Swachchakar Dignity

A blog to give you first hand reports on the conditions of Swachchkar community, their issues and concerns. A campaign for complete abolition of scavenging practices and brigning forth the growing voices of change with in the community.

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Location: Delhi, India, India

Working as a full time human rights defender. Have made several documentries and also written books on the issues of human rights, Dalits, women and minorities. Though,I am a humanist and defend the right of an individual to be religious, However, I firmly believe that there is nothing like 'God's Word' or final truth. All God's words can be challenged. We defend the rights of dissenters. Democracy can only flourish when people respect dissent and resolve their issues through dialogue. I personally feel that religious laws cannot override secular laws of a nation and that society has to accept wide diversity across the world. However, parochialism in the name of diversity should not be supported at all.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Death of Ethics



By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

There has been no news from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art regarding the deaths of three sanitation workers who died in the campus on July 14th while cleaning the sewage line near to AC plant. The families of deceased have not heard anything from the company which has Rajesh as supervisor. The National Human Rights Commission and other government bodies need to act on it as one of the prime witnesses of the issue is Chhotu, 30 who was part of the team and survived. In an interaction, Chhotu and his mother provided horrific details of the incidents and how they have been treated at the hospital.
It was early morning at 7.30 am on that day when Chhotu along with his friends Rajesh and others started from Trilokpuri for the ‘work’. He was not told the nature of the work. He was informed that he would have to clean water tank, he said. At 8.30 am they reached Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art and the watchman at the gate took them to the AC plant side to carry out the work.

Chhotu was perhaps the youngest and hence was worked more than his elderly colleagues.  There was no big deal in cleaning the five pits as they did not have gas but just ‘water’. They had cleared five pits. Bahadur, the watchman of the Centre  helped them. They had pump also but that was not used fully. Bahadur left after the five ‘holes’ were cleared. It was five in the evening. A couple who too was working had gone out to have tea.

Chhottu felt that it was time to finish the last one too and go. As he entered the sixth pit, there was gas inside it. He could not face it and fell unconscious. His friends from the above were watching. So, they pulled him up but the person who tried to save him actually died.  He was Satish. Each one of them was trying to save but actually died. Satish, Ashok and Rajesh died trying to save each other facing the terrible gas. There was no staff of IGNCA. The couple who had gone out for tea had returned. There was commotion as they called police at 100 number. It came fast and took all the victims to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital where Satish, Ashok and Rajesh were declared dead while Chhotu was admitted. He was responding to the treatment.


The death of medical ethics

Chhotu’s parents at Trilokpuri were informed late in the night and both of them rushed to hospital. His wife was pregnant and got worried. His mother was in a very disturbed condition. At the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, they found them unwelcomed. The doctors were not interested in them. The mother rushed here and there but finally found the boy in the ward. He was unrecognizable as the body was completely oil and absolute black. None in the staff could think of cleaning him or washing his dirt. In the early morning when Chhotu came to senses, he saw his mother and asked her about his children. ‘They are all fine’, said the mother. He then inquired about Rajesh and others and his mother said that they too were fine. His mother was worried about his condition and hence felt that it was good not to inform him. Suddenly, he got up and went outside the ward. He was feeling unease and uncomfortable. It was very unfortunate and shocking that when he, returned to his bed after 10 minutes, the doctor and the nurse did not allow him. They were asked to leave. The doctors did not even give them the papers of their treatment and what he needs. His mother begged but the doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital did not bother to address.

Both mother sun due remained at the hospital only. Now, Chhotu had realized that his three other colleagues were dead as the families of them were already in the hospital. He was in deep shock but fortunately he could tolerate all this. Despite in terrible mental and physical condition, he helped the families of the deceased and was there with them till they had got the bodies of the three victims.

