Human rights violations against Dalits in the form of menial jobs

“Violation’s in Menial Jobs”

It is globally accepted that discrimination in employment on the basis of birth is a form of racial discrimination. This standard has been confirmed in all of the treaties framed against racial discrimination by the UN. Yet our Indian government is still arguing to the UN that the violations and atrocities imposed on dalits in employment based on birth could not be considered as racial discrimination. Many even assert that there is no longer a relationship between jobs and caste. Who are the people in India today involved in jobs with high economic status and social prestige? Who are the people engaged in jobs in mortuaries, cleaning human excreta with their hands, or cleaning the sewers? Can we deny that jobs are truly linked with caste? Much research has been conducted at the state and national levels examining the topic of manual scavenging. These studies have revealed that 95% people employed as manual scavengers are dalits. These studies also revealed that these workers are subjected to many violations and atrocities. There are still many employed in menial jobs, but research on these workers is lacking. Various studies have been conducted on bonded labor, child labor, and child kidnapping. But we have yet to see research that thoroughly examines menial jobs including the cleaning of sewers, the cleaning during death ceremonials, and the cleaning of human excreta. Our EVIDENCE team decided to conduct a study in order to find answers to the following questions– what types of menial jobs are there? Are dalits alone employed in these menial jobs? Are people from other castes involved in these jobs? What problems do these workers face? To answer these questions, our EVIDENCE team conducted a study during February 2010 on violations in menial jobs, surveying 303 people employed in menial jobs. Though we approached every menial laborer we came into contact with, we were shocked to learn that all of them are dalits. On 18.2.2010 in Chennai, Mr. N.M. Kamble, Deputy Chairman of the National SC/ST Commission stated that though the Tamilnadu Government claims that no such system of manual scavenging is in place in Tamil Nadu, we have photo evidence proving that Tamilnadu employees are hired to clean human excreta with their hands. One day later, on 19.2.2010, Chief Minister Dr. M. Karunanithi denied Kamble’s statement, claiming “Mr. N.M. Kamble purposely showed pictures taken long ago to blame Tamilnadu Government.” He also mentioned there are no manhole workers in Tamilnadu, threatening to lodge a complaint against Kamble with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While this scandal was being covered in newspapers, our EVIDENCE team was collecting statements from menial job workers. We also photographed their terrible working situations as proof of this discrimination. Limitation and procedures of research: This study was conducted in 4 districts (Madurai, Theni, Dindugal, and Virudhunagar). The questionnaire form contained 51 questions framed in three parts. Five fact finding groups conducted this research with 303 menial workers. Among these workers, 212 are males and 91 are females. Among these workers, 289 were dalits, 12 were Christian dalits, and 2 were tribal people. Types of menial jobs: Among 303 workers, 10 work in mortuaries, 135 worked in the disposal of dead bodies, 186 worked in disposal of dead animals, 60 were forced to beat parai, 130 work burying or cremating dead bodies, 105 work giving death announcements, 131 work in disposal of human excreta, 200 work in cleaning of sewage, 205 work in garbage collection, 168 work disposal of decomposed material, 154 work cleaning toilets, 12 work in tanning works, and 96 work cleaning during death ceremonies. Among 303 workers, most work various jobs including the cleaning of human excreta, disposal of decomposing material, and the cleaning of sewage. Only very few are engaged in single type of work. Working hours and place: Of the 303 workers surveyed, 33 work approximately 5 hours daily, 181 work for 5-8hrs daily, 43 employees work for 8-12hrs daily, and 43 employees work over 12hrs daily. Working hours of three employees were unidentifiable. These workers receive anywhere from Rs.400 to Rs.13, 000 as a monthly wage. Most of them receive Rs.4,000; 6,000; and 8,000 as monthly pay. Among 303 employees, 63 work at the village level, 104 work at the Panchayat level, 56 work at the municipal level, and 80 work at the corporate level. Among 303 employees, 91 work under an employer, 52 work under a contractor, 119 work in the government sector, 47 are self employed, and 12 work in the private sector. Among 303 employees, 127 workers reported that their family members also engaged in menial jobs. Discrimination and violations: 57 menial job workers confessed that some people had segregated them, 176 confessed that some people isolated them, 50 said that some people deny to speak with them, 38 said that discrimination is imposed on their family members, 38 disclosed that discrimination is imposed on their children, 199 said that some people abuse them with caste bias, 147 said that they are denied from entering temples, and 40 reported that they were discriminated against on a gender basis. Physical tortures and sexual harassment: We found that these workers suffer physical harm both from the dangers of their jobs and violence brought against them on the basis of caste and employment. 245 employees sustained injuries due to their jobs. 41 employees were assaulted. 1 woman was sexually harassed. 226 employees in total were affected physically. 288 employees reported that they experienced mental stress. 