During Kumbh Mela festival, cleaners are hired with total disrespect for labour laws.
Kumbh Mela festival is celebrated by thousands of Hindus, who gather in Prayag, near Allahabad for several days. To keep the place clean, numerous workers, originating from impoverished, drought-affected areas of Uttar Pradesh are hired. “Private contractors usually go to Bandha and Mahuwa districts. They know it will be easy to find a cheap and docile labour force there,” says Ajeet.
These private contractors hire them in total disregard for the laws that regulate labour in India. Indeed, the workers do not receive the legal minimum wage, they do not get proper accommodation – the contractors are simply providing them with a space, where they have to build their own shelters, and which are generally overcrowded. They do not get medicines when needed. Besides, private contractors collect 500 rupees from their monthly wages, without any justification.
The cleaners are slowly becoming aware of the unfairness of their situation, but any formalised protest remains extremely difficult. “They are completely dependent on their contractors, and usually get paid only when their contract ends, often later. In these conditions, the workers can hardly organize. Launching a demonstration would mean losing their job, and they cannot affort this risk,” explained Ajeet.
Despite facing these hard conditions of exploitation, the cleaners have already made an attempt to protest for an improvement in their working conditions. Ajeet hopes that his video will spread awareness and help them take their mobilization one step further.
In recent times, there has been a clampdown on voices of dissent in India. On Gandhi Jayanti, correspondents shared their experiences reporting about issues that may ruffle feathers, and decided that Gandhi would have approved.
Many civil society organisations are questioning the deteriorating law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh.