‘Give us justice, not charity’

Afshan Yasmeen
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Akku (left) and Leela at a press conference in Bangalore on Tuesday. — Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar
Akku (left) and Leela at a press conference in Bangalore on Tuesday. — Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar

Earning a salary of Rs. 15 a month for their work as sweepers over four decades, Akku and Leela have never had it easy. But one thing they are never short on is self-respect.

The two women, cleaned toilets at the Government Women Teachers’ Training Institute, Udupi for a monthly salary of Rs. 15 from 1971 to 2001. They still clean the 21 toilets in the institute three times a day, but without pay as they had approached the court seeking justice regarding their salary.

Following publication of their story in The Hindu , several readers from across the globe have come forward to help them financially. But these women insist that they do not want charity. “All that we want is what is due to us. What our hard work all through the past 42 years deserves,” Ms. Akku told The Hindu .

Ms. Akku was employed as a sweeper at the institute in 1971 after her mother died. Ms. Leela, too, joined as a sweeper the same year in her grandmother’s place. Both their appointments were approved by the Deputy Director of Public Instruction of Dakshina Kannada district in 1972 and their basic salary was fixed at Rs. 15 a month.

“We were promised that our services would be regularised and salaries increased as per the government rules [the Minimum Wages Act]. But the same salary continued for years. And that was also stopped after we approached the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal (KAT) for justice in 2001. From then till now we have been working with the hope of getting the benefits that are due to us from the government,” Ms. Akku said.

Udupi-based Human Rights Protection Foundation (HRPF) president Ravindranath Shanbhag, who has been fighting for their cause, said although the Supreme Court, the Karnataka High Court and the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal (KAT) ruled in favour of the two women and directed the government to regularise their services, the order is yet to be implemented. “It is unfortunate that the government spent lakhs of rupees on fighting the cases against the hapless women rather than pay what is due to them,” he said. Mr. Shanbhag said the women had high self esteem and had refused help in the past too.

“When some teachers from the institute gave them some money a few years ago, they refused to accept it until they were allowed to return the favour by cleaning the toilets in the homes of the teachers. While supporting their battle, HRPF has seen to it that their self-respect is not hurt,” he said.

Pointing out that both Ms. Akku and Ms. Leela have been fighting for justice since four decades, Mr. Shanbhag said: “The HRPF joined their fight only in 1998. When their Rs. 15 salary was stopped and services terminated in 2001, we offered them financial and legal support. They flatly refused the financial support but accepted the legal assistance with a condition that they would return the money spent by the Foundation once they get justice from the courts. We agreed, respecting their spirit and self-respect.”




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