On August 3, 16 workers at Delhi University’s Ambedkar Ganguly Students House for Women, received a notice which informed them that they had been fired. The workers who were let go were also asked to evacuate their university-allotted quarters by September 3.
According to the notice, the hostel, which runs on ‘self-financing mode’, has been facing an “acute financial crisis” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why the administration decided to terminate the services of the workers. Among those whose jobs are safe are the warden, resident tutor and other staff members of the hostel administration.
“They sent us the notice on Rakhi when we were celebrating at home. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t know where to go. My tauji passed away today morning, but the warden didn’t allow me to attend the cremation, saying that my salary would be cut if I go,” said a sanitation worker at the hostel. “They don’t care about our situation and do as they please.”
Some of the workers have been working at the hostel for more than 15 years and the salary they get from the hostel is their only source of income.
“I have been working here for the past 17 years, but I am still not a permanent employee. The quarters which they have allotted have very small rooms and the salary is also meagre. But at least we were somehow managing our expenses. Where will we go now?” asked one worker.
A lot of workers are in their late 40s and early 50s and doubt if anyone would hire them. “While the young ones might get a job somewhere, which also seems unlikely, the older workers will find it very difficult to find a job,” said another worker.
In addition, the contracts for all the workers was renewed in July this year for six months. The copies of the official renewal letters are with LiveWire.
The fact that the system is not regularised is problematic, say the workers, as they are not employed on a permanent basis despite the number of years they have put in.
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Meanwhile, the hostel authorities, according to the workers, are saying that they can’t let the workers continue with their job because all the hostel residents, except for one visually blind student, have left.
However, students say that the hostel authorities themselves asked them to vacate their rooms in April, defying the order issued by the ministry of human resource and development (now the ministry of education) which categorically said that no student should be forced out of the hostel. “We were forced out of the hostel and even now, a lot of students want to come back because not all of us have a local guardian to look after our needs,” said a first-year law student and a hostel resident.
The visually-impaired student was also asked to leave but the authorities allowed her to stay only after she made several requests.
The hostel authorities, workers say, also have a fixed deposit but don’t intend to use it to pay the workers’ salaries. According to the workers, they were told that the amount would be used for infrastructural development of the hostel at a later stage.
The workers have also been coming to the hostel even during the lockdown, putting their and their families’ lives at risk. The hostel authorities, they say, didn’t provide them with sufficient protective gear. Most of the staff belong to SC, ST and OBC categories and have alleged caste-based discrimination at the hands of the warden, which they say got even worse during the lockdown.
“One time, the warden asked one of us, who went to collect garbage at her home, to ‘not touch her doorbell or any surface’ and just keep the dustbin outside,” said one of the workers. “We workers are not even allowed to touch her files and only specific people are allowed to do that now.”
Earlier, workers used to take the files across to her flat, which is located within the hostel campus.
“We were also told by the hostel authorities to not drink water from the hostel mess. Now, we only use the water tank connected to the washroom,” added the worker.
LiveWire tried to contact the hostel warden, but received no reply. This story will be updated as and when there is an official response.
‘Will move the court’
The workers have unanimously dismissed the notice and have been constantly communicating with the hostel authorities to ask them to reconsider the decision. They say they will take the legal recourse and move the high court if their demands are not fulfilled.
“We will stay on the footpath if we are asked to leave like this because we don’t have any other place to go to. Legal option is the only way out if the hostel authorities continue to ignore what we have to say,” said a worker.
The hostel residents have also come out in support with the workers and have appealed to the authorities to revoke the decision.
Featured image credit: Amisha, hostel resident