Joint letter to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis against the increasing surveillance of Safai Karamcharis in the country #SaveOurPrivacy

tl;dr

In the past two years, we have come across multiple news reports related to Safai Karamcharis across the country being made to wear tracking devices in order to enable their surveillance by the authorities. Concerned by the human rights violations that such actions will trigger, IFF is releasing a joint letter initiated by the All India Lawyers Association For Justice (AILAJ) to express our concerns over these ongoing violations to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis.

Updated on June 1, 2022

After receiving sign ons from 18 organisations and 187 individuals, we have sent the open letter to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis. We hope for a positive response and will keep you updated on this issue. Thank you for your support!

What happened?

After recent reports concerning the use of GPS tracking devices on Safai Karamcharis by the Ranchi Municipal Corporation came to light, the All India Lawyers Association For Justice (AILAJ) reached out to us to initiate a joint letter to express concerns over such violations. The use of such devices on Safai Karamcharis violates their right to life, dignity, and privacy. We have written to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) to urge them to investigate this issue and to take the necessary steps to ensure that all Safai Karamcharis are safeguarded from this imposition.

Joint letter expressing concern over the increasing surveillance of Safai Karamcharis in the country to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK)

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is a non-profit organisation that advocates for the rights of internet users in India. The All India Lawyers Association for Justice (AILAJ) is a national organisation of legal practitioners who have come together to uphold the core values of the Constitution.

Recently, we have come across multiple reports from Ranchi, Chandigarh, Nagpur, and Ghaziabad on Safai Karamcharis being forced to wear Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled tracking devices by authorities to surveil them during their work hours. We are extremely concerned about the effect these actions will have on the privacy, dignity, & autonomy of the Safai Karamcharis.

Ostensibly, the use of GPS enabled tracking devices is to record attendance of the Safai Karamcharis, monitor their work performance, and to safeguard against any falsification of attendance. However, the tracking devices would essentially enable the constant and dehumanising surveillance of Safai Karamcharis by the authorities. The surveillance also proliferates existing casteist discrimination faced by the Safai Karamcharis, who predominantly belong to Dalit and Adivasi communities as well as other oppressed sections of the society. The Safai Karamcharis have compared the usage of these tracking devices and the constant monitoring it entails to the “ancient practice of upper castes exerting control over lower caste workers”.

The Safai Karamcharis in Chandigarh have also protested against the imposition and have expressed their concerns over the resultant physical and mental issues that will ensue as a result of wearing these devices. The Safai Karamcharis have stated that the devices, which track movements, record conversations, and film them, are being used to fine them for taking breaks and push them to work more hours. Further, women workers were worried about being surveilled by male supervisors and “(s)ome women workers have stopped going to the bathroom during work shifts as they fear the camera on their trackers might be used to record them in the toilet”.

In the landmark decision of the Supreme Court, which held privacy to be a fundamental right, J. Chandrachud stated that, “(p)rivacy, in its simplest sense, allows each human being to be left alone in a core which is inviolable”. Constant surveillance through these tracking devices violates this fundamental right to privacy. While privacy is not an absolute right, any state intrusion into privacy has to satisfy the thresholds of legality, necessity, and proportionality, laid down by the Supreme Court in the Right to Privacy decision.

However, the use of tracking devices on Safai Karamcharis fails to satisfy these thresholds as firstly, there is no anchoring legislation or legal framework. Here, we would like to emphasise that constant surveillance of Safai Karmacharis cannot be justified simply by bringing an anchoring legislation as such surveillance is incongruent with their fundamental rights as we have showcased above. Secondly, there is no clear understanding of the necessity of this action as different deployments have indicated different objectives, however the constant monitoring of employees can never be a justified state aim as it would lead to the mass surveillance of a wide category of citizens.

Lastly, the resultant surveillance is completely disproportionate, in terms of the harm it would cause, to any state aim that would give purpose to such surveillance, thereby failing the proportionality threshold. We would also like to reiterate that the working conditions of Safai Karamcharis continue to be dismal and inhuman. There is also the question of their job, wage and social security which has not been addressed adequately. Workers continue to suffer under the contract system. Instead of addressing these basic issues, new forms of surveillance are introduced leading to further oppressive working conditions.  

As a result of these concerns, we urge you to take the following necessary steps:

  1. Register a complaint on the basis of this representation, seek for reports from concerned authorities, investigate into this specific grievance raised by the undersigned and pass necessary instructions to concerned authorities to immediately stop the practice of tracking and surveillance of Safai Karamcharis.
  2. Study, evaluate and make a detailed report to the Union/ State Governments on the physical/mental trauma, harassment and other difficulties faced by the Safai Karamcharis on account of the imposition of tracking and surveillance and recommend that the Safai Karamcharis be adequately compensated.

