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'Where Will We Go?' DU Hostel Fires 16 Staff and Sanitation Workers, Asks Them to Empty Premises amid Pandemic

DU sanitation workers and staff are protesting against the sudden termination of their services from the university's Ambedkar Ganguly Student House for Women hostel.

DU sanitation workers and staff are protesting against the sudden termination of their services from the university's Ambedkar Ganguly Student House for Women hostel.

On August 3, sixteen employees of Delhi University's Ambedkar Ganguly Student's House for Women were suddenly handed their termination letters.

For 17 years, Reena Lahot has worked as an employee at one of the hostels of Delhi University. After nearly two decades of service, she had risen in her position to work as a housekeeper, drawing a salary of about Rs 18,000. With an old mother at home and no other family, Reema is her elderly mother's only breadwinner. Until now.

On August 3, she and fifteen other employees of Delhi University's Ambedkar Ganguly Student's House for Women were suddenly handed their termination letters. Some of the workers such as Reema and two others who not only worked on campus but also lived there in flats that the hostel and college authorities allotted to them, were left jobless as well as homeless.

"I have no other home or a place that I can move to with my mother. And now with coronavirus, how are we supposed to find lodging and get new jobs?" a concerned Reema tells News18.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused unimaginable job loss across India and the world. And one of the worst-hit group of workers among them has been staff and safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) at educational institutions. Forced shut due to the pandemic and online education becoming the new norm, several educational institutions have started terminating its non-permanent staff.

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That is where the crux of the matter was, Reema felt. Prakash was one of the employees who lost his job in August. "We have for years been seeking permanent employment. But the hostel employs workers on a contractual basis, which means they can fire us anytime," Reema said.

DU students and residents of the Ambedkar Ganguly Student's House for Women have released a presser highlighting the inappropriate termination of 16 employees including bus drivers, cooks, cleaners, safai karamcharis, and guards that worked in the hostel premises. The termination came after a decision taken by the hostel's managing committee, even as educational institutions remain closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

News18 tried to reach out to the hostel's Provost as well as Warden K Ratnabali for comment over phone, text, and WhatsApp but got no response.

According to a student resident of the hostel who has not been named to protect her identity, the hostel management including the warden have repeatedly failed to address the demands and needs of students. Earlier in February, students of the hostel had called for the resignation of the warden after she made derogatory and sexist comments regarding a student's performance on Annual Hostel Night on February 23.

Apart from her tussle with the students, hostel employees including safai karamcharis such as Bala allege that warden along with other hostel management authorities also practiced casteism. 42-year-old Bala who was among the 16 to lose their jobs, said that safai karamcharis often got no respect from authorities and were treated with no dignity.

"Despite the pandemic, we were not given any leaves. I live in Sangam Vihar and had to commute daily on foot to reach the hostel," Bala told News18. She alleges that sanitation workers at the hostel were not given any masks or gloves, neither was any arrangement for their conveyance made.

"Now they have decided to fire us on a month's notice. I have three children and a Rs 5 lakh loan. My husband is out of work. How will I make ends meet?" a tearful Bala asked. She and other safai karamcharis who have been terminated approached the authorities to negotiate their terms of employment and even offered to work at a lower salary until students started to come back. But to no avail.

According to Jaiprakash, who worked as a security guard at the hostel, the issue was not as simple. "Contractual workers like us are usually paid from the money the hostel earns in the form of students' fees. Now that there are no students, the university needs to step up and provide us with an alternate," Jayprakash felt.

READ: 'Our Life Has No Value?' JNU Sanitation Workers Clean Hostels With No Pay or Protection

AGSHW workers were not the only ones affected. Workers at the North Eastern Student's House for Women, another women's hostel under DU, announced salary cuts for employees with many not receiving any wages at all.

Earlier, sanitation workers in Jawaharlal Nehru University had protested against the non-payment of wages despite being made to work.

With no job or prospects, the terminated staff of the Ambedkar Ganguly Student's House for Women hostel sit outside the hostel management's office, hoping for redressal. "I have spent half my life working here," Singh, another security guard, said with folded hands. "After over a decade of working here, I deserve more than a letter thanking me for my services," he said.