Dear Arvind Kejriwal,
In the workshop organized by Delhi Jal Board on 15/7/2019 at Talkatora Stadium1 you said that you feel “dejected to hear about the deaths of sanitation workers” and that “we are concerned about the lives of sanitation workers and will give free safety kits to those working in Delhi so that no mishaps happen”. You are right, on a very urgent basis you should ensure that no such deaths happen again in Delhi. But, what does this language mean: that we will give ‘free’ safety kits? Is it a favor? A charity? Or is this safety kit the basic required gear for a sanitation worker to do his work! Do you also provide tea pot, kettle and tea strainer to the person who makes tea in your office for ‘free’? Paper, pens and registers to the clerks; screw drivers, pliers and testers to the electrician; gardening tools to the gardener; broom, bucket, and mop to the sweeper; or glasses to your peon to give you drinking water — for ‘free’? Obviously Not!
Actually, you are liable to provide such tools/gear first and foremost to them, without which they won’t be able to do their work. In the same way, a safety kit is also a first and foremost requirement for a sanitation worker to do his work. And you are liable to provide them to sanitation workers also. Your responsibility and accountability to provide safety kits to sanitation workers beforehand becomes even greater because neglecting this can cause the death of a sanitation worker which you can’t undo.
Providing safety kits to sanitation workers is as normal as providing tools and safety gears to any other worker. People are doing their work. It is your duty to ensure their safety. You are the state — a welfare state. You are accountable to provide them respectful working conditions. It is not a favor or charity or mercy or some dole. And if you are declaring this now, does that mean that your government in the last four years has not provided any safety kits to the sanitation workers?
Does the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules, 2013’ state that employer/local authority will have to collect some specific money from sanitation worker for providing protective gear and safety devices listed in the point 4 of chapter II of the said rules, that you are now announcing sanitation workers will get ‘free’ safety kits and claiming a greater deed?
Honestly, developing this attitude of ‘giving free’ is very problematic. This attitude of giving ‘free’ develops a giver – receiver relationship. A patron – client relationship: the very sign of a hierarchical society. In India, we do have a hierarchical system that is already popular – it is the Brahminical hierarchy, i.e., Brahminism. And people engaged in sanitation work and/or manual scavenging are the worst victims of this patron-client relationship —the Jajmani system. They are still in its clutch in many parts of India. This giving ‘free’ attitude really won’t help sanitation workers psychologically. This is the same kind of politics which sanitation workers are seeing since independence. This is not the alternative politics for sanitation workers at least.
Sanitation workers and/or manual scavengers don’t need people who feel dejected about their situation, but those who get angry about it and ask sharp questions to the government authorities: why is this practice of manual scavenging still continuing—in the national capital Delhi too—even after being outlawed? Who are guilty of letting manual scavenging continue? What punishment will those persons get for contravening the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’? Who is benefitting from continuance of manual scavenging and, from the cheap labour and contractual employment of sanitation workers? Why are authorities not talking about breaking the link between caste and occupation? For how long will this psyche continue that provides sanitation workers with safety kits so that they will continue cleaning gutters?
~ Dhamma Darshan Nigam,
National Coordinator – Safai Karmachari Andolan
1. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/delhi-sanitation-workers-to-get-’free’-safety-kits/article28448185.ece accessed on 18/7/2019
Picture courtesy: the internet