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"Until our demands are not met, we will continue our protests no matter how many days or weeks it takes," Aishwarya, a woman contractual employee at Uttar Pradesh's Dial 112 helpline, an emergency response support system, told The Quint.
She is one of the 200 contractual women employees of the Dial 112 helpline protesting in Lucknow's Arjungarh since 6 November, demanding a salary hike and better working conditions.
The Lucknow Police filed a First Information Report (FIR) against 205 women workers on 8 November, under sections 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 188 (Disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant), 283 (Danger or obstruction), and 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
'All We Want Is Salary Hike'
The contractual workers alleged that their salaries have not seen a hike for the last seven years.
“We have been working for the same salary for the past seven years. We are demanding ₹18,000 in-hand salary, weekly leave, and two paid leaves a month,” said Rashmi, one of the protesting employees, told The Quint.
In a letter, accessed by The Quint, the protesters raised four demands:
An increase in their monthly salaries from Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000
Two paid holidays per month
One government holiday per month
Trouble began last week on 3 November, when UP Police's contract for managing call centres ended with TechMahindra and the new contract was handed over to WeWin – a company offering calling-based solutions.
"We are not asking for big demands. We deserve the salary we are asking for. We also need job security. We were employed by Tech Mahindra, but the tender was handed over to WeWin company. But after the takeover, WeWin has not provided our offer letters and our salaries hasn't increased," another protesting employee Seema said.
The women also expressed their frustration over the risk of job loss due to a change in outsourcing companies.
'Police Turned Protest Violent and Are Blaming Us'
On Tuesday, 7 November, several women were detained by the Uttar Pradesh Police and taken away in police vehicles.
In a complaint filed by Dhirendra Pratap Singh, a constable who was on patrol duty, the police observed that hundreds of contractual employees were sitting on the road, blocking traffic and chanting slogans against the government.
"We promptly alerted the control room, and several women constables and officers arrived at the scene persuade them to clear the road, but the protesters remained obstinate," the FIR accessed by The Quint read.
"We explained to the protesters, but they did not agree and began to agitate. They blocked the main road, which caused traffic to the general public," it added.
The FIR identified protesters Harishta Srivastava, Pooja Singh, Reena Sharma, and Shashi, while 200 others remained unidentified.
However, the protesting women claimed that it was the police which allegedly "disturbed a peaceful protest," and said that the FIR was full of "lies created just to defame the protestors."
"We have been protesting peacefully from the beginning. We haven't committed a crime for an FIR to be lodged against us. It was you (police) who turned it into a violent protest by misbehaving with us. We are being accused for no reason, but we are not scared."Aarti Marya, a protesting employee
"We tried to use the bathrooms in the Dial 112 headquarters, but the police did not allow us to use it. A constable told me 'why should I listen to you, when you don't listen to us?' So many of us had to do it out in the open," claimed Aishwarya.
The Quint spoke to at least five women who claimed that despite protesting for over 48 hours, no one had come to hear their grievances.
"They have already hired new employees in the last few days, but have not heard our demands. How long do we wait in anticipation?" asked Rashmi.
Meanwhile, Additional Director General (ADG) of 112 Police Ashok Kumar Singh said on 7 November, “Call takers are now skilled workers and will not lose their jobs. According to the rules of the UP government, call takers are considered skilled workers, and there is no issue within the U.P. 112 system. We are in communication with the call takers, and any misunderstandings will be resolved."
'Will Protest Till Our Demands Are Heard'
Several Opposition leaders, including Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) chief Ajay Rai voiced their support for the contractual employees.
In a tweet, Yadav shared a video of the police detaining the female workers and wrote, “This is not only the “pidah patra’ (letter written with pain) of one ‘Samvad Adhikari’, but from all of them. Even before meeting the chief minister, these sisters, who sat in dharna in the cold night, were taken into custody in the morning. The true form of BJP’s ‘Nari Vandan’ is ‘Nari Bandhan’. Shameful, condemnable, unbearable."
Meanwhile, Aishwarya, a protesting employee said: "The government talks about Beti Bachao, Kanya Dhan Yojana and other such scheme for women. Why are they not talking now? Why are they silent? What they are doing is wrong."
"We will sit in protest until are demands are heard. All we ask if for officials to sit, listen to our grievances and help us resolve them. Diwali is coming in a few days, but we will still continue our protests," Aishwarya added.