For these women, March 8 is like any other day

For these women, March 8 is like any other day

Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2017-03-08 09:42 Bengaluru: Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, but Manjula is not aware about it, or the day’s significance. For her, March 8 is just another day.She would get up at 5.30am and begin pushing her cart to collect garbage in Indiranagar. By 9am, having finished the task, she pushes the cart with 50kg of segregated garbage to the collection point, where it is loaded onto a truck. Around 11am, she joins fellow conservancy workers or pourakarmikas to have her first meal of the day. At 2pm, she begins collecting dirt and dry leaves which is again loaded onto a truck. That brings her day to a close.Pourakarmikas do the dirtiest of jobs and keep our city clean, yet their lives and struggles remain invisible to us. According to BBMP officials, there are more than 18,000 pourakarmikas. Of them, more than 8,000 are women aged between 16 and 60.Manjula lives with her brother and sister-in-law. As her elder sister passed away at a young age, she took the responsibility of raising her three children."All go to school. The eldest is in class 10. My brother and his wife are daily wage workers at a construction site," she says.Manjula, who has been a pourakarmika for the past 20 years, says they have to endure appalling work conditions in addition to the stress."We have no toilet facilities, no drinking water,” she says. “When we ask for water, some residents give water, while many refuse. Sometimes, we are abused and looked down upon as we belong to lower caste.”Then there is the low salary and the spectre of ruthless bosses. "If we take leave, Rs200 is deducted per day. We are fined if we question higher officials. BBMP does not provide us with broom sticks also,” she says.Due to low salaries, women have to borrow money to meet household expenses.Polamma, a pourakarmika who has been cleaning Commercial Street for more than 20 years, says she borrowed Rs3000 for her son’s marriage. "I do not know how to return it. Our wages are very low, but we still try to ensure that the streets are clean. Prime Minister Modi boasts about his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, but no one really wants to know the ground reality," she says. Polamma’s 17-year-old daughter is also a pourakarmika. "She cleared her Class 10th exams. I know she wants to study, but we cannot afford it. I alone cannot struggle to make ends meet out of my salary. If my daughter also works, we can survive,” she says.Pourakarmika Lakshmi says they don’t object to the amount of work, but they want good living and working conditions. "They should provide us with health facilities,” says Lakshmi.“When we ask ward engineers, they say deductions are made from our salaries towards ESI and PF, but we have not been given ESI card. Whenever we fall sick, we need to spend money on medicines. We cannot even feed three meals to our children. Our salary is not even enough to pay the rent and loans most of the times."Of course, tomorrow, on International women’s Day, as politicians give lectures about women empowerment, Manjula, Polamma and Lakshmi will be sweeping the streets, as they have done for years, and will be doing for many years to come.