This article was originally included on Dark.
Munesh is sitting on the side by the roadside near a crowded market in Chandigarh, a city in northern India, on a January day. She is surrounded by several other women, all of whom are cleaners hired by the Chandigarh municipal corporation. She shows the smartwatch she’s wearing and says, “Look, I didn’t even touch it, but the camera turned on.”
Munesh, who is considered to be in her 40s and, like many Indians, has only one name, is one of about 4,000 such nurses. The corporation makes them mandatory to wear smart watches, called human performance tracking systems, equipped with GPS trackers. Each has a microphone, a built-in SIM card for calling workers and a camera so that workers can send photos to their supervisors as proof of attendance. In Chandigarh, the project is run by Imtac India, an IT services company, at a cost of about $ 278,000 a year. Meanwhile, health workers say the government did not invest in personal protective equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic and that they have long worked without medical care and other vital social services.
From the moment the health workers turn on their watches until they turn them off, their GPS locations are monitored in real time by employees at the Command and Control Center of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. Workers appear as green dots on the computer screen, and as they move in their designated areas, the green dot moves in a line.
The tracker-mounted camera is what scares Munesh and many other health workers, who come mainly from the Dalit community or other Hindu lower castes. (In the Indian subcontinent, the caste system has long categorized and limited people’s prospects for education and work; cleaning or hygiene work has always been connected with the lower castes.) Wearing the tracker is mandatory. According to Krishan Kumar Chadha, former president of the Chandigarh Sanitation Workers’ Union, his removal carries a fine of half a daily wage, about $ 3 to $ 4, although Imtac India’s Abhai Hare denies such a fine. Workers must also take the devices home. They worry about personal data leaks and the inability to turn off trackers and cameras – even when in the bathroom.
One of leading programs It is up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring “digital innovation” to the country. As part of this Digital India initiative, Modi is pushing for cashless or digital transactions, digital presence and surveillance systems, such as the one in force for health workers. This digital attendance and tracking system is also part of another much-publicized government campaign: the Clean India Mission, also known as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which launched in October 2014 with a view to a clean and sanitary India.
These systems come with incentives for municipalities. Civic authorities with a digital presence system win additional points to an annual list of the “cleanest” cities in the country, an honor that gives them the right to brag. This online surveillance of health workers currently works in more than a dozen cities, including Indore, Nagpur, Navi Mumbai, Panchkula, Thane and Missouri.
The Chandigarh Municipal Corporation introduced GPS smartwatches for its health workers in 2019. The government says tracking devices bring transparency to the attendance system and prevent workers from allowing anyone else to join them.
But the workers were protesters since then, alleging that the watches violate their privacy and rights. For his part, Munesh says, “it’s like iron shackles around our necks.”
In August 2017 The Supreme Court of India, through a judgmentrecognizes privacy as a fundamental right.
“Among the fundamental rights granted to the people by the Constitution as a shield against excesses by the state, some rights are the basis of human existence,” the Supreme Court said in a ruling. “In this way, they are given the status of fundamental, inalienable rights, which are essential for the exercise of freedom. Freedom is the freedom of the individual to do whatever he wants, and the exercise of that freedom would be meaningless in the absence of privacy. ”
In 2018, a 10-member commission chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge presented a comprehensive data protection report. The Commission also proposed a draft data protection bill; a revised version is still pending before the Joint Parliamentary Committee and may be repealed in favor of new data privacy legislation.
As for the monitoring of health workers, “the Constitution does not allow such a thing,” said Pavan Dougal, a cyber law consultant and defense attorney for India’s Supreme Court. As such, Duggal claims, the sewer tracking system violates workers’ privacy.
Although a law passed in 2000 called the Indian Information and Technology Act allows digital surveillance or interception of citizens under certain circumstancesDuggal adds, hygienic trackers are “crystal clear illegal interceptions”.
A 29-year-old cleaner named Neerjo did not know that command center staff could track the location of her house through the tracker until her interviews with Undark. She was surprised. “We didn’t know that,” she says, looking at her colleagues in surprise. “We have never been told anything about the watch.” Undark repeatedly contacted the commissioner of the Chandigarh municipal corporation, Anindita Mitra, to check this and other details about the smartwatch program; calls and emails went unanswered.
However, Abhai Hare, business manager of Imtac India, a distribution partner of ITI Limited in Chandigarh, insists that GPS trackers do not break the law and follow all parameters for data security and confidentiality. He added that the devices are also used for state security, “so ITI Limited is very careful about these parameters.”
