Muslim workers from a non governmental organisation (NGO) SEWA Bharat have alleged discrimination against the organisation. The women who were terminated from the organisation are mainly from anti-Muslim pogrom hit northeast Delhi.
According to the organisation’s website, SEWA Bharat is a federation of women-led institutions providing economic and social support to women in the informal economy. Part of a women trade union “SEWA Movement”, SEWA Bharat is part of the movement and was established in 1984. With over 2.1 million participating women, SEWA movement is claiming that they are the largest organization of informal workers in the world.
However, the Muslim employees at the SEWA Bharat have claimed that not only were they wrongfully terminated, their Muslim identity is the reason why they were targeted.
Chand-Bi, a social worker with the NGO was fired in November. Having been associated with the organisation for 13 years, it came as a shock when she said to Maktoob that the organisation started targeting and pressurising her.
Chand-Bi was working under a programme started by the NGO that helped women coming from economically weaker sections to open bank accounts, any identity cards and also avail schemes started by the Union and the state governments.
“In order to secure economic, social, and legal rights for women workers, SEWA supports the formation of member-based organizations of poor working women. The first such organization was the SEWA Bank, followed by diverse cooperatives and producer groups of women with livelihoods as artisans, milk producers, and farmers. Later on, women formed similar cooperatives around health and child-care,” said the NGO’s official website.
Chand-Bi lives in Khajuri Khas, which was one of the areas hit by violence during Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom in February 23 to February 25.
“About seven months back, the organisation started pressuring me by saying that I was not doing the work. They wanted me to open new accounts, which I was not able to fulfil. But I assured them I would let this happen,” she told Maktoob.
She further said that meetings also took place where she was humiliated in front of many people. “It did become toxic but I need the job as I am a single mother and my daughter is studying at the moment,” Chand-Bi added.
She said that after a year, the environment of the organisation changed. “Our previous heads were very nice and we were told there will never be any discrimination. However, from the past 2-3 years the women were not only pressured, they were regularly humiliated if they failed to bring in any quota,” she said.
Since she joined in 2010, Chand-Bi’s monthly income was Rs. 8000. “I joined at Rs. 3500 and I started getting Rs. 8000 recently itself,” she said.
Chand-Bi claims that the woman who has replaced her is at the moment getting Rs. 25,000. This was confirmed to us by a woman who is currently working at the organisation.
“We are very disappointed with what happened with Chand-Bi. It is because of her that I was able to join the organisation and by firing her, we can only assume, the next turn will be ours,” Parveena (name changed on request), who is currently working in areas around Mustafabad told Maktoob.
Along with Chand-Bi another worker has claimed wrongful termination by the NGO. Nazma, 41, who also is a resident of Khajuri Khas, joined the organisation in 2007. However, due to the NGO’s “lack of fund” she was let go, after which she herself resigned in 2017.
“I joined back in 2018 after the NGO asked me to join back again,” she said. Nazma was earning close to Rs.18000, out of which PF was also cut.
Nazma, a mother of three and a husband, who is bound to bed due to his health, said that it is a difficult time for her to be losing her job.
“I was fired because I am a Muslim and I am going to openly say it. Since I joined back in 2018, we have seen a weird environmental change. Some of our seniors are right-wingers and that made us uncomfortable, but we did not say anything as we had never faced any discrimination previously,” she told Maktoob.
While Nazma was fired in July 2022, Chand-Bi was made to resign in November 2022.
“After working for 13 years and more, they suddenly had issues with our work?” asks Nazma.
The programmes running in the northeast Delhi region had seven Muslim women, out of which three have been fired.
In January 2022, a pregnant woman was forcefully made to resign from the organisation. “Before this, no woman was made to resign because of pregnancy,” Chand-Bi added.
According to Chand-Bi, she was made to write a letter after she raised concerns about the new employee, who the NGO said is there to learn work. “I got a whiff that she was my replacement and went to my higher ups. In return I was made to sit in a meeting with 15 people and made to write a letter saying I will leave the job if the woman named Sunita Yadav, who was my replacement, works here. They then made me sign the letter and then on the spot fired me,” she said.
Meanwhile, out of the four Muslim women still working there, one has resigned due to the toxic environment and the other three are struggling to keep their posts.
Out of fear, the women did not speak to the reporter.
