Why Strikes by India’s Sanitation Workers For Hathras Rape Victim Matter More Than Oxford Protest

Social Commentary

Why Strikes by India’s Sanitation Workers For Hathras Rape Victim Matter More Than Oxford Protest

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The shocking gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras in UP has led to a string of agitations across the country. From student bodies to opposition leaders, protestors have been taking to the streets for the last two weeks, furious at the allegations of mismanagement levelled at the state’s police and government.

Among these agitators were lakhs of sanitation workers, who have announced a number of strikes to protest the gruesome crime against a member of their own community. But to no one’s surprise, they haven’t received the media attention they deserve.

On Tuesday alone, as many as 20,000 sanitation workers of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation are said to have abstained from work to protest against the Uttar Pradesh administration. Instead, the collective submitted a memorandum to the district collector seeking justice for the Hathras victim.

The Ahmedabad Municipal Servants Association (AMSA), which is in charge of all sanitation workers in the city, claimed on Wednesday their one-day strike was a success. A senior civic official, on the other hand, was quoted as saying “work was not affected”.

“Many workers came in for the morning shift and left after submitting the memorandum. It can not be termed a full-fledged strike. Since our work wasn’t hampered, we haven’t made any alternative arrangements,” Deputy Municipal Commissioner CR Kharsan was quoted as saying after the strike was called off.

However, this protest wasn’t restricted to Gujarat. In Uttar Pradesh, sanitation workers — who mostly, like the victim, belong to the Valmiki community — have abstained from work all through the last two weeks. Reports say lakhs of workers from Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and even Bengaluru have followed suit.

A week ago, reports said garbage had piled up in a number of cities in Western UP, including Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Agra, as demands for a CBI inquiry into the case had begun to grow. The areas surrounding the Taj Mahal, according to reports, hadn’t been cleaned in three days as of October 2.

“The entire community is feeling insulted and is angry,” a Valmiki leader from Agra, Hari Babu Valmiki, was quoted as saying in the Times of India.

In our country, a bulk of garbage collection and sanitation work falls on the shoulders of the various “lower-caste” communities. By ignoring their appeals for justice once again, we should remember that we’re doing one of the most marginalised communities in the world a huge disservice.