If we see the pattern of treatment meted out to all these victims including Chhotu, then one thing is clear that the doctors in India suffer from prejudices and perhaps not ready to touch those who clean the human excreta and other garbage in our cities as well as go deep into these sewage lines, the modern day night-soil. All of them were acknowledged as ‘unknown’ and their concerns were not addressed. Their families got the dead bodies at 12 pm next day. One can understand the amount of seriousness that the doctors showed. They were not given any report and when they asked for Post Mortem Report, they were asked to come after 40 days. Why are the doctors denying the patient the post mortem report?  Shockingly, the cause of death is not mentioned in the certificate issued so far.

  
Some More Fact

After speaking to Chhotu, who is the witness to the event following facts emerged and must be inquired.
The entire work was being supervised by Rajesh who is no more. He took them and promised Rs 300/- each for cleaning. They were promised that there was no sewage pipe but water pits at the Centre.
The other fact is coming to the notice is that Rajesh was employed at the IGNCA by a private company who has so far not approached the family after death. It needs to be seen as why IGNCA has not spoken on the issue. Who is responsible for the deaths of these people?
Why has the police not filed an FIR and if yes, why the copies of FIR not provided to the family. It needs to be seen whether the FIR contain any case of negligence against civic authorities or IGNCA.  What are the rehabilitation measures done so far? After the privatization process, contractors have given it to subcontractors and hence no social security for those who enter. Most of the time, it is the younger member or older one, who are not employed or are wage labour enter into the pit just for earning a few rupees.
Despite High Court’s order in the past, why were these people not informed about the last pit which was not really of ‘water’ but contained ‘oil’ which was really dangerous and contained gas. Chhotu informed us that till the five pits were covered, the watchman Bahadur was with them but when they opened the last pit, very suspiciously Bahadur left that time. The question is whether Bahadur had known what contained in that pit and if yes then why did he not inform them. They were clearly told that unless they clear each of these pits, no payment would be made to them.

Defied death

Chhotu defied death. He is a daily wage worker. He parents are sweepers at different places. His mother works in a local hospital and is too concerned about him as he is the only son. Fortunately, they have their own house unlike other colleagues who died. Chhotu’s mother clearly does not want him to do this work.  ‘I would have died if anything had happened to him’. She is more than happy. Just next day after Chhotu came back from this danger zone, his wife delivered a baby girl and now his mother says,’ the daughter has brought her father back, so she is a special child. He is now father of four children and one shudder to think the event which happened in his life.  His daughter was born one day after this horrific incident had happened. So for mother, this daughter has brought her father back. 

Chhotu’s story is of deprivation, denial and rejection. It is a social violence brutally legalized by the state apparatus which has failed to provide protection to Dalits all over the country. The state which claims to work on the secular principles of its constitution has not been able to construct a secular bureaucracy which treats all of its citizens without any preconceived notions.

There are serious questions from this incident and I am sure it is not the last despite our wishes because neither the people nor the civic authorities have any civic sense here. They go scot free because the power elite have not taken these issues seriously. There are provisions for protection and punishment for violating yet shamelessly nothing moves. Can the NDMC, MCD, Delhi government or Ministry of Social Justice keep quiet on the issue since the entire sanitation work is now ‘privatised’. The problem is that things remain the same. The death occurs in the heart of Delhi and at the premium institution of India. It has shown the callousness of our police which did not show any concern of the people. We don’t even know what they are doing as far as this case was concern. The story of RML doctors is well known who did not even bother to give full treatment to Chhotu. He is still going to the doctor at the Lal Bahadur hospital in East Delhi. He is still not well and faint but the authorities have no botheration. One does not know whether they have any shame now even so many days of the death of three ‘murders’ which has been committed to keep our city safe. Where are the masks, gloves and machines meant for this work? We hear so much of mechanization process and yet we send people from a particular community to die in these gas chambers without proper protection measures or medical insurance.  Manual scavenging is prohibited legally and on papers and in the heart of our capital city, the community which has been compelled to do this work is dying daily without any dignified response to their issues including rehabilitation.