Maktoob contacted the Delhi coordinator of the organisation Suman Verma, who called allegations a lie and a vicious attempt to ruin the NGO’s name.
“If the organisation is not able to understand the performance of the employee even after various warnings, then rightful action will be taken. With both employees like Nazma and Chand-Bi, we do not see caste or religion. Our employees are all the same to us. In Delhi, we have 50 percent Muslim employees,” she told Maktoob.
She added that an employee’s work has nothing to do with the religion, further stating that Chand-Bi herself resigned from the organisation.
“She refused to work with one employee and in writing told us she will resign. We will not comply with an employee’s demand if they refuse to work with someone they do not like,” Verma said.
When asked to see the resignation letter, Verma added that if required they would show the letter.
“We are working for women who are Muslims or come from weaker backgrounds. This is a wrong way by claiming their religion had anything to do with this. I am baffled as to why is the issue being marked as Hindu or Muslim,” she said.
However, Maktoob spoke to at least six women, from a different programme at the NGO, who are currently working at the organisation, averring they are themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
“We are scared that if they can fire Chand-Bi and Nazma, then they can fire us as well. We are also struggling with funds and our jobs at the moment. However, we are in talks with them,” Noor (name changed on request) said.
The women in the NGO are really scared and did not want to come forward due to repercussions. “We are supporting Nazma and Chand-Bi, but we ourselves are struggling to keep our jobs,” Bano (name changed on request) said.
Both Nazma and Chand-Bi are struggling with their gratuity money. Gratuity is a cash benefit provided by an employer to an employee for the services rendered to the organisation. The employee is paid at retirement, resignation, layoff, or termination, provided the employee has completed five years of continuous services before leaving the organisation.
However, both women have been told that they would only get gratuity money for only three years as the programme they joined is viable for it.
“What about the work we did before? They are saying that for previous programmes there was no provision. They think we are uneducated and taking advantage. This NGO claims to help women but fire those who are in need,” retorted Chand-Bi.
Meanwhile, Verma has said that “written notices” were given to the women.
“The project that Nazma was working on ended and written statements were given to her about it,” Verma added. To this, Nazma claims that she was not made aware of the situation till she herself went and spoke to some seniors.
“I got a hunch and approached my organisation about it. It was when I told them, they told me they are out of funds and the project will end soon,” she said.
According to sources from inside the NGO, a meeting was held by the officials that only included Muslim employees.
“We are surprised because this was the last place we were expecting this sort of behaviour from,” Chand-Bi said.
This, according to various reports, is not new. According to a study done by Ledby Foundation in June 2022, found significant discrimination against Muslim women across industries in entry-level jobs, even when they are equally qualified for the role.
The report titled — Hiring Bias: Employment for Muslim women at entry-level roles — was done in association with the Maulana Azad National Urdu University’s Centre for Development of Policy & Practice in collaboration with Centre for Development of Policy and Practice.
For the purpose of the study conducted over a period of 10 months, 2,000 job applications were sent through 1,000 job postings on sites such as LinkedIn and Naukri.com.
The study was also based on two equally qualified profiles — Habiba Ali and Priyanka Sharma — which were created matching the market standards for entry-level positions.
According to the report, while Habiba received only 103 positive responses, Priyanka got 203 which is nearly double of what the Muslim woman’s profile got. The net discrimination rate stood at 47.1 per cent, which was evident across industries, based on the responses received.
“The net discrimination rate for Indian Muslim women relative to Hindu women then becomes 47.1% representing a massive discrepancy between call-backs for Muslim and Hindu women and proving that a significant hiring bias favouring Hindu women is present across industries,” the study observed.
Another report was published in September 2022, which stated that more Indian Muslims face discrimination when accessing salaried jobs and income through self-employment compared to non-Muslims.
The report published by Oxfam India, a U.K.-based independent charitable organization, stated that discrimination against Muslims in the labor market, which contributed to their low employment rate, rose to 68.3% in 2019-20.
The report shows that the discrimination faced by Muslims in 2004-05 was 59.3%, indicating an increase in discrimination by 9% over the last 16 years.
In addition, regular-salaried non-Muslims in urban areas earn an average of 20,346 Indian rupees (about $255), which is 49% more than Muslims, who earn 13,672 Indian rupees.
The report had also said the Muslim population in urban India is mostly engaged in self-employment compared to other communities, largely because of the low-quality family professions and related difficulties in finding other options in the labor market.