Gujarat does it again: cops detain safai karmacharis and a street theatre group
The recent Una incident, where several Dalit youths were flogged, drew a lot of flak for the Gujarat government. Yet intolerance continues on in the state - this time, the Ahmedabad police detained several sewage workers and other demonstrators for putting up a street play espousing the cause of safai karmacharis of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).
It was merely a cultural programme organised at the amphitheatre next to the lake in the upmarket Vastrapur area in support of the sweepers demanding fair wages and regularisation in their services.
But just as the National Peace Group was about to perform their street play on the life of sewerage workers belonging to the Valmiki community, the police picked them up along with other demonstrators and whisked them away to the police stadium nearly 10 km away.
The show must go on
But in true spirit of 'the show must go on', the street theatre group performed their play "Vaadu Aavjo Ba" (Give the left over food, Mother) at the police stadium itself as many of their intended spectators too were detained at the same venue till late evening.
"Vaado Aavjo Ba" is the appeal made in the evening to homemakers by low caste Valmiki community people who clean the sewers since morning and take home the left over food handed over from upper caste households.
A dangerous profession
At least 169 sewerage workers, most belonging to the Valmiki community, have died during the last one decade due to the inhalation of methane group of gases inside the manholes which they are forced to enter without protective safety gears.
In all the cases, the deaths have been described as "accidental" even though it is common knowledge, particularly for a Municipal Commissioner who is invariably an IAS officer, that sewerage lines carrying organic waste would always be filled with methane group of killer gases that are heavier than atmospheric air.
Taking up the cause
The cultural programme, in support of this community, on 11 September, was part of the safai karmacharis agitation that began on 22 August which saw over 6,000 people participate. Their demand is for the regularisation of as many as 1,300 of them who have served the AMC for 18-20 years.
Eminent painter-designer Pravin Mishra too chipped in into the protest with a live on-the-spot painting of a sewerage worker emerging out of a manhole with a poster demanding "regular job, housing and health care".
Citizens from all walks of life also signed a petition addressed to the Governor OP Kohli, urging him to ensure justice for the 6,000 sweepers and sewerage workers in terms of fair wages and regularisation in their jobs.
As per the IG Thakore committee recommendations, adopted by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) itself, the sweepers and sewerage workers who have completed five years or 900 days of job are ought to be made permanent on regular pay scales.
But the AMC is denying its own terms and pay scales to the 1,300-odd workers who have fulfilled these criteria, said Samshad Khan Pathan of the Jan Sangharsh Manch, one of the many organisations which have taken up the cudgels on behalf of these workers.
As a matter of routine attitude towards NGOs and secular groups, the police permission for the Sunday evening event was denied at the eleventh hour, said Pathan.
Nevertheless, hundreds of people assembled at the amphitheatre and the solidarity programme began with a revolutionary song and the live painting of the sewerage worker emerging out of the manhole.
But around 300 policemen dispersed the crowd and detained the workers and the street theatre group.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu