IITK (PG) Days

Monday, September 03, 2007

Update- The Recent Deaths at IITK

Another email from the campus

Dear members of IITK community,

The Institute has formed a committee to enquire into the incident that took place at the Health Centre in the early hours of August 25, 2007 in its totality . Shameful as that incident is we think a much more basic issue relating to the rights and welfare of an estimated 2000+ contract
workers on campus has been /completely/ missed out and is the root cause for such incidents. A few weeks earlier some contract workers told us that another death had happened in the same vicinity at a construction site and the person s body had been whisked away. No information was
available on the cause of the death. One of us wrote an email to the Director requesting that this be investigated. Since no body was available and no records are maintained there was no way to establish the death and to determine whether it was due to natural causes, an accident or was work related. No response has been received to this request. In fact, the Institute has been turning a blind eye to problems faced by contract workers on campus even when an Institute appointed committee (the Minimum Wage Monitoring Committee and its volunteers) has
repeatedly brought this to its notice. The Institute, as the principal employer, is both liable and responsible for implementing the provisions of the Minimum Wage, Contract Labour and other applicable acts.

Thus the primary problem is not just negligence by one or more individuals. The core issue is the Institute s policy of all pervasive neglect of a group of people, which in turn sends signals to others who are expected to implement it. In meeting after meeting we have come across a mindset that believes that worker exploitation is an inevitable artifact of the Indian landscape and that the Institute cannot and is not meant to solve societal and livelihood problems, even those for which it has legal and moral responsibility. Service after service has been contracted out over the years and the number of contract workers and their dependants on campus have continued to swell. There is thus a large body of people on campus who are invisible and the Institute pretends that they are none of its business. Obviously, under these circumstances unfortunate incidents like the one above are bound to occur.

At present the Institute has 2000+ contract workers working in pathetic conditions. They are the backbone of support services like student messing, cleaning, horticulture, civil, electrical and other maintenance, security and several other services. A large chunk are construction workers (this boy was the son of one such worker). Many such workers are migrant workers from far off places who are brought, often with their families, for 50 day cycles and work 12 hour days in
close to bonded labour conditions. In student messes workers are abused, beaten and intimidated. Most work 12-16 hours per day and a significant fraction of the wage that is ostensibly paid is forcibly taken back later. Yet the same contractors continue to get contracts. All this has been reported to the administration countless times verbally, in writing and through formal reports.

We believe a few simple measures can make a big difference and have repeatedly suggested that there should be minimum records the list of workers, their employment cards, bank accounts, due process before firing a person. But there is enormous resistance to implementing these
minimum legal requirements.

We must acknowledge that this is a manifestation of a systemic problem and not an isolated incident. We must use this opportunity to overhaul our system and examine some of the basic premises on which this whole Institute is being run. Otherwise, we would be complicit in the colossal injustice being done to the weakest and poorest sections of the community that is the service base of the Institute. If we believe that IITK belongs to all of us then we as a community must start taking responsibility. Clearly the administration by itself is either incapable or unwilling to deal with the situation. Let us engage in a public discussion where the entire community participates and comes up with viable ways to bring sanity and humanity back to the campus.

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