Bengaluru’s grave-diggers can now rest in peace

Bury the past: A file photo of a family of gravediggers living inside a graveyard in Bengaluru.

Bury the past: A file photo of a family of gravediggers living inside a graveyard in Bengaluru.  


Having survived on alms for long, they will be recognised as contract workers and will get ₹17,000 a month

After much struggle, Bengaluru’s community of Dalit workers engaged in the traditional caste occupation of burying the dead have managed to wrest their due from the city’s municipal body. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) on Friday announced that one member from every family of grave-diggers will be given an employment contract and paid a monthly minimum wage of ₹17,000.

Shourie Raj, a grave-digger, was born in Kalpalli Cemetery, a Hindu civic burial ground in Central Bengaluru 42 years ago, and in his own words, “has never known a world outside the graveyard.”

With Bengaluru’s civic body refusing to acknowledge their work, the city’s grave diggers were for long reduced to surviving on alms given by the families of the deceased that they bury. But the situation changed after they decided to organise themselves.

In February 2017, they protested by staging their own final rites. They dug their own graves at the Kalpalli Cemetery, lay down in them, and covered themselves with mud. Forced to act, the BBMP conducted a survey of all burial grounds and grave diggers. It identified 232 families that lived by digging graves in the burial grounds.

On Friday, the civic body made the announcement about the employment contract and the minimum monthly wage. In addition, all families would also get a ₹4 lakh loan to renovate their homes in the burial grounds, and pattas for their properties. “This is not just about money. This is also a recognition of the services our families have rendered this city,” said Anthony R, a grave-digger.

A. Suresh, secretary, Ambedkar Dalit Sangharsh Samiti, who led the protest movement in February, said the battle was only half won.

“The administration has only acknowledged a regressive casteist tradition and agreed to compensate them. But this occupation also needs to be professionalised like any other job, and taken out of the clutches of caste,” Mr. Suresh said.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:34:26 PM |

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