The day I had to change my room at Hidyatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur, two cleaning ladies helped me move my stuff from my old room to the new one. They did so with smiles on their faces, laughing about how many books I had, and without taking any money.
The cleaning lady assigned to my floor would always smile at me and share personal stories while cleaning the room. That is how I remember the cleaning staff of HNLU – helpful and kind-hearted.
Recently, on Instagram, I came across a post featuring one of the cleaning ladies. I paused scrolling, and read it.
The HNLU administration had removed 45 cleaning workers from service without even paying them their salaries. The cleaning workers were now sitting on a protest outside the university campus.
“Till 30th May, we completed our work and went home. The next day we came to know that they have fired us,” said a worker at the protest. “We are sitting here in the heat for the past six days and nobody has even come to ask us about our well-being; we haven’t even been offered water. This movement will go on until we get justice.”
As some may recall, this is the same HNLU where students went on an indefinite hunger strike against a corrupt vice-chancellor. After reading the post about the cleaning workers, I realised that our problems weren’t over the day our old VC resigned. Apparently, corruption runs deep within the administration.
Let me give you a brief on how the cleaning staff at HNLU is employed.
The tender holder for the cleaning staff is changed at regular intervals, but the cleaning workers remain the same. This time, however, the workers were removed arbitrarily without any notice, and without even settling their salaries, that I must mention have not been paid for months now.
As of now, the university administration has paid the workers their salaries for the month of April. They claim that salaries for the month of May will be paid as soon as one of the accounting officers, who is currently absent, returns.
Also, they are sending a letter to the Government’s Employee’s Provident Fund (PF) department asking them to act against the previous tender holder and demand a return of the payments made to him for the purpose of salaries so that the PF amount can be paid to the protesting workers. The new tender holder says that the document he was handed didn’t mention that he had to hire the previous staff.
As a student of HNLU, here is why the whole situation sounds sketchy to me.
I, for one, have seen how the administration rules in a draconian manner over everything. Motivated by the student protest, the cleaning workers, now removed, have been demanding their rights as workers for a long time at the university.
The administration had managed to keep the same workers for about ten years up until now. But, when the workers became aware of their rights and staged protests, the administration failed to save their jobs.
Besides, as per the university’s rule, the administration cannot hire the same workers every time. This shows that the administration has a say in who gets hired and who doesn’t – in the process of changing tender holders.
According to the workers, the administration had silently guaranteed that their jobs would be safe for years. Many of them are the sole bread-winners of their families and are completely dependent on their jobs at HNLU.
The sudden removal has not only taken away their right to work, but has also left them helpless with no other option of work available.
The administration, we believe, can easily start a dialogue with the new tender holder. They have safeguarded these workers for years, why not now? Is it because the workers have started standing up for themselves?
Nothing about this is democratic. The administration has effectively silenced dissent, especially dissent for the purpose of securing rights necessary for survival.
I’d like to conclude by saying that the cleaning workers supported the student body through thick and thin during our protest. Perhaps, they thought that their problems would end too. But they didn’t. Now, they are facing a very serious crisis that affects them and their families.
One of the workers said that they will wait for the students to come and support them. It is our time to help the workers and fight with them.
Vartika Tickoo is a student at Hidyatullah National Law University, Raipur.
Featured Image credit: Cleaning worker at HNLU