A challenge to human values and constitution


The deaths in sewage system and subsequent treatment given to those who died and those who continue to suffer doing this inhuman work need to be properly investigated. The role of each agency must be clearly mentioned. Doctors and other medical staff, Delhi Jal Board, New Delhi Municipal Corporation or Municipal Corporation of Delhi, private contractors should not be allowed to go unquestioned. Let there be heavy penalties on them. Let them answer for the deaths of all these people and maltreatment to them. Will the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Scheduled Caste wake up? They take up suo-motto actions which are published in newspapers but what happens to things which are not taken up by the media seriously? It is wakeup call and time for a decisive battle against all form of  manual scavenging has come which will not disappear just with mechanization process but will need a complete overhauling of our social value system as well as strict implementation of anti-discriminatory laws including SC-ST prevention of atrocities act. In the meantime, we wish the authorities to answer to the families of the victims as what is their planning for them. Who is responsible for these deaths and what is being done to the families of these people who languish in humiliation and uncertainty of life. Each death in the sewage line or toilets is an upfront to our constitution as it is the very negation of society based on equity, liberty and fraternity as envisaged by Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar.



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Friday, July 19, 2013

The ‘death Holes’ of India



By Vidya  Bhushan Rawat



The news of three deaths of sanitation workers in sewage line at the prime location of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art (IGNCA) in Delhi on July 14th, has passed off ‘peacefully’ as the country is ‘busy’ in many things and media has no time to raise the issue as these are not ‘political deaths’, to raise pitch on our studios. The government is unable to bring new law so far as the parties have no time to pass it. Our huge growth and infrastructure developmental activities are unable to find machine to clean sewage lines and we need a particular community of Balmikis to enter into it. And poverty, isolation, oppression force the young men of the community to enter into these ‘hellish’ ‘death holes’ or ‘shit bombs’ knowing fully well the dangers involved in it. Authorities continue to get their things done despite deaths of hundreds of workers in past few years in these ‘death holes’ and the responsible civic agencies like Delhi Jal Board, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Corporations put blame on others. So far not a single official has been booked for this criminal negligence. Question is how long will we allow these incidents go scot free without any one being made accountable for these deaths? Secondly, what are the rehabilitation measures for those who have died in these plants and thirdly when will we see a complete prohibition of people entering into these ‘death-traps’ It is time to ask questions and fix responsibility on people. Sewage work is another name of manual scavenging for which government of India and state governments are claiming that they have ‘eliminated’ from their states. It is the new form of manual scavenging much more dangerous as it completely kills human spirit, degrade them and compel them to do things for purely economic reasons. No one would like to enter into these death traps. The death of three young workers in Delhi and the treatment meted out to them in death itself shows how much dirt exists in our mind. That those who make our cities clean are treated worse than animals in their death too. That their bodies are treated as ‘unknown’ by the police and medical doctors and families are not informed adequately about their deaths. The height of negligence is when IGNCA authorities refuse to accept, tender apology or even speak to the families of these deceased. So far none of the so-called authorities have visited them. Families are left to fetch themselves. It is a story of our criminal neglect, poverty, desperation, isolation, caste indignities, racist society and barbarianism. We must hang our head in shame.

The death in the hole

It was Sunday and Rajesh 35 decided to go to work thinking that he would earn a few bucks more to bring to his family. He took along with him Ashok, Satish  and  Chhotu to Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art (IGNCA) in the Lutyen’s sprawling Delhi for the days ‘cleaning’ operation. Little did they know that this would be perhaps the last ‘working’ day for them? They were supposed to clean 6 sewage pits near the AC plant in the IGNCA and hence they started early morning at 7 am from the home so that he could finish that on time around 5 pm in the evening and get back home to do his additional work of Rickshaw pulling which was essential for him to run his family. It is not well known so far as whether they were hired by the company or whether IGNCA had subcontracted the work to any company. It needs thorough investigations and criminal case of murder must be file d for those responsible for this.