220 employees suffered from insomnia, 157 employees live with fear, and 16 female workers were subjected to sexual coercion. Alcohol and predatory money lending: Of the 303 respondents, 183 workers consume alcohol and 115 workers consume drugs. 204 employees reported that they had borrowed money; 108 had borrowed money from a predatory money lender. 17 employees confessed that they spend over Rs.2000 to consume alcohol and drugs. 31 employees confessed that they borrow more than Rs.50, 000 per year. 206 employees reported suffering at the hands of predatory money lenders. 52 employees said that a money lender had abused their wives or sisters when they failed to pay the money. 125 employees confessed that money lenders had abused them in caste bias, 4 employees sustained injuries from attacks by money lenders. 1 employee confessed that he was bound and assaulted by a money lender. In total, the workers surveyed disclosed the identities of 55 dalit menial laborers who had died while performing their work. Disease: Of 303 employees, 271 workers confessed that they continue working even though they are affected with disease. Of these affected workers, 58 suffer from TB, 91 suffer from asthma, 110 suffer from skin disease, 99 are affected with lung disease, and 29 are affected with heart disease. Reasons behind menial jobs: 255 workers disclosed to our fact finding team that their main reason for choosing this employment is their caste. 280 disclosed that they continue their jobs due to poverty. 94 reported they work in menial jobs due to the compulsion of caste Hindus. 37 cited compulsion by their employers. 266 cited their illiteracy. 169 reported that they work in menial labor to avoid unemployment. Conclusion: Article 24 of the Indian Constitution states, “children below the age of 14 should not be engaged in hazardous jobs.” This article creates a governmentally recognized division between hazardous and non-hazardous jobs. Article 23 prohibits forced and bonded labor. Yet in the above mentioned articles it is not clear whether these prohibitions extend to menial jobs. We define a menial job as one in which the workers are subject to inhumane, unfavorable, and ugly circumstances. Dalits are the people primarily involved in this sort of work. The fact that dalits are almost exclusively involved in this work is proof job discrimination. Though our Indian Constitution’s Article 17 states that untouchability is prohibited and its practice a crime, it is an ugly truth that this employment discrimination persists despite this constitutional protection. The common excuse is that “no one forces dalits to perform menial jobs;” that “dalits themselves wish to do them.” Yet forcing does not always mean direct coercion. When practices of discrimination and untouchability preclude a dalit from all other opportunities, we can see that they are forced into menial labor by society. It is appalling that in the face of this discrimination, people feign an ignorance which allows these violations to continue. Many jobs have been modernized. Labor rights demands that materials are provided to safeguard employees. But the workers employed in menial jobs continue work in unsafe and dangerous conditions. They are not provided with proper safety materials. These workers are slowly dying. From our study we can clearly understand the violations and discriminations which menial laborers face. Caste discrimination is the predominant factor in this continued unsafe and demeaning employment. Our government should take emergency action to recover these employees from the violations they face. On behalf of civil society, we would like to insist to our government that if these violations are allowed to continue, then we are all bystanders to the decline of our society. Recommendations • Our Tamilnadu Government should conduct detailed research on menial job employees who are involved in jobs such as work at mortuary, cleaning night soil, sewer cleaners, removing dead animals, removing garbage. And an open statement should be released about the research. • Our government should produce an order that these dalit employees should be rehabilitated and provided with secure government jobs. Based on their education and experience they should be employed in government jobs in various departments. The government should call officials from every department and discuss with them the vacancies in each department to be filled with recovered menial laborers. • Workers who have suffered from various violations and harm due to their employment should be provided with Rs.5 lakhs as compensation amount. • Our government should frame a special proposal plan on providing the children of these workers, with proper, good, and safe education. A plan should be framed to assure this generation is the last involved in menial jobs. • Our government should order severe action on caste Hindus and predatory money lenders who impose violations upon these employees. • Our government should provide a plan to provide continuous treatment to employees who suffering from diseases due to their jobs. This scheme should be monitored regularly. • Our government should take census on employees who are affected by bulk money lenders. Their debt should be cancelled immediately. The government should impose Goondas act on any persons involved in this kind of predatory money lending. • A new article should be included in SC/ST Act 1989 providing punishment to the accused and compensation to the victims who were affected by employment discrimination. • Government should provide Rs.10 lakhs as compensation for the families of workers who died due to inhalation of poisonous gas or while cleaning night soil during their work. (A.Kathir @ Vincent raj) Executive Director