Before leaving his position as coordinator of the Chandigarh Human Performance Monitoring System project coordinator, Suraj Kumar also told Undark that neither smartphones nor cameras can be controlled remotely on smartwatches, which means that no one in The control center cannot turn them on.
But this does not allay the fears of health workers, especially women. Many say they avoid using the bathroom at work. Others put smartwatches in purses or pockets in advance – because, says a worker named Mitlesh, “sometimes we go to [the] toilet and the camera turn on automatically, causing problems. “About a dozen women who spoke to Undark shared the same concern.
And although CMC employees emphasize that health workers’ data is protected and deleted after three months, workers also complain that they often receive spam calls on their smartwatches. “One night I woke up to a call on my smartwatch around 11:30 [p.m.]”Says one worker, Shakuntala. “I picked him up and a man asked me who I was. I hung up knowing it was an unknown number, not someone from my office. How did you get my number if the SIM card was given by the Corporation?
Khare says GPS trackers do not allow unwanted calls. “It’s impossible for them to receive spam calls,” he said, adding that he had checked it himself.
Workers say the tracking device is invading their privacy. They are required to charge GPS devices at home every night to make sure the clocks stay on during business hours the next day. If the clock is turned off, workers are marked as absent, risking their salaries. According to Chad of the Chandigarh Sanitary Workers’ Union, the fine for losing a tracker ranges from about $ 107 to $ 134, almost their monthly salary.
Taking these devices home worsens the problems, Shakuntala said. “When I’m around the clock, I come to,” she added.
In each part of the city, a supervisor takes care of a team of health workers and notes their presence. A supervisor named Satyapal Singh told Undark that if a worker’s watch was turned off or displayed outside the area where he had to work, even if he was marked as present in the register, he would not be paid.
Pradip, who drives a sewage truck, says his boss called him once asking why he had been away for a week. Although he was at work at the Command Center, he was marked as inactive. It took Pradip a few days to prove he was on duty, he said: “Otherwise, my salary would have been reduced.
A few days before the Republic of India Day in January 2022, Chad, former president of the Chandigarh Sanitation Workers’ Union and current senior member, was sitting in his office, a makeshift tin canopy, in front of a busy market near the municipal corporation’s office. He sits with the workers as they talk about preparing for cleanliness before the special occasion.
But he also stressed the union’s presence at an upcoming protest against tracking devices.
He interrupts his conversation with a worker and points to his smart watch: “What is this watch?” He asks and leans forward. Then he stopped, sank into his chair, and replied, “This is a handcuff that enslaves the poor workers. Chada draws a reference from ancient times, saying that it is similar to the times when the lower castes were physically shackled and forced to do menial work.
Khare from IMTAC India can boast of the increased performance that the tracking system has achieved. He says some local authorities using smartwatches to track field workers have found employees who distribute their work to other people, and that it has managed to save huge amounts of government spending.
But workers complain not only of surveillance but also of poor working conditions. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, doctors and other health professionals in India sometimes face discrimination and harassment from working with infected patients. But they were also called “warriors on the front line” and promised medical insurance. Sanitary workers who have been on the roads keeping cities clean say they did not receive adequate personal protective equipment during the pandemic. In June 2020, regardless research of 214 health workers in several Indian states and metropolitan areas, 56 percent said they had not been given any safety instructions or training on Covid-19. (Twenty-six of the respondents did not answer this question.)
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, paramedics said, they had never been provided with any protective or protective equipment. They also say they do not receive paid leave, medical treatment or insurance.
Bezvada Wilson, national organizer of Safai Karmachari Andolan – a human rights organization that urges to end manual cleaning, a traditional practice reserved for Indians of certain castes – says that the observation, which he calls illegal, is dehumanizing. It reinforces the idea of slavery, he added, and stems from caste thinking.
“This is modern slavery,” he said, adding that India’s “dominant” castes still view health workers as untouchables. As if that wasn’t enough, this tracking device only reinforced the idea. “
Before her lunch break is over, Munesh asks for help to check how many steps she has taken so far that day. Since her shift began at 7 a.m., her tracker shows she has walked 2,231 steps in the first half of her shift. There are four hours left and one of her colleagues says they can’t afford a break. Even if they finish their work early, they should appear on the move on the screen.
As soon as her lunch break is over, Munesh prepares to leave. She picks up a broom, walks to the bustling market, and bends down to sweep up the trash.