In the semi urban locality of Trilokpuri nearly 50,000 Balmiki families live to earn their livelihood through various kinds of engagements. A majority of them now work with the private contractors after the sanitary work was privatized. The MCD and NDMC jobs became lucrative and out of reach for most of them. Many of them actually work in absence of those who ‘sign’ in the register. The signatories get the salaries but most of these youngsters work for someone and get a meager sum of money for their survival. Some others are destined to work with private contractors as they can’t get any other job. The private contractors squeeze them and pay well below the minimum wages and take a minimum of 8-12 hours’ work a day against all the norms of the government. There is no social security benefit as well as no leaves and holidays for them. They can be called at any moment and even there it is not known how many of them are truly registered as employees. So, most of them actually, despite working regularly with these private contractors are treated as daily wage workers and hence their condition is pathetic.

Rajesh was a supervisor in the private company and was earning Rs five thousand a month. Living along with his wife, a son and a daughter, he was the sole bread-winner of the family. A few months back he had lost his elder daughter who was about eighteen years of age. Just two months ago, he got his second daughter married. The neighbor says that he was a very hard working man, who after coming from work used to ply rickshaw till the night. ‘How much can you really make in Rs 5000/- when you have to shell out nearly three thousands for rent, says an elderly woman in the neighborhood. He was under tremendous pressure as his second daughter got married two months ago and we know he had taken a loan of Rs 100,000/-.  The pressure is so much that the family has not been able to return the money. It is this reason that Rajesh and many like him actually work in the evening and ready to exploit their bodies further.
In the first floor house lives this family. Rajesh’s son is too young to understand. He does not go to school. I asked why,’ mere paas vardi nahi hai’, he said, I don’t have school uniform’. And one can understand the pain in his eyes in saying so. We know how the Balmiki students are humiliated in the schools. They are normally asked to sit at the last and if they come late the teachers beat them and scold them in best known expletives.

The family was therefore aware that he was going for some extra work. There was no information at home till late in the evening at 11 pm two boys came and asked them about the where about of Rajesh and his number. In the night police came to inform them about his death. They died in sewage line but surprisingly and shockingly the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art is shamelessly ignoring the facts about their presence. Rajesh parents are no more. His wife is in a state of deep shock and his son has no mean to go to school. His brothers live elsewhere so for this family now life has become more challenging and traumatic. The family does not even have a ration card leave alone of having a BPL card. One does not know what are these card made of and for whom if the most oppressed of the people have no access to it.

Similar scenes were visible at the house of Ashok who too was living on a rented place. With 4 children, two daughters and two sons, Ashok was paid Rs Five Thousand for his work every month by the company. His father is too old and his younger brother was worried about him particularly his growing daughter who is expected to get married in November. His family is living in a difficult shape as they pay Rs 4000/- as rent and his two sons are too young and don’t know whether they would be able to go school again or not. The families do not know what to do and where to go, who to approach. They become vulnerable to exploitation further.

Bodies treated as ‘Unknown’

According to preliminary information from the hospital three persons, Rajesh, Satish and Ashok were brought dead there by the Parliament Street Thana Police. It is surprising, shocking and disturbing that there is no information filled up in the police form and the initial form provided to the family of diseased looks as if they are ‘unknown’ and found dead lying in the street. Three deaths were recorded everywhere as unknown which means neither the IGNCA nor the contractors have anything to do with this issue at present. If that is true than how can police take up this matter without registering a case of negligence against those responsible for it? Is it just the case of negligence or our lack of humanity and basic dignity provided to Balmikis for doing all the work which none other can do? It raises basic question of how we treat our people who doing the most dangerous work. Did the police make any arrest in this regard? Did they speak to any one on the issue or just want to close the file? Were these people working without any body’s knowledge? How can they enter sewage pit when it is prohibited? Who is responsible to manage and maintain sewage lines? Can the IGNCA get away without any penalty? The three workers were working with private contractors so it needs to be investigated whether they were working on the guidelines of the private contractors. If yes, then what was the role of the authorities to stop such things?

