As Jammu and Kashmir got a basket full of languages, some of the employers are taking the Hindi route to recruit people. In one job offer by a private company that was signed by hundreds of job seekers recently, they ended up signing their resignations well before they could join their duties, reports Khalid Bashir Gura
The massive protests triggered by the mass apprehensions among thousands of private security guards that they may end up jobless have come to a halt after signing a document that assured a status quo ante. There was, however, a twist. The document – a job letter, they were given to sign was in Hindi language, one of the official languages of the post-2019 Jammu and Kashmir. They signed the papers to retain their jobs without actually reading the papers.
Apparently, it looked like a shift from one company to another. These guards were working for the private security company, Peregrine that was providing manpower to Jammu and Kashmir Bank. The bank requires a lot of security human resources to manage the branch footfalls and the ATM network.
In the recent shift, the tenders for providing the security was bagged by Delhi based agency, Datar Security Services. Not knowing how the new company will manage its human resource, the jobless guards hit the streets to safeguard their basic rights of livelihood and minimum wages. Those protesting included ex-servicemen, retired cops, unskilled youngsters and all those who are healthy enough to guard a space. Though they were assured of engagement, the protest was over salary cuts, service rules and the termination system.
After a series of negotiations, the company issued engagement forms in Hindi. Not knowing what is written in the thick document, the guards signed. Now some of them say that the document includes terms and conditions that violate their basic rights. A new controversy is brewing.
Do Not Know
Farooq Ahmad, one of the ATM guards was on the streets with hundreds of others. A resident of Ganderbal, having a master’s degree, he has been a private security guard for years. He was also desperate that he may eventually lose his job. “We work to feed our families and not to dream of building homes or purchasing cars,” he famous said, while spearheading the protests.
When the new security contractor offered him the document, he signed with his eyes literally shut. “I do not know what I signed on as I am not able to read or write Hindi,” Farooq, who is otherwise proficient in English, said. “Like thousand others, I was desperate to resume duty as we were jobless and signed the prerequisite form despite being ignorant of its language and contents.” By now, he has resumed his duty.
The document is a 36-page booklet. It has 19 printed pages – nine in Hindi and ten in English. The English section has details about the applicant, the personal details, details required for PF (form 11) and ESPI and a brief company profile.
On pages 17and 19, of the document, the candidate signs two different sections that pertain to his resignation. One of the pages reads:
“I … son/daughter of …. resident of …. date …. that I am resigning from the job out of my own will and I am not willing to work in future. I have submitted my resignation to the manager.” The passage concludes by a declaration of the applicant that the due amount “I can claim stand received. And I am signing it without force or influence and I am content with the amount paid and agreed.” It further reads that “my future claims in any court by me or my family will be nullified.” He also says that “I am forfeiting my rights from today that I may have given to claim on my behalf to any Union or lawyer.” The employee is made to sign a document that the claim is settled and we have settled the issue and I am taking back my claims and grievances.
It might be unique that a candidate signs his resignation well before he joins the job. But that is not the only thing in the ‘job offer’.
Farooq said they have had talked with their new employers. They have been assured, he said, that they will not be charged Rs 12000 in a calendar year for the uniform.
The other promise made to them is that they will be paid as per the minimum wages act, Rs 6750 as monthly salary cash in hand and Rs 1640 will be deduced as their CP fund. Some of them have been assured that after two months there will be an increment in salary.
The wages, the security guards said, in the private security network as per skilled and unskilled. Earlier, a gunman would get Rs 11,500, while the ATM guard was given around Rs 7,500, they said.
Unlike Farooq, not many of his colleagues are happy. “The form was in Hindi and I cannot read or write it,” a frail ATM guard, posted at a Srinagar ATM, said. “After submitting my prerequisite documents, I was assured that I will get the uniform, however, if they charge for it, I will leave the job.”
