and opportunities to Powrakarmikas to secure other jobs in the local bodies
- Fight for the right of Powrakarmikas to be part of decision making of all waste management related policies and decisions.
- Explore alliances with waste-pickers and waste impacted communities such as villages next to land-fills, dumps, etc.
- Fight for modernisation and mechanisation which will make work more scientific, hygienic and humane without affecting the job security of Powrakarmikas. We will demand that the best available technology for sweeping and sanitation work shall be adopted and utilised and the State should establish an autonomous research institute for identification of the best available technology to make this work more scientific and humane.
- Ensure that the history of discrimination of Powrakarmikas, and their resistance, be added to educational curricula with a view to achieving a comprehensive and objective awareness of the unfair and unconstitutional treatment of sanitation persons.
- Fight the poverty, dismal living conditions, denial of education and health services, resulting in the chronic impoverishment and destitution of Powrakarmikas.
- Assert Powrakarmikas’ right not to be forced to do manual scavenging, which is rampant, especially due to open defaecation and cleaning of drains. From streets to drain to toilets to treatment plants, Powrakarmikas are forced to handle human excreta with their bare hands. We will put an end to this and ensure the proper implementation of the “Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”.
- Declare that the struggle is for justice to all workers doing the job of safaikaramchairis whether in the Defense Undertakings, Railways, Public Sector Undertakings, Government departments and institutions, Gram Panchayats and the Private Sector to ensure their welfare and upliftment.
- End the everyday tyranny in the lives of Powrakarmikas, in the form of entrenched insidious violence including atrocities, discriminations and humiliations at the hands of the sections of society and authorities.
- Fight against the corrupt criminal nexus of bureaucrats, elected representatives, officials and others that attempts to perpetuate anti-worker policies and practices in waste management.
- Oppose and ensure withdrawal of the anti-worker 4 Labour Codes, especially the intent to institutionalise contract labour in sweeping and housekeeping. We will fight to ensure that the private contract system for sanitation work including sweeping by Government, local authorities, public sector undertakings and establishments, public sector banks, airports, railways, private sector industries, commercial and corporate establishments, is prohibited.
We are holding this Convention on the occasion of the 75th year of Independence. This freedom, which we celebrate, was the culmination of the struggle by various sections of society against colonial oppression, particularly the working class. Today, when the Powrakarmikas are facing such oppression, exploitation and institutional violence, to fully realise Powrakarmikas’ rights in free and modern India, we have to heighten our struggles, particularly against the anti-worker policies as well as against the caste system.
- Annihilate caste, eradicate caste discrimination and fight for the emancipation of Dalits!
- Emancipation of women from exploitation and harassment!
- The fight for Dignity and regularisation of services are non-negotiable!
- End the Social Stigma Attached to the Dalit community employed in sanitation work!
- Employ New Generation of Powrakarmikas in Employment other than Sanitation!
- Eradicate the inhuman practice and casteist practice of Manual Scavenging!