JAMMU: Karnail Singh wept as he approached people asking for money to marry his daughter. Wearing tattered clothes with the marriage card in one hand, Singh was among one of the protestors in the gathering of thousands of daily wagers of Public Health Engineering (PHE) department at Press Club Jammu. “My daughter’s marriage got fixed last year. With the help of my friends I arranged money for a few marriage cards. Since then I have been knocking doors, showing the marriage card and asking for money. I am working as a daily wager at PHE department since the last 15 years but I haven’t received my wages from May 2015. I have three daughters to look after”, he said.
Like Singh, thousands of workers are waiting for pending wages since the last four years. On January 14, thousands of workers gathered at Press Club, Jammu to march towards the Civil Secretariat in protest. They accused the Narendra Modi regime at the Centre for “adopting a callous attitude towards the genuine demands of the workers.”
Speaking to Newsclick, Subash Sharma from Udhampur district, said, “My wages have been pending for last five years but the current government is least bothered. They come to us when elections are near. Last time, five BJP leaders came to us and assured us that if we would vote for them, they would fulfil our demands within 15 days of assuming power. But nothing happened.”
Workers claimed that their families were facing a starvation-like. Speaking to Newsclick, PHE workers association President, Tanveer Hussain, said, “We have raised two major demands: Payment of the pending salaries and regularisation of jobs. We are not asking for Mercedes, but our rights. The Modi government said Achhe Din (Good Days). Where are Achhe Din? We have marched across the state and if the government won’t to listen to us, we will march toward Delhi.”
While demanding release of their wages, the workers accused the government of continuing to keep the fate of the “workers in lurch.” A woman protestor on the condition of anonymity said, “I am a widow and the only bread-winner of my family. I have two kids and I haven’t received my wages for last four years. I have marched across the state all these years. Leaders come, give us assurances and leave. Our lives don’t matter. Where shall we go?”
Speakers at the gathering spoke about a worker who attempted to commit suicide by setting himself on fire. As per some workers, the victim is admitted in GMC Hospital, Jammu. In 2018, many cases of suicide of daily wagers were reported.
“In 2018 alone, six workers committed suicide. When you push workers to such an extent, they have no other option. The workers had taken debt and were unable to pay following which they thought of suicide. We have time and again approached the government but to no avail. The workers have been working with devotion and dedication, but it seems as if their lives don’t matter,” Hussain said.
Shouting “Modi Tere Raj mei, bache bukhe sote hai,” (Modi, under your regime, children go to bed early), the rally marched towards the Civil Secretariat were stopped mid-way by the J&K police. Hussain was detained, but the protestors resolved to carry on the protest.