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“I am terrified of this virus as I have to go home to my nine-month-old baby and my ever anxious wife. Who knows, one day I might just carry the virus along.”

 – Nilan, a sanitation worker from Chennai

It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit India. Between the lockdowns, the health risks and the frenzy of information overload, some of our frontline warriors remain invisible. They are the sanitation workers in India.

Sanitation workers are at risk!

Sanitation workers are at constant risk of getting infected by the virus as their day-to-day job keeps them from staying safe at home and exposes them to contaminated surfaces. They go through the anxiety of getting infected and also transmitting the infection to their families. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that even today, sanitation workers do not have adequate masks and gloves to protect themselves. This has been responsible for several deaths of safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) across the country. In July last year, six safai karamcharis died due to COVID in Tamil Nadu alone. In Delhi, a high percentage of municipal workers who die due to COVID are sanitation workers.

Invisible warriors

In addition to the health risks inadequate equipment poses to sanitation workers and their families, many families are unable to claim compensation for the death of a sanitation worker. This is because of poor record-keeping of their deaths: they are often not registered as COVID-related deaths. This keeps their families from receiving their compensation, which includes the provision of a job and some monetary relief.

Support sanitation workers

Sanitation workers are tirelessly working at the frontlines during this pandemic. They deserve a life of dignity and protection from health risks. This is why we demand:

  • A regular supply of safety gear like masks, gloves and sanitisers for sanitation workers
  • Insurance cover for sanitation workers to be provided by state governments
  • Proactive record-keeping so that families of deceased safai karamcharis can receive compensation
  • Monthly health screenings for sanitation workers
  • Allowance for sick leave with pay
  • Mandating segregation of COVID/medical waste from regular-use waste to prevent sanitation workers from touching contaminated items

There are people we don’t see, and labour we don’t recognise, behind clean streets and clear roads. Sign the petition to stand with India’s sanitation workers and demand health and monetary safeguards for them and their family!

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