By Jyothi Ganta
“The People who used to distance themselves from us and look at us with a discomforting look, the same people are now giving us respect in this COVID situation,” said Anil salve.
Anil salve (35) is a BMC worker at Marine lines since last 3 years. He got this job after his father's retirement, who served as a cleaner in BMC for all his life.
Working into this job has always been a risk as cleaning other's dirt may harm your health and sometimes it also disturbs the mental health. This risk is now increased by 10 times in this Pandemic. But they do not have the privilege to sit back in their homes caring for their lives, instead, work even harder and be more careful to be safe.
Anil stays in Nallasopara and his work area is in South Mumbai. It is very hectic to travel every day for work. He starts from his house early morning around 4 am to reach for work on time. For which he has to wake up at 3 am and his wife Supriya has to wake up even earlier to cook for his tiffin. This might seem a little strange but not for them as he has seen his parents following the same timetable.
Earlier he used to travel by local trains but as now with the lockdown, local trains are not running, he has to travel by bus. They have been given a pickup spot where they have to stand in line every day for the bus which is provided by BMC.
Talking about his work he said “Nobody aims to become a BMC cleaner in childhood. I studied Diploma Engineering and struggled with various jobs before I joined BMC in the succession of my father. We are the people who are needed more during such a crisis. We have been told about the need to work in dangerous situations earlier itself when we join. No matter how dangerous the situation is, we have to continue doing our work”.
They are given a spot to clean but if any other co-worker is not well or not present at that moment, they adjust the work and help each other complete their duties.
Daily, they are provided with a pair of gloves and masks, but as the gloves get dirty during the work they have to buy another pair by themselves.
Thus talking about precautions he said, “There are instructions given by BMC which we have to follow for our safety but it isn’t enough. There are people who tell us that they will help us, but for years we didn't get that help. So I’ve decided, for my safety I have to take care of myself and my family. We cannot rely on authorities for our safety."
As his family stays at home due to COVID 19, he has the opportunity to spend time with them after his long day at work which makes him happy. Anil stays in a joint family, with his father, mother, elder brother who is a lawyer at the High court, brother's wife and two children, Anil's wife and a four-year-old daughter. In the next building stays his grandmother, aunt and younger cousins. There is an everyday mingling of both these families. If anything happens to him will affect the health of all these members and bring their life too at risk.
When asked if he fears about the situation he said, “I do fear but we have to do our job and I don’t see it as a job but as a contribution from my side to my country. Just because of some virus I can’t turn my back to my nation."
When people get an increase in salary for working during a pandemic, Anil being the person who keeps the city clean every day, who should be getting an increment, doesn’t.
There are talks about increment of health workers but no body wants to talk about increment of the class four level workers. There is this social politics behind this, if increment is given to them, then their lifestyle would also develop; Even they will think of better quality life, about giving a better quality education to their children who will get big degrees in future and will apply for higher position jobs, then who will do this work? Right? So it is clear that to keep them at this level, they should feel good about what they are doing with moral appreciation, that they shouldn't expect for any monetary appreciation.
Opening about the people who throw trash here and there even if there is a dustbin, he said “ people don’t know where to throw things. even if we try to make them understand they won't get it. After all, we are BMC workers, but the same thing is told by a police officer, they definitely would follow that. If we tell them to not throw stuff, they argue back saying “tu jhaaduwala hai aur jhaaduwala hi rahega hume mat sikha” (you’re a sweeper and you’ll always be a sweeper, don’t try to educate us). This couldn't be taken lightly at least now with this Pandemic, it is really frightening to see people even Littering used masks and gloves and not dumping it carefully.
Before COVID-19, people used to see BMC workers with a disgusting gaze but Anil says that “now it has changed as people started to respect us. Even when I go out to get something, people tell me to stand first in line. They say “you work for us this is the least we can do” which for him is a great appreciation from people.
Work should be treated as work, no work should be treated as lowly and reserved for the so-called lower castes only. People doing cleaning work also need to be treated with dignity not just during Pandemics but it should be understood that they risk their life always, even when it is not a Pandemic. May it be municipal corporation workers or manual scavengers, they should be treated as human beings first.
Jyothi Ganta is an intern with The Colourboard, currently she is persuing her Bachelors in Mass Media in Mumbai.