Imagine the frustration and ire of not having your salary paid for months at a time. Now imagine being sexually harassed and physically abused when you ask your employer to cough up your outstanding dues. Sounds unbelievable, right?
This is what happened to a group of women civic workers in Bengaluru recently. In Bengaluru's KR Puram area, women sanitation workers and garbage collectors -- called pourakarmikas -- haven't been paid their salaries by the contractor who hired them on behalf of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for the last three months. When the women protested and demanded that he pay them their money, he not only abused them with casteist slurs, but also sexually harassed them by taking his pants off in their presence and threatening to rape them, reported The News Minute.
The contractor allegedly told the women, "Your wages are in my pants, come and take it," according to a report in Times Of India,
Enraged, the women complained to their union. On hearing their plight, the union filed complaints with the BBMP Sexual Harassment Committee and the Karnataka Social Welfare Department.
But even impending legal trouble did not deter the brazen contractor from further harassing the women. When he heard of the complaint, on Thursday, the contractor, Nagesh, allegedly again threatened the workers with the help of local goons.
"The contractor brought five local goons along with him who were carrying rods and threatened the pourakarmikas. He even got hold of one of the pourakarmikas and beat her with the rod," TNM quoted Maitree, a member of Alternative Law Forum, the group representing the workers, as saying.
According to the workers, the contractor was able to get away with such deplorable behaviour because he had the support of a BBMP health inspector.
Following the incident on Thursday, a complaint has been registered against Nagesh and three others, an Akshaya, a Nandeesh and a Shadeek, by the KR Puram police under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Section 354A (outraging the modesty of a woman) and Section 3(1)(J) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
"We asked complainants to give statements in writing. Based on allegations and statements, we registered FIR against Nagesh and three others. We will summon the accused immediately for questioning and initiate legal action on finding them guilty," TOI reported a KR Puram police official as saying.
According to the workers, the contractor was able to get away with such deplorable behaviour and non-payment of dues because he had the support of a BBMP health inspector, Ramakrishna.
Meanwhile, Bengaluru's mayor, Sampath Raj, said that he will ensure that strict action is taken against the guilty party while condemning the incident. "The safety of its workers is of utmost importance to the BBMP. I have directed the concerned BBMP officials to look into the matter. If he is found guilty, then we will ensure that his contract license is suspended. I have also spoken with the concerned health officer as there were allegations that he was supporting the contractor," TNM quoted Raj as saying.
This is not the first time that Bengaluru's pourakarmikas have banded together against contractors and BBMP over terrible working conditions and unfair wages. On 28 August, the city's 20,000 sanitation workers went on a 36-hour strike demanding that their wages for the last three months be paid before they would go back to work. They also complained that contractors refused all their leaves and forced them to work even when they were sick, according to an NDTV report.
Before that, in June, thousands of waste management workers went on strike demanding that their services be regularised and direct payment from BBMP. The mayor had conceded their demands, effectively eliminating the middle-men or the contractors notorious for harassing these workers. Direct payment to pourakarmikas was supposed to start from 1 September, but was soon postponed to October 1, because ground level verification of the names mentioned in the pourakarmika rolls had to be completed before the money was disburses.
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