Why They Fight
On 12th June 2018, Pourakarmikas from all over Bengaluru came together in large numbers at the BBMP Headquarters in Town Hall, to protest the death of Subramani, a Pourakarmika from Ward Number 77, the Dattatreya Temple Ward, who was not paid his due wages for 6 months and took his own life.
“We want justice for Subramani’s death;”
“We want it now, we want it now.”
So, how did it get here? In 2017, the BBMP decided to do away with it’s contractor system where contractors were assigned to different wards and manage salaries, among other things. The BBMP instituted a new centralised biometric system to track workers checking in for the day and paying the wages directly to their accounts.
We're here because this shouldn't happen to our children. They should study and find a good job... that's what we want.
However, ever since this was instituted there was a significant lapse in payment for many workers, with some even being delisted by the BBMP despite years of civic service.
"My name is Varalakshmi. I haven't got my salary for 6 months. When I ask, they say they'll give it today, or tomorrow. I have to pay rent and my children's school fees. I don't know what to do."
Each area possesses its own unique challenges, depending on traffic, the topography, the population density, tree cover and other such factors. A maestri or contractor is assigned to monitor the work of the pourakarmikas.
When we met Uma and Lakshmidevi, it was right in the middle in of a busy thoroughfare, where they were picking up plastics, leaves and other refuse from the street discreetly, completely invisible to the people in the vehicles cruising by.
Months after the strike, delivery of wages remains precarious. Lakshmidevi, for instance, has not been paid in a few months.
“If we ask the inspector, he says we’ll give it. I still have to get February and June’s payment, those two payments have not reflected in my account. It’s ok you can film it, no problem."
She had to somehow come up with enough money for hospital fees for an injury sustained at work. The BBMP does not provide Pourakarmikas with any safety equipment, no shoes, not even cheap masks to shield them from the pollution that they are subjected to on a daily basis.
Uma - “For three days she was at home because of this injury she sustained at work and she didn’t get paid.”
Lakshmi -“I informed the maistri also that I was injured. See. It cost me 3000 Rs to go to the hospital for the check up, X-Ray and my journey back home."
However, both Uma and Lakshmidevi are concerned about more pressing and elementary issues. To take a restroom break on their daily shift entails taking a good 15-minute walk to the closest public bathroom, which earns them a stern remonstration from their maestri. In a relatively upscale neighbourhood like the one we are in, there is a dire lack of public bathrooms and none of the residents seem to be clamouring for one either. “Our maestri won’t understand these issues, he’s a man. I don’t think he can comprehend that women need a private space for these things. Even when we take breaks and talk to each other, he gets angry. Are we not supposed to relax?”
“I went to the BBMP office to fight with them as to why we weren’t getting our salaries. I approached the inspector and insulted him without any reservation. I told him “If you pay us this month, that’s it for you."
At the protest, we met Uma from the Hoysala Nagar ward, a Pourakarmika who is the leader and representative of the women in her ward who haven't yet received their salaries.
The result of the protest held on June 12th was that the BBMP released 27.01 crores which thus far hasn’t been enough to compensate the workers. Meanwhile, in Koppal, Pourakarmikas have launched an indefinite protest after a non-payment of wages for 9 months.
What They Do
Different wards follow different shifts, with Pourakarmikas on the streets for a majority of the day. The average day involves clocking in with their biometrics and performing a range of tasks cleaning up the streets, the sidewalks, the by-lanes, the main roads and disposing of the trash in designated areas for garbage vans and trucks to pick them up.
Who They Are
Who are the Pourakarmikas of Bengaluru?
Any attempt to summarise a labour force of this scale and diversity would be reductive.
Pourakarmikas come from diverse backgrounds and hail from many different places. Go out and discover who your locality's pourakarmikas are, what languages they speak at home, what their families are like, and what they like to do in their free time.
Manimegali spells her name out and says “If they call me for serials then 'Bye!'. Give me a shot at serials ok madam?
Don’t just lie to me.”
“Every home has it’s own difficulties, even yours. There isn’t a single home without it’s set of problems. We are simple people living in a small colony, our problems are few. The biggest problems are in the homes of the powerful, but that never comes out.”
“It’s because of our votes that you can stand on the field and give speeches, otherwise you’d be sitting at home only.”
M - “I will also die just like how that boy (Subramani) did if they don’t pay us”
S - “No,don’t say that.”
M - “Whatever be the case we will protest, we will all eventually die also, so what difference does it make to die today?”
S - “But this protest..”
M - “Victory is never the outcome of these protests. The victory lies in honest work. There’s no questioning of ‘winning.’ Look at that poor woman (Subramani’s wife). How will she raise her kids and manage her life? How much we have protested sir, there’s no victory when it comes to this. The only victory is work.”
“Call me for serials, don’t laugh, seriously call me.”
Since we last spoke to them a few months back, the simple issue of a toilet being installed on 80 feet road, Indiranagar has still not found any resolution. This is a small but tangible step towards creating the bare minimum humane working conditions for Pourakarmikas in this specific ward. Do you know any solutions for this issue or are you aware of any NGOs or CSR projects that would be willing to take up this project?
Bangalore East BBMP Zonal Office
Additional Commissioner (East) Mayohall BBMP , Bangalore-560001 Ph No :- 080-22975801
Hoysala Nagar Ward Corporator
Anand Kumar S - 9845048803
MLA - CV Raman Nagara Constituency
If you would like to reach out to Uma to see if you can work something out, do contact us at Write Leela Write.
COLLABORATE WITH US
Is there any way you think you could bring something to the table? Maybe you want to profile a pourakarmika in your neighbourhood? Maybe you want to help create tangible on-ground changes for the working conditions of pourakarmikas in our city?
It could start with something as simple as knowing who the pourakarmikas in your area and the specific problems that they face. The options are endless and it is our intention that this is a constantly evolving process.
Get in touch with us, let’s have a chat and we’ll see how we can make this happen.
Pourakarmika Watch is a Community Project initiated by Write Leela Write, a design & content laboratory based in Bangalore and Mysore, India. Find out more about us here.