We all know that Delhi and other parts of India shamelessly use the poverty of people to fulfill their ulterior agenda. The manual scavenging in India continue and is on the increase and without any sincere effort to eliminate it. How can the authorities treat the persons who were doing this work as ‘unknown’ and lawaris? Rajesh, Ashok and all others had not only their mobile phones with them but had some cash as well as their company Identity Card. They would not have entered the IGNCA air-conditioned block without the entry at the gate and if it is not entered then why? The pain is that we have seen deaths for years without changing the pattern of our governance system as well as social attitude.

Who is responsible for these deaths?

After showing these deaths as ‘Unknown’ not a single official from either IGNCA or the private contractor where Rajesh and other worked visited their homes. And it is till yesterday evening 6 pm when I was speaking the families had neither the copy of the FIR nor any other details as how their people died.  Leave aside asking about their people, there is something fishy as all the families were not informed properly by any responsible authority about this ‘accident’, which is clearly a murder.  The families are shocked that no one from these ‘responsible’ bothered to ask about them.

The deaths seem to occur at 8.30 in the evening but families were not informed properly about this. In fact, people were sent casually to find out the whereabouts of these people as well as their contact details. It is late in the night when they were informed by the police about the ‘accident’ and asked them to visit Ram Manohar Lohia. Ashok’s brother actually informed that they got information next morning. It is shameful that our authorities do everything to kill the information and hence any investigation further becomes a mere formality.

It is well known that after such pressure a token amount could be given to the next of diseased yet the way everyone has behaved here shows the criminal apathy of governance, civil society and media. Except for DNA, there was not even news on the issue. The news which die next day and none try to find as what happen to families who’s everything is lost.

Impartial Inquiry and comprehensive rehabilitation of the families 

Rajesh, Ashok and Satish are no more. None cry for them except their family people. Government of India has not been able to bring a bill in Parliament to eliminate manual scavenging and rehabilitate the manual scavengers. It is shocking negligence by each apparatus of our system that the families of these people suffer in agony and uncertainty. On the one hand we want to stop it through legislation and the other side there is no security for them. Strangely and disgustingly their families do not possess ration cards here as they live on rented houses. The government facilities do not reach them. Fact of the matter is, it is difficult for any Balmiki family to get a house on rent in a ‘normal’ locality. The community which should have been on our agenda to eliminate not just discrimination but caste discrimination to be precise is suffering all humiliation.


While an impartial inquiry is important yet the most important is fixing up of responsibility and rehabilitation of the families who lost their members.  You cannot allow people to die in suffocation and suffering and hence the government must compensate adequately to the families. It is time when bodies like NHRC, NCSC must take suo-moto action against the private contractors, NDMC/MCD /Jal Board officials for gross dereliction of duty and negligence resulting in deaths of three young men. The government on the other hand must come out with comprehensive rehabilitation measures completely banning entry of human being into these ‘death holes’ as well as other forms of manual scavenging. It is gross violation of human rights to live with dignity and show our caste and racial prejudices, a ‘divine reservation’ which has been meant for Balmiki community. It would be better if the government address the issue seriously and show some sign of action at the ground before other deaths take place in these death traps. 

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Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Ugly reality of Gujarat





By Vidya Bhushan Rawat


The Dalit priest theory of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is an aim to deflect the attention from the real issues of the Balmiki community which is isolated and face severe untouchability. Modi has rarely spoken against caste discrimination and the historical injustice done to Dalits hence it is nothing but plain hypocrisy to grab positive headlines.


Much has been written about shining Gujarat in the media and now it is time to unleash social ‘revolution’ hence the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ is on his mission to ‘train’ the dalits for performing ‘rituals’ like marriage, birth ceremony or in temples. His government has kept an amount of Rs 22.50 lakh for this purpose so that people particularly from the Valmiki community could be provided ‘knowledge’ of ‘Sanskrit’ so that they can do it independently. These students would be trained in performing rituals at two universities including Somnath Sanskrit Vidyapeeth. In the period of millions, a tiny sum kept for ‘social revolution’ shows the real intents of those behind it and how serious they are in their efforts. Is this effort aimed at bringing equality in the society or is it aimed to further co-opt the Balmikis or manual scavengers into the broader Hindu fold?

