The protesting workers. Photo: Author provided
The protesting workers. Photo: Author provided

A group of daily wagers are on a fast-unto-death at -14°C in Leh; their voices should be heeded

The workers, in a challenging environment like Ladakh, have alleged inhumanity and discrimination employment regularisation; it's a gross violation of rights if true

The protesting workers. Photo: Author provided

Recently, I visited a group of daily wage workers to express my heartfelt solidarity with them. I spoke with Phuntsog Angchok, president of the All Ladakh Daily Wager Association, who informed me about the Association’s decision to embark on a hunger strike unto death starting from February 27, 2024, demanding the long-overdue regularisation of their employment.

I have witnessed the plight of daily wage workers in Ladakh staging dharnas in recent years to address their long-standing issues of regularisation.

Angchok told me more about the workers. They were recruited between 1993 and 1995, with more than 1,100 individuals employed as daily wagers across various government departments in Leh and an equal number in Kargil district. Most of them are now in their elder years, with some having passed away in the line of duty, and many having retired. They commenced their daily wage work, earning a meager salary of Rs 800 (per month) in the early 1990s, which has marginally increased over the years, currently standing at Rs 6,000 (per month).

Living in Ladakh, where the high cost of living is exacerbated by the need to import food and other essentials, a salary of Rs 6,000 is insufficient to cover even basic necessities, let alone afford quality education for children or purchase essential clothing and footwear. It is a distant dream for them to improve their standard of living in the 21st century.

Furthermore, the treatment of daily wage workers upon their demise or retirement is deeply troubling, with government employees receiving their dues and often passing on their positions to their children or relatives, while daily wage workers are abruptly terminated without acknowledgment or support.

This stark contrast in treatment reflects the inhumanity and discrimination faced by these hardworking individuals. In 2021, the daily wage workers staged a 40-day protest, during which promises were made by various officials, including the Member of Parliament, the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, and local leaders, to address their grievances.

However, these promises remain unfulfilled, with no progress made towards resolving their issues or providing the promised compensation for the days of strike.

Before initiating their hunger strike unto death, the workers have once again submitted their grievances to the Lieutenant Governor, BD Mishra, and to Tashi Gyalson, chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, as well as to Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, Member of Parliament.

After dedicating 25-30 years of their lives to serving various government departments with utmost sincerity, these impoverished individuals find themselves compelled to resort to extreme measures due to the systemic exploitation and neglect they have endured.

It is a gross violation of their human rights and a shameful reflection of the conduct of the elite leaders and bureaucrats who have failed to fulfil their promises.

As concerned citizens of Ladakh, we earnestly urge the relevant authorities including the Minorities Commissioner and the Human Rights Committee, to heed the voices of these underprivileged individuals and ensure that they receive the justice they deserve.

Tsewang Dorjey is an avid birder and an active member of Wildlife Conservation and Birds Club of Ladakh (WCBCL). His profession involves running a travel agency

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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