Published: 02nd June 2019
AUD campus workers fired for objecting to forced manual scavenging, students arrange solidarity protest
The students claim that the workers are being forced to enter sewers on campus and when they protested, their contracts were terminated by the University
The students of Ambedkar University Delhi will be going on protest to show solidarity with the agitating sanitation workers on campus who are allegedly being forced to do manual scavenging. The sanitation workers are required to physically enter and open the sewers with their hands which is criminalized under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation Act 2013.
According to Aroh Akunth, a member of the Dalit Bahujan Adivasi Collective, AUD, the students first noticed manual scavenging happening on campus mid-2018. "We had then protested against it but the Sulabh workers didn't resist with us as they weren't aware of the fact that what they were being asked to do was unconstitutional," they explained. When the workers were informed about Manual Scavenging Act, that was when they decided they would agitate too. However, the workers were worried that they might lose their jobs if they assert their rights. With the support of the students, they have been asserting their right since September 2018.
However, on May 31, their fears came true. The administration terminated their contracts and were given two hours to leave their campus, the students allege. To protest against this move, the students of DBA Collective will be going on protest on June 3.
On September 21, 2018, the DBA Collective submitted a written complaint regarding the issue of the sewers in the Kashmere gate campus and the caste discrimination on campus to the VC and the registrar. Subsequently, the VC had set up a committee constituting of two professors — Prof Bidhan Das and Dr Pooja Satyogi to document and make recommendations to sort out the issue. However, the DBA Collective say in their statement: "The Committee worked in hyper-secrecy and never bothered to share the report and its findings with the larger student community. Irrespective of whatever the mandate was for this committee, the complainants have a right to know what the committee has done."
They go on to state that Das assured them of changes. However, they had cautioned him about the workers asserting their stand could affect their employment in the university, " We had also asked him that we and the sulabh workers want to take up the case but we also need to make sure that there aren't bigger repercussions for them. We always feared that their job might be at risk as they are demanding their constitutional right."
This is not the only type of discrimination the workers face, the students say. On August 15, 2018, the students noticed that the workers were asked to sit separately from the rest of the crowd and were not allowed to distribute sweets. Something they had been doing for the past 4-5 years. "We have witnesses for this case. We are agitated but we kept quite. Then later in the month, all their chairs were taken back and on countering this act assertively the chairs were given back to them," the statement said. They also accuse another staff member of saying casteist slurs against the workers and was allegedly recorded saying, "Tum jaise logo se main baat karna pasand nahi karta" (I don't like to even talk to people like you)".
The statement said: They (the workers) have been operating under caste-Hindu authorities who are habitual of harassing them and discriminate against them and ridiculing them for the work they do.
The DBA claimed that ever since the workers began to have an issue with being forced to clean the sewers, the administration hired the workers on a month to month basis. "The workers were already getting underpaid, in bad working conditions and were on a contract basis. When they began to agitate the administration began to issue one-month tenders. They were waiting to sell their tenders to someone else and now that they found someone else, they're terminating the current workers without any notice," Aroh said.
With the termination, the DBA pointed out that the University is also violating the Contract Labour Act, 2910 which states — If the work for which contract labour is employed is incidental to and closely connected with the main activity of the industry and is of a perennial and permanent nature, the abolition of contract labour should be justified.
"Yesterday, a couple of photos and videos were circulated where we could see workers crying because they are just thrown out of their job after being kept in an unsure situation for around 6 months. They were kept unaware and hanging on the question renewal of their contract," the students said.
In order to protest against this, the DBA has scheduled a protest tomorrow in front of the AUD campus. They have two demands — they want the University to take accountability for what it has done and they want the report drafted by the two staff members to be made public.
We were unable to get in touch with AUD.