Working at the Margins:

A Report on the Working Conditions of Invisibilized Frontline Workers

Ashirvad Centre for Social concern which is bringing out this report,  had been set up to highlight the numerous issues faced by marginalised communities. The organisation walks with and works with affected communities to build strong networks and enhance advocacy, thus lending a voice to the vulnerable.

The report “Working at the Margins:  A Report on the Working Conditions of Invisibilized Frontline Workers”  brings out the erratic working hours, poor access to protective equipment, wage related issues and several other issues that this group of workers face. It also starkly highlights how these traditionally ‘unclean’ occupations are overwhelmingly performed by the dalit community which bears the brunt of different kinds of discrimination and structural violence. 

It is of particular concern that neither private healthcare nor public healthcare services are available to this extremely vulnerable and marginalised section of healthcare workforce in the state.

The pandemic, over the last several months, has made it clear that while the Coronavirus itself may not discriminate, different sections of the society have been impacted in different ways. While many transitioned seamlessly from office-based work to home-based work, a large section of society ended up losing their livelihood, partially or wholly, as well as losing access to essential services like the anganwadi, mid day meals, pensions, Public distribution system (PDS), education, healthcare etc. The category of workers, whose services were not only deemed essential, but central to the response to the pandemic, are referred to as the ‘frontline workers’. While some of them are visible and even appreciated by clanging plates and lighting lamps, there is an invisible section of frontline workers who have tirelessly contributed to the management of the pandemic but neither do they find any mention in media reports and appreciative speeches by political leaders nor are they provided any special compensatory packages in case of injury, infection, disability or death. These are the workers who handle bodies in mortuaries, crematoria, burial grounds etc.; those, like pourakarmikas and auto/tipper drivers, who handle household solid waste; rag pickers; and non-medical healthcare facility staff like housekeeping staff, ward assistants etc. This report is a small attempt in the direction of making their work visible and bringing to public knowledge the nature and condition of their work as well as the range of issues and challenges faced by them.

I thank Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, Dr. Siddharth K J and Dr. Alwyn Prakash for going across Bangalore, meeting, listening to and documenting the issues and concerns of this ‘invisibilized’ community of workers in the form of this report.This report must be read widely and disseminated. Policy makers have to be held accountable to ensure that these workers do not continue to be invisibilized, but are able to demand their rights and dignity at the very earliest. It is also essential reading for civil society, healthcare providers and planners/policy makers. Unless the most vulnerable are protected, public health in India will continue to be in a dismal and sorry state.

Looking forward to change in a positive direction.

Fr. Jerald D’Souza, Director, Ashirvad Centre for Social Concern

For detailed version of the report download /view the PDF file.