Pawan Bali, CNN-IBN
Updated 1911 hrs IST (+GMT 5:30), 19.12.05
Jammu: Aroona Puri starts work at 10 am everyday. She has been working as a sweeper-cum-peon for the last 11 years in a school in Jammu but her plight is worse than that of a beggar.
Call it bonded labour if you would, but the fact of the matter is that over 30,000 people are working in schools of Jammu for just Re 1 and 30 paise per day.
But this is hardly the shocking news. The astounding fact is that for the last two years, a lot of these people, including Aroona, have not been paid their measly salary.
"I have been working for the last 11 years for Rs 500 per year. But the government school has not even paid me that for the last two years. I have to wash utensils and cook and clean peoples’ homes so that I can survive," says Aroona.
"I never raised the issue because I thought it was a government school and some day the government would do justice," she adds.
The matter reached the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, which has termed these people’s plight as shocking and unimaginable. The HC has decided to take up the cause of these people.
Legal experts view it as a violation of basic rights. They say a lot of these people were appointed almost 25 years ago and are still waiting for a pay hike.
Human Rights advocate Tahir Khurshid Raina says, "This is a violation of the Minimum Wages Act, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It is the violation of the judgment of Supreme Court where the apex court has said that the right to livelihood is the fundamental right to the citizen."
Authorities have accepted that these workers are grossly underpaid. They are supposed to be paid from the school funds with wages varying from Rs 40 to Rs 800, depending on the status of the school.
A policy decision on these workers is being considered a must now.
Director schools, Jammu and Kashmir, M K Diwedi says, "A policy decision of on these workers is a must. Some incidents have been brought to our notice where schools are not paying anything despite the fact that these schools are given the money by the administration."
However, he says that the administration also has to take into account their financial capacities and the requirements of the schools.
With the rising prices and inflation, the hopes of people like Aroona Puri are rapidly falling. Their only hope is now that some day the government will wake up to their problem.