Widows of manual garbage collectors await help; government radio silence

Hyderabad: From June 3-9, a group of widows whose husbands died due to manual cleaning staged protests in the city, demanding an end to the social evil that claimed their husbands’ lives.

As the women protesting hopelessly stood beneath the statue of Ambedkar in Khairtabad, the lack of response from the Telangana government made one thing clear.

The killings would not stop.

The Safai Karamchari Andolan conducted a 75-day program to protest against the cruelty of employing manual garbage collectors. While caste-based indignity has been decriminalized, the practice continues, ensuring that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes remain relegated to the lower strata.

In Telangana, the Stop Killing Us protests lasted for a week. It’s been almost a month. Amid rallies and processions, the government remains silent on the ongoing issue.

It’s been six years. Will help come? ask the widows

On May 1, 2016, (ironically the day commemorating the struggles and gains made by workers and the labor movement), Bhagyalakshmi (31) and Mangamma (37), the two residents of Koti in the city lost their husbands Bongu Veera Swamy and Chakali Kotaiah at the manual emptying. As Veera Swamy entered the sewers to clear the collected waste, the methane gas ensured that life slowly left her body.

Kotaiah, concerned for his friend’s well-being, entered the sewers to check on Veer Swamy and met the same fate. Even their bodies were not recovered from the sewers until much later. When the deceased were finally taken to Osmania Hospital, they were pronounced dead.

A 2016 news clipping showing the corpses of Veera Swamy and Kotaiah.

Ae court ledu, memu tiragani jaaga ledu, mokani kaalu levu. Andari kaalu moktunaunnam (There is no court, no place we haven’t been to, no one whose feet we haven’t begged for. We just beg),” Mangamma remarks with tears in his eyes.

Mangamma, holding a picture of her deceased husband Chakali Kotaiah. (Photo: Siddhant Thakur/Siasat.com)

As Mangamma says these words, her second daughter’s lower lip begins to quiver and she joins her mother in sobbing.

Bhagyalakshmi takes the ends of her floral print saree to wipe her eyes as she remarks: “Koi saath nai dere (Nobody helps us).

The two women were also promised a government job and a double room in addition to the compensation amount.

Bhagyalakshmi with her two sons holding a photo of her late husband Bongu Veera Swamy. (Photo: Siddhant Thakur/Siasat.com)

Both women moved to Hyderabad from Nagarkurnool with their husbands to earn a decent living. Even now, the similarities between the two are hard to miss. Both are in debt, struggling to provide for their children, living in a single small room in the parking lot of the buildings.

Manual cleaning policy

Manual cleaning is illegal under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Cleaning and their Rehabilitation Act 2013. A person can be punished with imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both for hiring manual cleaners. In case of recidivism, imprisonment can be for two years or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh, or both.

As the president of Safai Karamchari Andolan, Bezawada Wilson, has repeatedly observed, lower castes are invariably employed in manual cleaning, thus reinforcing caste-based indignities.

Across Telangana, 17 families who lost their husbands and fathers to manual cleaning have yet to receive compensation. Hyderabad alone is home to five such families. According to a 2014 Supreme Court judgment, bereaved families of scavengers are entitled to compensation of Rs 10 lakh.

Name of the deceased District Date of death Caste
Srinivas Nalgonda March 27, 2021 CS
P Santosh Reddy Nalgonda March 27, 2021 CO
K Yadaiah Hyderabad March 13, 2013 CS
Bongu Veera Swamy Hyderabad May 1, 2016 BC
Chakali Kotaiah Hyderabad May 1, 2016 BC
G Shanthaiah Mahbubnagar April 29, 2017 CS
Nunavath Srinivas Hyderabad November 28, 2021 ST
Vullagonda Anjaneyulu Hyderabad November 28, 2021 ST
Benod Adilabad May 1, 2002 CS
Sheikh Samad Nizamabad October 22, 2014 Muslim
Sheikh Jameel Nizamabad October 22, 2014 Muslim
Sheikh Ameer Ali Nizamabad October 22, 2014 Muslim
Alakuntla Shankar Nizamabad October 22, 2014 BC
Jalli Narsaiah Rangareddy June 19, 2010 CS
Sekindhar Adilabad January 5, 2002 CS
Dangra Rahul Sangareddy April 1, 2015 CS
M Mohan Hyderabad November 24, 2017 BC
List of victims of manual cleaning in Telangana whose families have not yet received compensation.

What proof is needed? KTR met the victims

Talk to Siasat.comK Saraswati, the Telangana branch chief of Safai Karamchari Andolan clarifies that while many families received compensation, 17 families across the state suffered misfortunes.

“In the case of Bhagyalakshmi and Mangamma, as there is no clarity on who was the contractor responsible for the death of the husbands, compensation was not paid. However, this is not a sufficient reason. State IT Minister KT Rama Rao came to meet Bhagyalakshmi after her husband passed away,” she added.

Saraswati also mentioned that in addition to the two wives, a third wife, Padma, a resident of Karmanghat also lost her husband to manual cleaning and has since taken to alcohol.

Ilanti Telangana maaku avasaram ledu. Ee vishayam lo memu prabhutvani tappu padtamu (We don’t need such a Telangana. In that case, we blame the state government),” she concluded.

(A video story of this report will be available on the Siasat Daily Youtube page by the end of this week.)

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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