Dalit Women Workers Fighting Modern Day Slavery


National Dalit Movement for Justice


A Fact Finding Report on the mass dismissal of Dalit sanitation workers in Delhi University, 7th Feb 2016

DU dalit women4

A brief account of the incident

On 26th December 2015, the provost of UG Women’s Hostel (Delhi University), Prof. Rita Kakkar (Dept. of Chemistry, Delhi University) informed seven Dalit women workers to discontinue their services from 1st January 2016. Before this mass dismissal three Dalit sanitation workers –Ravinder, Asha Devi and Rajesh were dismissed in the months of July, August and September 2015 respectively. The workers were informed orally without being given any reasons for their dismissal. The list of all the Dalit workers is as follows – 

Asha Devi, Mal Road, Jawahar Market, Delhi(Service: Three and a half years)

Putul Devi, Purana Chandrawal, Delhi

Kanta Devi, Valmiki Mandir, Jhaddoda Mazra, Delhi (Service: Three and a half years)

Pinky, G.T.B. Nagar, Delhi (Service: One year)

Manju, Gokulpuri, Delhi; (Service : Three and a half years)

Shanti, Valmiki Mandir, Jhaddoda Mazra, Delhi (Service:Three and a half years)

Bimlesh, Valmiki Mandir, Jhaddoda Mazra, Delhi (Service: Three and a half years)

Phula , Ambedkar Basti, Wazirabad, Delhi (Service: Three and a Half years)

Ravinder, G.T.B. Nagar, Delhi

Rajesh, Indira Vikas Colony, Delhi  

DU dalit women2DU dalit women3

The first eight names are of women sanitation workers, while the last two names are of men sanitation workers. Most of them have been working with the UG Hostel for more than three years without any identity cards or work contracts. Their salaries were paid by the contracting agency. In this case, Sulabh International was the agency which hired them and managed their payments (honorariums, as Sulabh International is a social organization). On the last day of their duty, i.e. 31/12/2015, the Dalit women workers filed a written complaint under the leadership of SC/ST Employees Welfare Association at the office of the Provost. However, the delegation was denied permission to enter the premises of the hostel for more than twenty minutes. Finally when they entered the hostel, the warden and other responsible authorities were not ready to engage with the delegation. On 1st January 2016, the workers (seven of them) were denied permission to enter the hostel. The security guard was given a slip with names of the above mentioned workers to make sure that they stay out of the hostel campus.

Since 1st January 2016, Dalit women workers have been on an indefinite protest just outside the gate of the UG Girls Hostel.

National Dalit Movement for Justice (hereafter NDMJ) (A part of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights) decided to take up a fact finding mission on the above mentioned Dalit women workers’ protest and the reasons for their dismissal. Being an organization committed to the safeguard of the Human Rights of historically excluded sections, it is important for us to understand the incident in its accurate and objective details.

The two member fact finding team of National Dalit Movement for Justice interviewed Dalit women workers, protesting at the main entrance of Delhi University Girls Hostel Complex, Indra Vihar, New Delhi. We also spoke to Mr. Naveen Chander, a member of Delhi University Theka Mazdoor Manch. Theka Mazdoor Manch is a Contract Workers’ Union constituted predominantly by DalitBahujan contract workers (especially Dalit women who are sanitation workers). It aims at protecting the rights of contract workers who are kept outside the ambit of social security, dignified job contracts and work conditions. The protesting Dalit women workers are members of Theka Mazdoor Manch. On the very same day we interacted with Mr. Naresh Kumar, Assistant Registrar (Non-teaching), Delhi University. He was part of the internal fact-finding committee of Delhi University which was appointed to look into the matter. The other member of the committee is Mr. Paramjit, (Dept. of Economics, Delhi University). We also visited the office of the Dean of Colleges housed at the Vice-Chancellors’ Office Complex. Though we could not meet the Dean of Colleges, we were instructed by the staff to meet Mr. Naresh Kumar.

Additionally we also reviewed the official complaints lodged by Dalit women workers addressing the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Assistant Commissioner of Police (North West District), Station House Officer (Mukherjee Nagar Police Station), Deputy Commissioner of Police (North West District), Chief Minister, Govt. of National Capital Region, Superintendent of Police (Police Headquarters, ITO, Delhi) one can clearly understand the reasons for these dismissals. We could also procure a written agreement signed by the Provost, Prof. Rita Kakkar and the Resident Tutor, Snehalata Negi duly attested by the provost, dated 4th March 2015, stating that the ‘Safai Karamcharis currently employed in the hostel would be retained on renewal of the contract on contracting of a new contractor’ (The entire letter is produced in the body of the report).