We also urge that this Hon'ble Commission immediately issue necessary communications to the Union/State governments and the Local Bodies, directing them to acknowledge that Safai Karamchairs are predominantly from the historically and socially oppressed sections, mostly Dalit and women, and hence special care has to be taken  to protect their dignity.

List of existing signatories (Organisations and Individuals)

Organisations
AICCTU TAMILNADU
AIPWA
ASEEM
All INDIA LAWYERS ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE AND LAWYERS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
All India Lawyers Association for Justice
All India Students Association
Common Cause
Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project
Dalit womens collective
Digital Empowerment Foundation
Digital Rights Kashmir
Feminism in India
Hashiya Socio-Legal Centre for Women
IT for Change
Indian Social Action Forum
Internet Freedom Foundation
Jan Swasthya Abhiyan - Mumbai
Kisan sangharsh Samiti
One Future Collective

Individuals
Aakash Raj Chauhan
Aastha
Abhaya Tatavarti
Abhilasha Singh
Abhisht Hela
Aboobacker MK
Adhit Kulkarni
Aditya
Aditya Shrivastava
Akanksha Singh
Akash
Akshay
Akshith
Allon
Amala Dasarathi
Amit
Anand
Aniruddha Singh
Anirudh S
Anubhab
Anupam Guha
Anushree Joshi
Anvita W
Anwesha
Aratrika
Arbaz Ahmed Khan
Arindam Roy
Arundhati Dhuri
Arushi Singh
Arya Suresh
Ashlesh
Ashwin
Ashwin H
Atish Padhy
Avali
Avani Chokshi
Avinash
Ayush Mondal
Caldwell
Cassandra Nazareth
Chandradeep Kumar
Chethana
Chirag
Darshan Patil
Dewansh Singh Matharoo
Divyanshu Kumar
Diya
Dolan
Dr Akshay S Dinesh
Dr Swathi SB
Dr. DeepRanjan Bharti
Ekta
Ezhilarasan S
Faizan Ahmed
Faizi
Gautam BK
Goutam
Haroon Bijli
Hemakshi Motwani
Holiram Terang
Jagrut Kosti
Japleen Pasricha
Jitesh Kumar Gautam
Jun
Jyothish AT
Kaneez Fathima
Kanika Saxena
Karan Bajaj
Kavita Krishnan
Keshika
Kritika Biswas
Lavnish Kumar Sharma
M M
M. Jothi Basu
M. R. Singh
Madhulika
Manasi
Manju Elsa Isac
Manmohan
Mansi Valera
Mansvini Jain
Maragathavalli Inbamuthiah
Mayank Baranda
Monika
Mridula Sharma
Mudit Maheshwari
Mudita
Muhammed Shameem pk
Muskan Tibrewala
Nabeel
Nandan Sahi
Neelakantan
Neeta S
Neha
Nihal
Ninad
Niranjan
Noor
Pallavi
Parul
Prakhya
Prannv Dhawan
Prashi Jain
Pratham Khanna
Pratik Kumar
Priya Dagia
Priya Sogani
Priyal
Pulak Kumar
Rachael Rajan
Radhika Jha
Rahul
Raja Dandamudi
Ram
Raman
Rashmi
Ria Singh Sawhney
Rina Kamath
Rituparna Pal
Rohit Patni
Rudra
S.Q.Masood
SHUDDHABRATA SENGUPTA
Sachi Hegde
Sagrika Rajora
Sairam Subramaniam
Sakhi Shah
Sakthi
Samira Junaid
Samita
Sangeet Chandwara
Saraboji Govindaraj
Satyam Singh
Saumya
Saumya Singh
Sayoni Ganguly
Shambhavi Madan
Shamin
Shanthini
Sharada A
Shilpa Prasad
Shilpa Prasad
Shivansh Agarwal
Shreya
Shreya
Shruti
Shruti Ravi
Sidak
Siddhant Shrivastava
Siddharth K J
Siddharth Kansal
Snehan Kekre
Sohini
Soma Mallick
Sourabh
Spoorthi Cotha
Spriha Neogi
Srishti Govil
Subir Sinha
Sumit Kunkal
Surjadipta De Sarkar
Susheel Varghese
Suwa Lal Jangu
Sweta Dash
Syed Junaid
Syed Junaid
Tarun
Tonella
U.Adhiyaman
Varun
Vatsal
Vid
Vikas Verma
Vineetha Venugopal
Vinod Dumblekar
Viplove
Viraj
Vishnu S
Visvanathan V
Yaqoob
Yash Agrawal
Yash Budhwar
Yashoyini
ariba
guneet narula
phoolkumari
swetha u

We earnestly share the hope of all these signatories for a positive governmental response. It is crucial that the NCSK acts swiftly and decisively to safeguard the Safai Karamcharis from any further violations.

Important Documents

  1. Joint letter expressing concern over the increasing surveillance of Safai Karamcharis in the country to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis dated May 30, 2022 sent on June 1, 2022 (link)