The step taken by Narendra Modi and his government are being projected by his ‘chums’ as ‘revolutionary’ and reformists. Some say, he is an OBC and hence it is a great effort to bring all the Dalits and OBCs into the Hindu fold with great respect and dignity. Addressing a meeting of Valmikis Narendra Modi actually termed them as the ‘priests’ of ‘our cities’. You keep our cities clean and hence you are no less than priests. Sound good words and Modi who is being touted as ‘future’ ‘prime minister’ of India is now on a ‘social reform’ mission. He did it with aadivasis with organizing ‘Sabari mela’ and now with this ‘Dalit priest’ theory he is again trying to coopt them into the Hindu fold and subside their anger against the government for its abject failure for addressing the issue of the Dalits particularly manual scavengers in Gujarat.

Since 1992, Gujarat government has declared that manual scavenging is absolutely abolished in the state. Ofcourse, caste system and untouchability are closely link and none can claim that Gujarat does not have a caste system or untouchability does not exist in Gujrat whether it is owned by Modi or Gandhi. In the din of Hindu Muslim affair, Gujarat successfully hid the dirtiest realities existing in its cities and towns. It was quietly forgotten that Gujarat’s caste society is still powerful and has successfully stalled the march for change among the Dalits and OBCs as whenever there are assertion for their rights and dignity among them, the caste Hindus even use all tactics including economic blockade of those people. The fact is that Modi’s Gujrat is only for the upper caste Hindus who have deep contempt for the Dalits, aadivasis and backward communities, apart from Muslims.

Questions may be posed to Modi and his government on the status of manual scavenging in Gujarat which he and his predecessors have denied having any presence. The fact is that there are numerous reports, videos, photographs that the dirty practice can be seen in Ahmedabad itself. It is shameful that people are still cleaning human excreta by hand and that in a state which claims to be a model state and whose chief minister is looking himself as the future prime minister of India. No problem in his thinking to be the prime minister of India but why does he want us to believe that Gujarat is a different state then rest of us. Yes, it is different because the forces of social change are not active and aggressive in Gujarat and have tamely succumbed to religious-capitalist upper caste groups in the state.

According to census 2011, Gujarat has over 2,500 households where manual scavenging is practiced. The number amuses me as it reflect a fact that Gujarat government does not have money to develop flushed toilets in these 2500 houses if that is the only case. The reality is more frightening actually. The same census survey reveals that out of 1.2 crore households in Gujarat, over 64 lakh do not have drainage facility. Actually, 52 lakh homes have no toilets at all and therefore they must either be defecating in open or using the public toilets. It is found that over 49 lakh people actually defecate in open in Gujarat which shows the standard of shining Gujarat.  There are only 2 lakh public toilets in that state which is planning to give Indian ‘alternative’.

These data are easily countered by social activists and research institutions which have done their own surveys even when we can easily say that too have leakages and unsubstantiated figure like national average yet according to Tata Institute of Social Sciences study there are over 12,506 manual scavengers in Gujarat. According to a report published in the Indian Express, it says,’ study says a total of 2,456 households with 12,506 individuals in Gujarat are involved in manual scavenging. Of this, 4,333 (2,755 males, 1,578 females) persons are directly involved in the practice, the rest being children, women, old, unemployed and others. Region wise, Saurashtra leads with 928 households, followed by central Gujarat (569), north Gujarat (529), and south Gujarat (430). Over 50 per cent are involved in removing open defecation, mostly with bare hands’. The fact is that this study was conducted only in municipal corporation areas of over ten thousand population and therefore has left a huge number of smaller towns, villages which are outside the ambit of municipalities and where caste discrimination and untouchability are equally prevalent along with manual scavenging.
While we must appreciate the study, the fact is that Gujarat is a deeply hierarchical society and caste prejudices prevail in that society. The Dalits face more marginalization and even not allowed in the temple. Though, people like us believe that temple entry movements are not really to help the Dalits but to keep them subjugated under the brahmanical system and somehow stamp the ugly reality of caste prejudices.

