For nearly a year, Sunil Yadav has been trying to take study leave from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), where he works as a safai karamchari, to complete his Masters at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. It was only through RTI that he got to know the reason for the delay. A “safai karamchari is not qualified to avail the leave”, as what he will learn is not connected to his duties, the RTI reply told him, a stipulation that is incidentally missing from the BMC rule book.
The first person from his family to have gone to college, the 33-year-old has been working as a conservancy worker with the BMC. It was on his third attempt that he managed to get enrolled into TISS’s Masters (Globalisation and Labour) course of two years.
When Yadav’s applications for a study leave received no reply, his course mates swung into action and sought a reply under the RTI seeking the definition of the term “employee” and asking who were eligible for a study sabbatical. In a reply in Marathi, the Public Information Officer of the D Ward of BMC said, “an academic course which is connected with his duty as a corporation employee or is in public interest then the employee may be permitted to attend such a course or a study tour. However, taking this into account, a conservancy worker is not entitled to such study leave.”
Recently, Yadav, who holds a double Masters degree and diploma in social work, was shortlisted for a student exchange programme at the University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. But the recommendation can be processed only after BMC agrees to allow him to travel to South Africa and to continue with his education.
The BMC has even overlooked orders by the National Commission of Safai Karamcharis to expedite Yadav’s application. “Denying/any delay in grant of study leave… may lead to refusal of admission by TISS,” reads the Commission’s letter to the BMC, which had on two occasions sought action taken report.
Calling the BMC’s reply a product of highly casteist mentality, chairperson of the commission Kamlaben Gujjar said, “It is unconstitutional to deny anyone a right to study. Officers of higher grades can any way educate themselves, it is the Class IV employees who need support and affirmative atmosphere to grow.”
While Additional Municipal Commissioner Mohun Adhtani was not available for a comment, BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunthe said he could’t reply. “I have not seen the reply and hence it will not be appropriate to comment on it.”
Conservancy workers, who predominantly come from the Scheduled Castes, have a very low literacy rate. Given the nature of work and lack of any civic measures, life expectancy is very low.
Yadav has been working at night and attending lectures during the day to complete his studies. He is now in his second semester. “I have worked for over seven years with the BMC. In the past nine months I tried several times to find out why I have not been granted leave. But no one cared to respond. Now I understand. The system wants a safai karamchari to remain one forever.”
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