Modern Day Caste-Slavery: Work Profile and Condition of Dalit Sanitation Workers

Before we enter into the details of the specific incident it is important to go through the work profile and conditions of the affected workers. Based on our conversation with them it was clear that none of them had any identity card or work contract which states the profile of their job. One of the workers points out that the contracting agency would often state that ‘You may have a fixed time of coming to the hostel everyday but no fixed time of going back home!’  Another Dalit woman worker articulated this situation in the following words –

‘They can demand any kind of work from us in those unfixed working hours. I was even asked to sweep the road outside the hostel premises. Now isn’t this slavery? ’

Dalit women workers collectively articulated their everyday work profile as follows –

(a) One worker is assigned one building, which has four floors, toilets, baths and common seating areas. It takes nearly two to three hours to clean, sweep, mop, dust, and scrub one floor. This would mean at least 12 hours of work to finish one building.

(b) Apart from the individually assigned buildings, workers are supposed to clean the offices and dining halls. The toilets in the offices are scrubbed and washed by the Dalit male workers.

(c) The work begins around 8.30 am and ends when it ‘ends’.

(d) At 11.00 am there is a short tea break and then a lunch break. No other break is entertained by the supervisor.

(e) The Dalit workers had no rest room for a very long time. They had to fight for a room. Ultimately a room near the pantry was assigned to the workers.

(g) They do not have any holidays. Neither do they have any paid leave or Health Insurance. Provident Fund and other benefits of ‘workers’ is a far cry. One needs to contextualize the lack of social security and employee benefits in the radical privatization of labour in the past three decades, aided and blessed by the neo-liberal policies of the State. In the case of Dalit-Bahujan workers involved in social reproductive labour, the onslaught of contract regimes has meant a rapid deterioration in life choices and total denial of their status as a ‘worker’ with bargaining power.  We are witnessing a happy marriage between university policies of contractual labour and caste system. This collusion is producing the worst impacts for Dalit-bahujan women workers.

(h) A multitude of occupational health hazards are a part of their everyday life. Several women workers mentioned being affected by typhoid. They point out that the nature of their work affects their health. 

 (i)  Apart from on the work in the hostels, offices and dining halls; the workers are also expected to provide free labour at the residence of the Provost and Resident Tutor.  There have been instances when workers are marked absent for denying working at the residence of the provost. Every week, at least two workers were ordered to clean and dust the antiques at the Provost’s residence. Similarly, they were made to scrub and mop the floor of the provost’s residence every week.

(j) The payment of salaries has been extremely irregular. Initially they were paid Rs 6400/month. Later it was increased to Rs. 8500/month. The workers note that there are disparities in salaries among contractual sanitation workers, based on the contracting agency. For example, in the same UG girls hostel campus, certain workers are paid Rs. 11000/ month while certain others are paid less than 6000/month.

(k) The workers no have easy access to medicines in the hostel in case of emergencies.

(m) According to Mr. Naveen, Delhi University has nearly 300 sanitation workers under Sulabh International. 90% of the these workers are Dalit women. The university gives full time labour contracts to “voluntary” social organizations like Sulabh International, who give “honorarium” for social work and not wages for labour. Hundreds of sanitation workers employed by the university through Sulabh International are forced to do what is legally identified as bonded labour. The university yet hires such agencies that have no respect for law. Sulabh International claims of doing social service by bringing Dalits to the mainstream by complementing the university’s project of privatization and paying the workers far below their minimum wage

The pre-history of Mass Dismissal

Prior to the incident, there have been several instances of dismissal in the hostel. However what makes this incident different is the fact that 10 workers were dismissed together; making this a case of mass unwarranted dismissal. The workers gave detailed accounts on the context of earlier dismissals and how they are connected with the present incident.

Bimlesh’s dismissal and Dalit women workers’ struggle to revoke it

In January 2015, Dalit women worker, Bimlesh (who was suffering from typhoid at that time) was dismissed for not providing free labour at the residence of the Resident Tutor. She was not only dismissed but also abused using caste names by the supervisor. This incident created a stir among the Dalit women workers. They approached the Theka Mazdoor Manch for intervention. With the active support of Theka Mazdoor Manch, Dalit women workers organized a series of protests to cancel the dismissal of Bimlesh. As a result on 4th March 2015, a democratic meeting was organized under the leadership of Dalit women workers. The representatives of the Manch, students and the hostel authorities were present in this meeting. In the meeting the provost and the resident tutor signed and attested an agreement. The full text of the agreement is produce below –

On 4th March 2015, a meeting was held between members of the Delhi University Theka Mazdoor Manch, the Provost and the Resident Tutor of the undergraduate Hostel for Girl and student residents of the same hostels. The meeting agreed that:


Provost, Prof. Rita Kakkar

Resident Tutor, Snehalata Negi

On behalf of Delhi University Theka Mazdoor Manch, Naveen Chander

UG Hostel student’s representatives

After the meeting, Bimlesh’s dismissal was revoked. However, it should be noted that the issue of caste-based discrimination in the form of verbal abuse was not addressed sufficiently even after the meeting. Instances of such abuse continued. Unpaid labour at the residence of the provost and the resident tutor continued unobstructed. Usually on Sundays the male sanitation workers were ordered to clean the floor of their residence with soap powder.

