Published: 28th December 2021
This JNU garbage collector's dreams of becoming a lawyer were crushed after he was terminated after protesting. Here's his story
Govind said that he understood the legalities because he was studying law but lost the job that was supporting his studies because he understood the discrepancies
When Govind Kumar landed a job as a garbage cleaning supervisor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2019, he thought his dreams of becoming a lawyer would come true — he would finally be to support himself in pursuing a BA LLB degree as a private student from the University of Delhi. But his dreams were short-lived. He was sacked recently after he demanded that the labourers be given their rights and fought for it and even went to the labour commission in Delhi. Ironically, Govind said, he understood the legalities because he was studying law but lost the job that was supporting his studies because he understood the discrepancies.
Govind, a 26-year-old native of Kanpur who had finished his BSc in Mathematics from Kanpur University, was employed as a garbage cleaning supervisor in 2019. "We were supervisors for namesake, we were also emptying dustbins and cleaning along with the other workers. We had no other job — we couldn't take attendance, grant leaves or anything that a supervisor does generally. Everything was either controlled by the JNU administration or occasionally by the contracting company," said Govind. "Our salaries were pending for two to three months in 2020. We demanded our salaries be paid. The agency told us that the JNU administration did not pay their bills, but when we approached the JNU officials, they said that we should speak to the agency. Where would we have gone?" asked Govind.
Well, Govind led the workers to the Labour Commissioner's office. And within days, the issue was resolved. JNU also shifted the contract from Max Services Private Ltd to Sudarshan Facilities Private Ltd a month back. The workers remained the same. "On November 11, the new agency wanted us to sign an agreement that said that we could not be part of a union anymore. We couldn't be on strikes anymore either," recounted Govind.
But before all this happened, when the pandemic was at its peak in 2020 and the country was on lockdown, these workers came to work. "Let alone salaries, we were not even given soaps to wash our hands or gloves to keep us safe. We took turns to buy soaps," alleged Govind. "Before they came with the new set of rules of employment, the agency officials also abused us, calling us names. Then they came and told me that I will not be employed anymore. No reasons, no discussions, straight out termination," he added. Govind alleged that his proactive nature in resolving the labourers' issues got him terminated. But there hasn't been any such confirmation from the varsity.
It's been over a month since then and there's been no respite for Govind. He said that he had to discontinue his LLB course due to lack of funds. Not just that, he was almost displaced from his house in Munirka and is still struggling to get his case heard by the Labour Commission.
As a university, it is JNU administration and not private companies that need to set the rules that govern how workers are to be treated on campus, said the JNU Teachers' Association (JNUTA). "We have approached the Registrar and the Deputy Registrar (Estate), demanding specific action on these matters. However, no action has been taken till date by the university administration with regard to the company or its representatives on campus for indulging in anti-social and anti-labour activities. Legally, it is the university administration that, as the principal employer, has the primary responsibility of ensuring that the rights of workers are duly protected," said Dr Moushumi Basu, Secretary, JNUTA.