Gujarat claim to have no dearth of money and Gujarat is shining economically then why such a huge number of Gujaratis are still defecating in open. Is not it a shame but the hidden reality behind this open defecation is the economic status of those who defecate in open. Yes, it is the state with very high number of children suffering from malnutrition and the chief minister mentioned that the girl eat less to look slim. The question is why has Gujarat government failed to eradicate manual scavenging in the state and where is the issue of caste discrimination and untouchability in the Hindutva scheme of things. If it is a model state of Hindutva then how do Balmikis and other dalits live in Gujarat? During a study on Indira Awas Yojna, several years back, I found, how the Balmikis were never really given houses along with other communities. In fact, to save the communities from mixing up, Modi and his protégé actually developed a Balmiki Awas Yojna and houses under this scheme were absolutely isolated and at the last point of a village. Can a Balmiki be allowed to enter in the house of a Patel or any Brahmin in Gujarat? Does Gujarat not have honor killings in the name of castes? Are all the temples open for Dalits?

The question is why does Modi want the Balmikis or Dalits to study Sanskrit? How many of Gujarati Brahmins are studying Sanskrit. Why not open a school for them. Modi want to the Balmikis to perform in the temples. A good idea would be to hand over the temples and their managements of temples such as Somnath, Ambaji and Akshar Dham to the Balmikis so that they have enough income to run their families and favor others. Dalits and any other community today need modern education, access to good universities and availability of jobs in the government as well as private sectors. It would be a great achievement if Modi’s enterprenual Gujarat can stop the caste discrimination within the campuses of Universities and colleges, in companies and factories?

These are desperate attempt to hide the real issues of untouchability and caste system. The caste forces will work over time to hide these realities and hence chose soft target. They know it well that even if Balmikis or Dalits become priests, it is not going to open ‘inter caste’ marriages for them or marriages ceremonies in general for them. Most of them will be confined to their own community and the other way round help the Brahmins who refuses to go there to perform these rituals. As far as temples are concern, there are hundreds of temples where nobody comes and the priests suffer as the powerful temples will always be in the hands of caste Hindus. Basically, Narendra Modi is trying to halt the march of dignity of Dalits through these cunning methods so that people do not question the historical injustice done to them. If he is concerned about Balmikis, has he ever spoken about the untouchability and caste discrimination that is the order of day in Gujarat?

The temple entry movement and putting people back to religious rituals are nothing but deeply flawed and cunning move by the power elite to hide the ugly reality which they have played and their inability to condemn the gross violation of human rights of Dalits through such practices. A few days back, another ‘revolutionary’ took the Balmiki women to Kumbha for a bathing in the Ganges. It was claimed that after bathing in the Ganga, they have challenged the status quo. The same champions did not bother to see the gross violation of basic dignity and human rights of over seven thousands Safai karmcharis during Kumbha fair. The issue of untouchability and caste discrimination cannot be solved by these juggleries and treacherous ways without questioning the authority of varnashram dharma and its divisive philosophy which is anti-human and anti-human rights.

Those who want to install the caste-ist vaidik values on us cannot really have love and respect for human rights and that way Gujarat government’s Dalit priest project is nothing but anti Dalit and full of hypocrisy as it want to keep them in the Hindu fold without demolishing the caste hierarchies and caste system. Is it possible to have an equality based human society without the demolition of caste system? Does Modi want to demolish caste system or he want to keep it further to perpetuate his agenda on everyone. Will he ever apologize to Balmikis and other dalits for years of discrimination and untouchability which has divine sanction as he claim to represent the saffron brigade and the ideology of Hindutva?




