Head loading is 'dehumanising activity', rehabilitate workers: Kerala HC tells government

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Kochi: Carrying heavy loads on the head or body by a person was a "dehumanising activity" and the statute -- Headload Workers Act -- which permits this was a relic of the past, Kerala High Court said on Tuesday and directed the state to take steps to ameliorate the plight of such workers.

"Headload has to be abolished, not loading. It (headload) is a dehumanising activity. How can we subject our citizens to this torture," the high court said.

Justice Devan Ramachandran said that headload workers should be equipped and trained to use machines for carrying out loading activities and clarified that the court has no intention of taking away the livelihood of such persons.

The court said that headload workers are poor people who have no other job options and their plight is sought to be exploited by certain vested interests, including many political parties, for their own reasons.

The judge said carrying heavy loads on the head or body for several hours a day for several years leads to muscular-skeletal problems and damages the spine and nowhere else in the world such activity is undertaken by the citizens there.

"They either use machines or bring people from outside to do this loading activity," the court said and added that the 'headload' term in the statute has to go and ought to be replaced with 'loading'.

"Why not have machines to aid them (workers)? Not saying headload activity has to be stopped altogether. Certain vested interests want it to continue like this. I want them to be equipped and trained to use machines to carry out loading activity.

"It (carrying headload) has deleterious effects on the spine. No one can carry heavy weights like this for several hours and that too for years. No other country put its citizens to such dehumanizing activity," the judge said.

The court said this sector was unorganized, as they were not trained, and vested interests want it to continue like this.

"Can any civilised society agree to this? We are probably not as civilised as we think we are. We are reinforcing and perpetuating this activity. The statute is also reinforcing this activity.

"These people should be rehabilitated, not thrown out of their jobs. The statute is 50 years old. The situation has changed now. It is high time the government thought of ameliorating their plight," the court said.

It further said that while manual scavenging has stopped in Kerala, headload activity has been taken for granted.

"We want them to carry it on their heads," it added.

The state government told the court that the Headload Workers Act was going to be amended to enable the workers Board to initiate disciplinary action against those who demand 'nokkukooli' or gawking wages.

It said that a summary of the draft amendment was ready.

The court said it wants to know when the amendment would be enforced and in what manner and asked the government to inform it by the next date of hearing on December 21.

The court was hearing a plea by a hotel owner, represented by advocate Manoj Ramaswamy, seeking police protection to carry out his business without intervention from some persons who were allegedly demanding gawking wages.

The court had on the last date of hearing said the demand for gawking wages in the State has given a bad name to Kerala and it was being identified with nokkukooli.

"This has led to Kerala being associated with militant trade unionism," the court had said.

The Kerala government on November 1 had told the court that a 'No Nokkukooli 2021' campaign has been started by it and that it was strictly against the demand of gawking wages and would not be protecting anyone who indulges in this activity.

On May 1, 2018, the government banned the practice of demanding gawking wages.


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