Sanitation workers: ‘COVID-19 or not, our lives are at risk every day’

Despite risking their lives for people, sanitation workers in return get abused | Photo - PTI

Right next to a containment zone in Uttar Pradesh's Noida, a towering high-rise apartment complex with more than 1,100 flats houses a dirty secret. And Usha Devi, a sanitation worker, has been one of the many keepers of that secret for a couple of years now. Rain or shine, mahamari (epidemic) or Mahashivratri, her God, she says, has never been merciful to his children like Usha who clean up the mess created by the residents.

Until COVID-19 tightened its grip around India, the apartment building was a picture of urban bliss, the kind that's available for sale on the Indian real estate market — a lavish pool, manicured lawns, a fountain spitting water any time of the day, a tennis court, a club, a restaurant, a 24x7 supermarket besides a retinue of staff at the service of the residents.

Today, the pool is dry, the fountain has stopped hissing, the lawns look a tad bit weary, but one thing is running as usual — the sanitation and housekeeping staff (barring a few exceptions). If anything, their workload has increased with working-from-home residents generating a mountainload of work and garbage for these workers. But despite the increase in workload, Usha Devi has found herself jobless.

"After the lockdown, they asked us not to come since they can't take the risk of  letting in outsiders. Instead, they have hired some new waste pickers from the jhuggi (slum) behind the apartments," Usha tells The Federal on her way to collect her pending dues.

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