If We Do Not Rise: Unorganised Sector Left to Perish by Govt

When film actors or Sub-inspectors commits suicide a CBI enquiry is ordered. But poor women’s lives don’t attract any CBI enquires or sympathy.

if we do not rise
Courtesy: Deccan Herald

Protests took place across the country on September 5, the day of the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, under the ‘If We Do Not Rise’ campaign. Dr. E. Rati Rao, National President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) writes about some of the issues, especially relating to women in the unorganized sector, that this campaign attempted to address.

The life, livelihood, and democracy of citizens especially of the informal sector during this pandemic time have been affected adversely. Every section of the unorganized sector suffered numerous hardships due to the lockdown.

The Unorganized Sector

The lockdown that was announced without any prior indications on March 22, shocked the Nation. 80 to 90 percent of the unorganized sector comprises of marginalized women. Women, sexual minorities, urban and rural labourers, Safai Karmacharis, ASHA workers, Midday meal workers, Anganwadi workers, nurses, housekeepers, daily wage earners, domestic workers, street vendors, vegetable vendors, teachers, Ayahs, contract employees, and the like suffered the most due to the unscientific lockdown. The industries in general started retrenching the labourers in huge numbers.

The Corona Warriors

Doctors and the medical staff of both government and private hospitals have been treating COVID-19 patients on a war footing. The contractual staff of hospitals, including nurses, Ayah’s, and housekeeping staff, had to work overtime. The ASHA workers who make up the link between hospitals and society had to move around, checking the population for fever or collecting samples for COVID-19 testing. Sanitation workers went around cleaning the hospital and entire cities. The police were on 24-hour duty, looking after the containment zones.

The safety of these workers lies in the provisions of protection gear, hand sanitizers, protection coats, and masks. Unfortunately, many of them did not receive this protective equipment. Doctors, nurses, and other warriors died due to infections contracted during their work. Police & other warriors also died during this pandemic.  While families of some sanitation workers who died received compensation of Rs 10,000, many are yet to receive it. In contrast, compensation for a doctor’s death Rs 1 crore. This discrimination is unacceptable. All workers who worked during the pandemic and the lockdown should be treated equally in a democratic country. Many sanitation workers did not receive wages for more than five months.

Lives and Livelihood

The lives and employment of the entire population have been completely disrupted in recent times. General health services suffered because COVID-19 patients were treated on top priority and other ailments had to be neglected. Domestic violence increased during the pandemic. The police refused to register cases, citing pandemic duties. The lack of health services was felt acutely during this difficult time. Unemployment reached its peak, and the lack of economic activity threw every household into difficulty. There was rent to be paid electricity & water bills, and of course, the debt & interest installment payments were also pending. Loans given to SHG‘s were also issues of concern. House owners harassed tenants, the agents of banks and microfinance companies harassed the SHG members for payments of loan amounts. Many women committed suicides due to this hounding!

The inadequacy of food security and health services and the lack of employment options took the center stage during this pandemic.

No relief packages to citizens

The sudden lock own disrupted the lives of unorganized sector workers as they were suddenly betrayed by the State. Employment schemes like MNREGA in rural areas should have been implemented to tide over the crisis. Similarly, the urban employment scheme MNUEGA (Mahatma Gandhi Urban Employment guarantee Act) could have been taken up to guarantee jobs for the urban poor.

No cash relief (cash transfer) packages were distributed among the unorganized poor. The government has announced that there will be no collection of debt during the pandemic, but a strict direction to stop all loan payments until August 2021 should have been helpful. Formation of a State level Regulatory Authority for Group Loans could have helped Self Help Groups. Banks frequently waive debt and interests when big corporate companies don’t repay huge loan amounts, while many women committed suicide due to harassment by microfinance company agents who continued to insist on payment of interest or the debt amount.

When film actors or Sub-inspectors commit suicide a CBI enquiry is ordered. But poor women’s lives don’t attract any CBI enquires or sympathy. In a democratic country like India, citizenship rights are all flouted by the State and yet the government does not indulge in constructive reflection on the policy that broke the backbone of its citizens!

Instead, we have the deputy CM of Karnataka announcing 39 crore package for distribution among temples which never asked for this relief. This money could have been distributed amongst the unorganized sector poor women who are suffering on multiple fronts! Where did we lose scientific thought and processes in a democratic country? Instead, our ministers are drowning in obscurantic faith. By this, they are barking up the wrong tree!

#If we do not rise, we perish!


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April 2024


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