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Workers write to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes against caste-based discrimination

In the month of July 2015, the Dalit sanitation workers filed a written complaint to the National SC Commission narrating an incident of caste-based discrimination faced by Ravinder and Rajesh (two of the dismissed workers, see the list in the beginning). The immediate incident which provoked the workers is as follows –

Ravinder and Rajesh were carrying 20 litre mineral water jars to the hostel office. When the supervisor Shaina saw this, she asked the office staff as to ‘How could they drink the water carried by Dalits?’ Such unruly, derogatory comment was made in front of the Section Officer (Mr. Kalyan Chand) and office staff including the care-taker and the house-keeper.

Shaina, a non-literate old Muslim woman was appointed by the Provost to keep an eye on the sanitation workers. The workers note that Shaina Aunty was only a ‘sidekick’ of the Provost (who was later shifted from her services). It was Prof. Kakkar who wanted to keep a check on the increasing assertion and unionization of Dalit sanitation workers.

The workers submitted their written complaint to the commission soon after the incident. It primarily demanded a transfer of the supervisor. Ishwar Singh, member of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, intervened in this issue. The Provost was highly agitated by the fact that the workers approached the Commission. She even communicated her discontent to the workers. In the month of November 2015, a compromise meeting was convened with university authorities. This meeting decided to move Shaina Aunty from the UG Hostel.

The workers withdrew their complaint from the Commission on 24th November 2015. Workers point out that the provost was unhappy with the compromise. On 26th December 2015, the provost informed the workers that the time-period of the contracting social organization (Sulabh International) has exhausted and they would have to reduce the numbers of sanitation workers, after the 31st of December 2015.

Please note that the provost had given a vague oral notice of just 4 days before dismissing the ten affected Dalit sanitation workers. Such a move from the Provost was both unprecedented and a breach of the agreement undersigned by her on 4th March 2015. The second clause in the agreement clearly stated that – ‘The Safai Karamcharis currently employed in hostels be retained on renewal of the contract on contracting of a new contractor’

On 31st December 2015, the workers formed a delegation to meet and discuss the issue with the hostel authorities. The office bearers of SC/ ST Employees Union in Delhi University were also part of the delegation. However, none of the office bearers were ready to discuss the issue.

On the same day, a written complaint was submitted to the higher authorities of the university by seven Dalit women sanitation workers. After almost a month, on 2nd February 2016, Delhi University informed the workers that they had constituted a two-member committee to look into the matter. The workers were asked to give their statements the very next day (3rd February 2016) at 11.00am in the official cabin of the Provost, Under Graduate Hostel for Girls.

On the day of the fact finding (7th February 2016), as per our communication with one of the members of the constituted fact-finding committee, the report was already submitted to the university. He added that on the basis of the report the Managing Committee of Hostels would take a decision. However, the workers were not provided with a copy of the report. The fact that the workers are (a) asked to give their statements within such a short notice (one day!)  (b) Neither officially informed about the submission of the report nor were they given a copy of the report, raises questions on how the university treats contractual Dalit sanitation workers.

The workers have submitted a written complaint on 22nd of January 2016 to the National Commission of Scheduled Castes. They are still awaiting a response from the Commission.

Dalit women workers have been on an indefinite protest outside the gates of the UG Hostel for the past two months (starting from 1st January 2016).   

The following notice has been issued by Delhi University Theka Majdoor Manch(DUTMM), Delhi University & Colleges SC/ST Employees Welfare Association, Democratic Karmachari Front(DKF), New Socialist Initiative, DU, Pinjratod, Saamajik Nyay Morcha. They have called for a march from the UG Hostel to the VC office on 3rd March 2016. The notice clearly lists the demands of the workers.

Fight against caste based discrimination and contractualisation in Delhi University!

Support the struggle of contract workers against illegal removal and casteist practices at Undergraduate Hostel for Girls!!

