Surinder Lohra and his wife Rameshrani have been cleaning the roads of Jamna Bazar for 20 years now. Both are sanitation workers and live in a municipal corporation colony in east Delhi’s Nand Nagri, supporting a family of seven. Salary woes have hit them hard. According to the couple, compromises have been made in the kitchen as well their children’s education.
“Both of us are safai karamcharis. We have five children to feed and also pay school fees. This time, it has been so bad that we have had to shift from using a gas cylinder to using firewood. We are the biggest victims of this sarkari khel,” said Rameshrani.
The couple says their shifts exceed 8 hours a day and that makes managing their five children all the more difficult. “Both of us work long hours to send our children to school, pay for electricity and ration. Because my wife is not a permanent worker, our oldest daughter had to drop out of school and start taking care of the other children. Now, we have had to move two of our three sons out of the private school they went to and put them in government schools,” said Lohra.
Surinder and his wife are not alone in battling financial crunch. Families of several sanitation workers in this colony claim they have been forced to take loans from shopkeepers in the area. Ramesh Lakhan says, “At least in our case, the moneylenders trust us a little more. Some of the families that live on contractual income are subjected to horrible treatment if they are unable to repay the loan in time.”
The sanitation workers are hopeful that the protests will compel the municipal bodies to take action and pay them their dues once “people see how dirty the city is without us”.
Joginder Jaydia, another resident, has been a sanitation worker with the MCD for 17 years, but he is still not a permanent worker. “At this point it makes little difference to me whether or not I am a permanent worker. I receive a fluctuating salary and support my wife and three children. My duty used to be in the South, but because the rent in this colony is much cheaper for non-permanent workers, I moved here. Now, I feel this was a mistake because this is the first of the three strikes in the last year that I have actively been a part of. In my first duty area, even though it involved more travel, I always got paid on time. Now that I have started cleaning in Mayur Vihar area, my payments are always delayed.”
He added, “I am not an educated man, but since the new government has taken over at the Centre, and particularly with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, I feel like life has been harder for people like me. I was more hopeful after the Delhi elections last year, but nothing has changed. The work we do is like hell. We deserve to be treated better than like footballs in the corporation and state government’s match.”