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Murugesan speaks on caste and labour in Munnar plantations

My Name is Murugesan. I worked in the Plantation for 30 years. They (the management) did not provide any benefits to me. I was placed as a Sweeper for a monthly wage of Rs.6000/-. I performed the tasks of a sweeper, cleaning septic tanks, carrying bricks (as a construction worker). Finally, I was retired as a (contractual) labour, though many who worked alongside me were made permanent. The second thing is that I don’t own a house. The company can evict me anytime. I need a home. I could at least survive repairing footwear. I don’t own a plot, a piece of land. So, I have filed a case against the company to provide me a dwelling. The company has not done much for me, though I have put 30 years of work. Now, I am not able to do much (work). My knees have gone bad. I have diabetes and blood pressure. I am not able take up a proper profession now. If I could get a house, I could make a living by stitching footwear. It is only my community that is employed for sweeping, for cleaning the latrines. The company falsifies and hides this fact if someone questions this.

When I brought my son in law for fetching a job, they said they could only offer work as a construction labour. My son-in-law is an educated person. I only asked for a suitable job for him, but they refused. I and my wife are here, only because of this dwelling, but the company could evict us anytime. The company should clear the disputes in wage-settlement and settle it. Thereby, I could get a house for myself. The company could only propose Rs. 1,09,000/- as gratuity, and this is after putting 30 years of work. I did not want to receive it. Had I been a permanent employee, I would have received 2 to 3 lakh rupees more. And I would have bought a piece of land. Now, there is nowhere to go. They ought to pay the difference in wages for what a permanent employee would have been paid. I should have been made permanent in these 30 years. The company did not ensure this and I have filed a case against them. This is a problem that is being faced by all who reside here who were retired by the company only as a (contractual) labour. Nobody owns a house. The company could evict all of us, like anytime. There are no facilities for us here. We can also not go back to our natives. The gratuity many received is used only to pay up the moneylenders.

It is only my community that is employed for sweeping, for cleaning the latrines. The company falsifies and hides this fact if someone questions this.

From the very beginning that I began working here, myself and many like me were identified only as Chakkiliyars and were made to undertake this particular work (manual scavenging). Many had fallen sick and many died. Some are still working. The supervisor here considers only Chakkiliayars for this work. The management is also of the same thought. They refuse to hear from us. I filed a complaint with AITUC. They also did not help me out. I had to go back to this job. I had no choice. Otherwise, they would not provide wages and mark me absent. I had to continue with this job and now, my health has worsened.  I take treatment from the Government Hospital, and I cannot afford private care.

It is only my caste that is forced to do this work, to sweep, to carry the night soil. There is no other way, we cannot even afford food if we refuse. And after years of toil, and after retirement, I still do not have anything to call a dwelling. They could evict me anytime from here.

Murugesan, retired plantation worker in Munnar belonging to dalit (Chakkiliyar) community.

Video: Santhosh Kumar, Transcription: Kadhiravan, Video Date: 17-Apr, 2017