For over the last two months, ten contract workers (mostly dalit and women) of the Undergraduate Hostel for Girls (Dhaka Complex) of Delhi University with the Delhi University Theka Mazdoor Manch (DUTMM) have been sitting outside the hostel gates demanding a dignified workplace and equal pay for equal work. Their contract with Sulabh International (subcontracted by Delhi University) has been illegally terminated. The workers who have been targeted and removed from their posts as safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) also hold complaints of caste atrocities and unfair labour practices against the hostel authorities. The University as the Principal employer of security and sanitation services runs a long history in dealing with such issues by blatant targeting and removal of workers with the help of contractors. We at DUTMM- a collective of teachers, students and workers, has engaged over series of such instances in the last few years at the University.

The University of Delhi as an institution employs large number of workers who engage in a range of work from sanitation, security, mess, canteens, libraries, labs, administrative services etc. However, the university completely abdicates itself from any responsibility towards these workers. University deprives them of even the basic legal rights by recruiting third party agencies/contractors for work that is perennial in nature, which by law demands sanctioned posts and permanent employment. The university-contractor nexus is not only exploitative but also opens a huge arena of corruption. Hostel authorities force contract workers to work in their residences in addition to regular work. Three different kinds of wages are paid for the same kind of work. Workers work for the university for decades with no official documents. It is appalling that even minimal legal requirements such as minimum wages, ESI identity and health cards, Provident Fund benefits and dignified treatment have been denied to workers in this university. Contract workers currently work under constant threat of dismissal, victimisation and harassment. The University of Delhi has no mechanism to deal with such unfair and illegal labour practices that also perpetuate caste atrocities.

With over half of the workforce at the University being contractualized, workers are subject to precarious conditions and insecurity.

The university gives full time labour contracts to “voluntary” social organizations like Sulabh International, who give “honorarium” for social work and not wages for labour. Hundreds of sanitation workers employed by the university through Sulabh International are forced to do what is legally identified as bonded labour. The university yet hires such agencies that have no respect for law. Sulabh International claims of doing social service by bringing Dalits to the mainstream by complementing the university’s project of privatization and paying the workers far below their minimum wage.

Manual scavenging has been witnessed at the university in many instances. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the workers are Dalits (especially Dalit women) and from other marginalized sections.

Death of a Dalit cannot be the only time we recognize institutionalized violence, casteism and patriarchy in the university. We urge permanent workers, teachers and students to stand in solidarity with these contract workers who are fighting this institutionalized injustice. Let us raise our united voice clearly and loudly against the illegal, unfair and casteist labour practices in Delhi University.

We demand

1. Reinstate all Dalit contract workers at UGHG immediately.

2. Set up an Inquiry Committee to look into unfair labour practices and rampant caste atrocities in UGHG with fair representation on its board, given that most of the workers are Dalit, Women’s and from other marginalized sections. Until the inquiry committee submits its report, the hostel authorities must step down from their positions so that workers get immediate relief at the work place.

3. Compensate all workers for the loss of wages. Pending wages of over last three years must be paid to them with interest.

4. Implement equal pay for equal work and offer ESI and PF facilities to all contract workers across the university.

5. Regularise all the contract workers who are working for more than six months, employed directly or through any agency and do away with sham contracts.

6. Institute a complaints and redressal mechanism for all workers at the university level.

7. Guidelines for Fair Labour Practices must be immediately enforced by the university.

Date and Time:3rd March 2016, 2:30 PM, Outside Arts Faculty (march towards VC office)

Delhi University Theka Majdoor Manch(DUTMM), Delhi University & Colleges SC/ST Employees Welfare Association, Democratic Karmachari Front(DKF), New Socialist Initiative, DU, Pinjratod, Saamajik Nyay Morcha

Contact:7838503203,9013074978, 9350064144


Along with the demands and recommendations mentioned above, the fact finding team would suggest the following recommendations –

 (a)  A permanent complaint and redress mechanism to address caste and gender-based discrimination among workers, with adequate representation of Dalit (and other marginalized sections) women workers should be set up. 

Concluding thoughts  

There is an urgent need to understand the fight of Dalit women workers and other contractual workers in the context of informalization of labour and reproduction of caste in apparently modern spaces. In fact, both the processes are happily married to each other. Democratization of universities cannot be achieved with gross under-representation of its various segments in decision-making bodies. The ‘over-representation’ of Dalit women in insecure, contractual, janitorial, sanitation work should be a matter of concern. It reflects the reality of our caste-society. The fight put up by workers under the leadership of Dalit women workers, is essentially a fight to protect ‘worker’s rights’ as a whole. They contextualize the ‘worker’ in the ‘caste-system’ and changing political economy. Ultimately, from our conversations with the Dalit women workers, it was clear that the struggle is for the strengthening of public-funded institutions and decent, stable, discrimination-free work environment. 


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