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“Bonded Labour”: sanitation workers in Chandigarh protest against being forced to wear GPS tracking devices

Pictures of the GPS-enabled smartwatches used by sanitation workers in Chandigarh
Pictures of the GPS-enabled smartwatches that sanitation workers in Chandigarh are directed to wear. (Source: By arrangement)

Sanitation workers in Chandigarh are being treated like "cattle", they claim. With the help of GPS-enabled smartwatches adorned on the safai karamcharis' wrists, faceless supervisors track their every move from a centralised command. When a worker strays from their assigned location, the system flags them; if they take a long break and are at the same place for too long, the system flags them. The Chandigarh Safai Karamchari Union calls this system "bonded labour". Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan, calls it "modern day slavery", and considers it an extension of the oppressive caste system. Women workers are especially wary of using these devices, the union has claimed. They are afraid that the built-in cameras in these smartwatches can be switched on remotely by supervisors when they are in the the bathroom. The sanitation workers — around 4,000 of them — are currently waging a battle with the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, which is forcing them to wear these devices in an attempt to improve their efficiency. They recently went on a three-day long strike, demanding that the devices be taken back. Surprisingly, more than the loss of privacy, the workers are worried about inaccurate location details that these devices reportedly show, which directly leads to wage loss. Watches show inaccurate location, claims union Krishan Kumar Chadha, leader of the workers' union, said that the distribution of these smartwatches began around three months ago, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of making things better, as…

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