When we all clap together – a life changed
As a Dalit, Pancha was born with the duty of cremation work in her small township in Tamil Nadu, India. It is a tough job which she and her husband carryout with dignity.. They would typically earn less than $NZ2 for the 24 hours it takes to complete a cremation. Demands for more, Pancha said, could be met with violence.
When the TNLU established a union for cremation workers 10 years ago Pancha took the brave step to join. Since then she has become a leader in her district, speaking at public rallies and taking the union’s demands to local officials. Something she never thought she could do as a both a Dalit and a woman.
The collective strength of the union has seen cremation workers officially recognised by the government, issued with ID cards and all the rights – including access to public healthcare – that come with that. Pancha and the other cremation workers successfully bargained with the district council to set pay rates for cremation work and raise these each year.
The extra income has helped send her oldest son Shankar to teacher college. After years studying under the light of the nearby railway station he is now pursuing his passion as an art teacher.
Pancha’s story shows the life changing power of collective action. When asked why she chose to join the union 10 years ago her answer is simply “When we all clap together only then will they hear us.”