Coimbatore: Much to her pleasant surprise, 49-year-old Padma, a contract sanitary worker with Periyanaickenpalayam panchayat, has of late noticed a change in the attitude of people, who had hitherto not bothered to talk to her.

Breaking the barrier, they have started appreciating her work. This is something she hadn’t earlier experienced in her 20 years as a sanitary worker. While her job portfolio remains the same as earlier – she pushes carts along with a co-worker through the streets of Periyanaickenpalayam, collecting garbage from residents at their door steps – the change in people’s attitude could be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Padma says, “Dignity is what we expected from people all these years. Now, I think the society has started to treat us with dignity. It just makes me feel important.”

She was one of the respondents of the rapid assessment survey that was carried out by the Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation and Support Programme, a technical support unit of the state government on sanitation, in association with Praxis Institute for Participatory Practises, a non-government organization, in April to assess their economic condition and find out how they were being treated after the lockdown.

As part of the survey, they had interviewed 20 sanitary workers in the two town panchayats of Periyanaickenpalayam and Narasimanaickenpalayam in the district and another 25 in Trichy.

According to the survey, 82% of the sanitary workers have expressed confidence that the society would treat them with dignity after the pandemic.

The workers have now realized their self-worth, which has further motivated them to do their work better, says Blessy Merlin Oviya, one of the survey coordinators.

“During the survey, we found workers were worried about managing their expenses with the existing salary, if there is an increase in prices of essential commodities. Most of them had taken loans from micro financiers and are paying monthly interest on that,” she said. About 39 survey respondents were temporary workers, who earn just Rs 10,000 a month. The permanent workers, meanwhile, earn Rs 17,000 to Rs 20,000 monthly.

“We are happy that the society has started to accept us. We also expect the government to increase our salary and provide us some benefits, as we are risking our lives and working during the pandemic,” says Padma.