Similarly, another guard posted in old city Srinagar said, that in freezing cold, he is lending his services against a paltry sum. “I live as a tenant and also have to meet other expenses. It is poverty and desperation that I am here,” the guard, who did not wish to be identified said. “The company came, asked me for a signature without explaining it. No one knows Hindi.” He said when he had questioned the language and apprehensions of the content they were made to sign, the recruiters jokingly laughed and said, “We are seizing your property.”
The Earlier Package
Under the earlier agency, the guards said, they were slightly better. “At Rs 7500 monthly salary (excluding the CP Fund of Rs 1600), we were able to make bread and butter with difficulty but with further deductions, our lives are subjected to misery,” one ATM guard said after submitting the form. He has been in the security network for a decade and has lived in poverty despite being an “employee”.
The new agency had initially told them that they will be paid Rs 5500 (excluding CP Fund), a decision that pushed the guards to the streets. This coincided with some of them being refused a job because they had “aged”. The protest pushed the contractor to slightly improve the wages.
Apparently, as financial and job security apprehensions were settled, the new worry that emerged after signing the form is the language. Ahmad said since he could not read or write terms and conditions, he recorded the oral assurances by the company as he signed the document. The fact is that he signed the document.
Tahir Qayoom, branch head, Datar Security Service Group, in Kashmir, said that the company has hired around 1200 security guards in Kashmir.
Qayoom justifies the use of Hindi in the crucial papers. “The company works across India and Hindi being the official language is prioritized and it is the standard one,” he said. The company, however, has its website in English.
“We distributed forms in a language as we do in the rest of the country,” Qayoom claimed. “There is nothing controversial and we assured them that if they have doubt on any term and condition, they should not sign it.”
Qayoom said he advised the candidates to translate the document in native or any other language through mobile Apps. “It is a service book and legal document with general instructions. We are not compelling them to do anything against their will,” he said.
Explaining the details, Qayoom said the company is paying the minimum wages act as fixed by the government. According to SRO 460, the minimum wage to be paid to an unskilled worker is Rs 225 per day. “Rs 6750 minus the PF of an employee will be salary,” he said as initially, the bank used to give them allowances and now they have been stalled due to the economic slump. Unlike earlier when they used to get Rs 7500 in hand as monthly salary, the employees will now get Rs 5900.
Qayoom also said that as of now they are not charging the employees for uniforms but in future, they may.
Defending his company, Qayoom said they are recruiting as per legal norms. He even defended the resignation signing well before the joining. “If in future the employee wants to leave the company, the document is already with us and the company will carry formalities,” he said. “In absence of it, the employee will have to go to Delhi to complete the resignation formalities.”
On the choice of language, Qayoom said: “We did not have enough time to print forms in other languages. That’s why we distributed forms in Hindi format as in other states of the country.” Asked if he can read and write Hindi, Qayoom said “a little bit”.
After the market opened for private security services, a number of companies operate in Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir Bank is the major demand creator on this front given the security situation and its spread across the erstwhile state. The companies deploying security guards in Kashmir are Delhi based Datar Security and G Active, and Perfect which is Kashmir based.
The Language Load
This unprecedented situation, many believe is the outcome of the change in Jammu and Kashmir’s language basket. Till October 2019, Urdu was Jammu and Kashmir’s official language though officially the English language was in wide use. Urdu has been the official language since 1889.
In October 2019, English, Urdu, Hindi, Kashmiri and Dogri were designated as official languages. Not more than one-fourth of Jammu and Kashmir can read and write Hindi. However, the majority is English and Urdu knowing. But the new official language basket has given officials and employers in the private and public sectors an option to have their own choices. It hardly matters who can or cannot understand it.
“Urdu has been official language till now, the document could have been written in that language but it is seen as the language of Muslims,” Muhammad Amin Bhat, President, Adbi Markaz Kamraz (AMK), a major culture body in Jammu and Kashmir, said. “It is the imposition of languages. Can they do this in the southern region of the country?”