AMAN ke liye IITB

Three year old Aman was one of the brightest, naughtiest, most popular kids in his peer group. The son of construction workers working on campus, he often accompanied his parents to the work site. On the 5th of January, his 5-month pregnant mother was assigned to work on the 5th floor of the L4 building of the new Biomedical school, despite repeated appeals, and he followed his mother there as usual. It was while playing there that he fell through an open window, to the ground below. He was rushed to the hospital, but sadly succumbed to his injuries.

This tragic incident which could have easily been avoided, highlighted the desperate need for a crèche or day-care centre for these workers’ kids – which is in fact their legal entitlement. A group of students, who had already been interacting with the labourers’ children, came together with concerned faculty members to address this need, forming the team Aman Ke Liye IITB, named in his memory. This is their story.

The State of Construction Workers on Campus
Presently, there are several construction sites on campus, and as many as 50 children of construction workers live here. These construction workers
are often not provided with any safety equipment like gloves, footwear, helmets etc. They also have no access to toilets or potable drinking water at the work site, and are forced to live in tiny tin sheds which are vulnerable to both rain and cold. However, the worst sufferers are undoubtedly their children. Without a day-care centre, the parents have no choice but to take their children along with them to the construction sites where they can keep an eye on them. There, they are left to play in dust and grime, without any care and supervision. Legally, construction companies are contractually obligated to provide a day care centre if there are more than 50 female labourers employed with them (see box). However, this rule is routinely flouted by contractors, having never been questioned by the institute for not fulfilling their obligation to set up these facilities for the labourers. Time and again a few concerned faculty members have questioned such blatant human rights violation in the campus, and striven to bring this to the notice of the concerned authorities, but no action of any kind has ever been initiated by IITB, who, as principal employer is dutybound to ensure protection of labour rights.

In an institute that can safely claim to be one of the most enlightened employers in our country today, it is deplorable that we are largely unaware and apathetic to the rights of these workers and the deplorable conditions they work in.
Why a Day Care Centre is Needed in IIT-B

While a day care centre is undoubtedly an essential amenity for any child of working parents for its balanced, healthy development, it is even more pertinent to have such a facility in the case of the construction workers’ children. With the unsafe working conditions prevalent at construction sites, children who play at these sites are highly susceptible to infection, wounds, dust allergies, suffocation; they are also prone to the risk of accidentally swallowing dangerous objects. These children are often left uncared for, unfed and unsupervised. Elder children are often burdened with the duty of taking care of the younger ones. Thus elder kids are also deprived of formal education and become child labourers; finally they end up as labourers in the unorganised sector just like their parents and remain in poverty forever. Unless this vicious cycle is broken there is no hope for a construction worker’s child.

A day care centre not only safeguards the interests and security of children but also empowers women as it enables them to participate in economic activities and retain their independence.

A day care centre is also essential to encourage these working class parents to send their children to primary school after the completion of pre-school thereby allowing them to envision better futures for their children. A quick estimate of the infrastructural work in the institute assures us that there will be labourers on the institute for at least the next 10 years if not more. In fact, a lot of the labour on campus at the moment has already been here for 2–4 years. Thus, in all respects it is essential and makes sense to have a permanent day care centre for the construction workers’ children.

The Aman-ke-Liye-IITB Movement:
A few students of Team Aman movement had been interacting with the labourers even before the unfortunate accident on the 5th of January, 2012. It was through this interaction that they became aware of the accident that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. While they had been contemplating moving the authorities to establish a day care centre even before the episode, the accident further galvanized their resolve to improve the conditions and the future of these children. The team set about mobilizing student support by means of a signature campaign in most of the hostels, managing to collect close to 1800 signatures. They created a Google-group on which the over 100 member strong Team Aman comprising of both students and over 25 faculty members would be updated on the progress of the movement. Many faculty members lent themselves wholeheartedly to the cause and it was their involvement that gave the movement the much-needed support to be taken seriously by the authorities.

Soon after, they held an open house that was attended by very few students but by several members of the faculty. Here, Team Aman presented their appraisal of the situation and a tentative proposal. The issue was hotly debated and several alternatives were considered, before a consensus was reached.

It was finally decided to approach the Director and Dean IPS with a proposal for action:
1. To allot space for a temporary day care centre, set up by the NGO Mobile Creché
2. To identify a suitable location and begin construction of a permanent day-care centre, run by professionals, for the children.
3. The operation costs for this centre would be borne by the contractor, regardless of the number of women employed by them, thus ensuring that women with children are not denied employment.
4. To ensure that Aman’s family is adequately compensated for their loss.
5. That IIT Bombay should honour its legal responsibility to check for any violations on the part of the contractors with regard to the rights of the construction workers.

Temporary Day Care Centre at Lake Side Community Hall: A Victory for Aman!
On Republic Day, after nearly a month of struggle, the members of Team Aman-Ke-Liye-IITB including some faculty members finally approached the Director with the proposal. The Director agreed to commit the lakeside community hall behind the guest house for the temporary day care centre. Acknowledging its importance, he promised that the day care centre would be run by IITB and the expenses would be recovered from the contractor. To deter contractors from dropping women workers, he accepted the suggestion to deduct money from payables to the contractor irrespective of whether workers use the day care centre or not.

Additionally, the Dean IPS has promised to initiate the process for the identification of site and construction of the permanent day care centre.

Though the temporary day care centre marks a major mile stone, Team Aman-Ke-Liye-IITB, considers this victory as a beginning only, and will not rest until IITB delivers on its promised permanent space and structure for the day care centre. The struggle is long and the campaign needs the solidarity of the campus to get to the very end.

A time to Introspect?
Ours is an institute where apathy and indifference have become a way of life. How many of us walked down the infinite corridor over the last few years and saw dust-covered children playing with animals and accepted it as a way of life? How many of us even chose to give it a second thought? Over 1800 students signed the petition when these students came up to us and narrated the sorry state of affairs. Yet barely 10 showed up at the open-house where our numbers would have strengthened the cause of helping these children. In an institute where we pride ourselves on having opinions and enlightened views on issues from across the globe, a little child’s untimely demise in our own backyard failed to stir us. Fortunately, it seems all hope isn’t lost. For the multitudes of us who chose to look away, there still are a few like the students of Aman-ke-liye-IITB who empathised with Aman and struggled to ensure that his death wouldn’t be in vain. They could have chosen to stage an ostentatious flashin-the-pan demonstration as we recently witnessed on our campus for a certain national issue and even possibly created a media circus. Instead, they persevered and followed what was undoubtedly an arduous path. As a student body, we truly need to take a moment and introspect to truly understand what the “Aman Day-Care Centre” as they have chosen to christen it, will mean for our society – is this just another article that you will read before you move on or will we perhaps consider moving towards a more humane, more aware and more empathetic collective consciousness? ?