Published: 16th April 2020
JNU student group raises funds, distributes masks, gloves to unpaid campus sanitary workers
The JNU Students' Union and the Teachers Union has been trying to pressure the administration to release the workers' salary but nothing has worked
While we praise our doctors and nurses, we have to also remember our sanitation workers who risk their lives on a day to day basis trying to keep the surroundings clean. Just like doctors and nurses are demanding protective gear, many sanitation workers are also asking for basic safety gear to keep themselves and their families safe.
The JNU student community has been speaking up for their sanitation workers for months now. When they were not getting paid and then again, when they were not being provided with protective gear when COVID-19 broke out. But when no amount of speaking led to any progress, the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organisation (BASO) decided to take it upon themselves to provide the workers with the gear.
"The JNU Students' Union and the Teachers Union has been trying to pressure the administration to release the workers' salary. We organised a Twitter storm as well and finally, they released one month's salary, which was not enough and when we raised the issue about protective gears, they refused to listen to us," BASO member Apeksha Priyadarshini said. The JNU student community has often brought up issues faced by the workers, from salary cuts, to their contracts to unfavourable work conditions.
The safety kits
Apeksha pointed out that this wasn't just about the health of the sanitary workers but their families as well. "The administration is the principal employer, so they should taker the initiative. Not just the lives of the workers because of their nature of work, others in the community could also risk infection. We also wanted the administration to ensure that they be allowed inside the campus but many have families outsiders, so they preferred that," she added.
But when the administration refused to listen, BASO decided to do something themselves. "We didn't know where to get the gear because it wasn't available anywhere. We initially wanted to do it in collaboration with another organisation but they didn't have any vendors. So we decided to do it ourselves," she said. Later, a friend of their's went to Old Delhi and was somehow able to source some masks and gloves.
"Gloves were not available anywhere so it was quite a task to get them," she added. When they managed to find a vendor, BASO decided to raise funds to buy the products. "We put out a poster asking for funds and we were able to reach out target. Most of the donations came from the JNU community, students and teachers. So we were able to buy the products and distribute. A lot of work was done in individual capacities," she said.
Students handing out kits
So what's in the kit? "Each kit contains a pair of gloves, a mask and a sanitiser. Once our drive is complete we will put up an update with the details of the donations and the number of kits distributed," the student leader also said.
BASO has been able to provide protective gear to 180-200 workers, all the ones who work in the hostels on campus. For now, they've put a cap on the fundraising, "There are some workers who are still left. We are going to assess how much more we need and depending on that we might raise funds again," Apeksha added.
Critisising the administration for not doing enough to protect the sanitation workers and demanding that they be paid their salary at the earliest, Apeksha said, "Let us not forget that at this time of crisis when the world is reeling from the effects of the pandemic. The JNU administration has miserably failed to ensure the safety of its sanitation workers. Let us continue to raise our voices to demand that their pending salaries be released immediately."