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Friday, January 11, 2013

Dignified Alternatives

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat It is disgraceful that the Elimination of Manual Scavenging Practices Bill has not been able to see the light of the day. There has been no concern shown by any political party. India’s biggest apartheid is hidden and ignored by the political class cutting across the party lines and this ‘don’t care attitude’ is visible with those who claim to work for the rights of Dalits and marginalized. There are no discussions on the issue in any of these identity forums. That is a tragedy of how we treat the most important issue of our time in utter contempt and neglect. Our media would not cover the incident, as the journalists have no courage to see the ugly reality of our caste system and criminal society, which feels that it is the job of these ‘women’ to clean it. Long ago, an international channel had to postpone the shooting of this hidden apartheid of India as they were denied visa by the government. International news agencies have been eager to understand as what will happen when the Bill comes for discussion in Parliament. Unfortunately, not much was discussed in the Indian media except for a few news items when the Supreme Court took note of it and felt agonized as why the Parliament has not yet passed the bill. Is it because Balmikis or manual scavengers are not a powerful ‘vote-bank’ for any political party? Will the rights and wrongs always be decided on the basis of number of people and their ‘political’ strength or on the basis of our horrible human right records in that front? Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise when a French TV channel showed interest to visit us and see some of the changes that we have been able to make in district Fatehpur. We were clear that merely showing the pathetic side won’t work all the time. If we claim to have been working for years on the issue then it is time to show what alternatives we have been able to build for people. The Garima Kendra, run by Social Development Foundation in the heart of Fatehpur city is in activation for the past three years and given new hope to young girls of Balmiki community. Many of them are learning computers and sewing while others are learning Zari work. So, our aim was to give a glimpse of how manual scavenging practices are still happening and how does the society perceive this and what could be the alternatives. It is the failure of us as a civil society to provide alternative, as depending on the government at all times will not get us anywhere. The TV crew arrived in the morning and we all were on the mission to capture a glimpse of the work in a village Korba in Tehsil Bindaki. The village has a population of about two thousand five hundred. Situated 23 kilometers away from the district headquarter; the village has Muslims as the dominant community with other Dalit communities living on margin. Sunita has already been out for her daily ‘farming’. Here most of the families use the term ‘Kisani’ for the manual scavenging work. A mother of 5 children, Sunita has pain her eyes as none has ever given a thought of her issues. She too is a woman of independent India but how many of the ‘Indian’ women have ever thought of her as her counterpart. She has a lot of problems with the work. She feels anguished and down, yet, there is no ‘option’ for her. Who will feed her children, is the question? What will be the future of her children? “I am living this life for 25 years. It is death at every moment.” This is the gift of her mother in law who wanted to preserve the family tradition. The Muslim occupants there are not in great shape, yet, they feel that it is the ‘duty’ of Sunita and others like her to do the work. “Who will do this work, if she does not do it”, said a family woman defending her right to keep the toilet.“Let the government provide us money and we will make it”. “But if the government does not give you money then what would you do?” we asked. “We will continue to get this work done by these people?” “But don’t you think, this is a bad work, an inhuman practice to clean the shit of others?” “Yes, it is bad. Then why don’t you clean your latrine yourself?” And the woman laughs sheepishly. “How can we do it?” And then the arrogant answer is “we pay them money in lieu of the work. They are not doing it free of cost. If we do not pay them, they will die of hunger. It is a work for which they are being paid.” And this is the story of so many other places. Unfortunately they have the same arguments and behavior when exposed in public. The crowd gathers everywhere. Young boys gather and pass comments on the crew. Of course, not very harmful but realizing that they would be in trouble, they question us as why are we doing it. “We want the government to make new toilets for you so that you live a better life”, I tell one of them. “Ok, please tell the government to do it fast.” So, people want better facilities for themselves but not for a moment they feel the pain of another person. That the particular work is meant for a particular community is the most gruesome reality of our time. And in this humiliating practice of caste discrimination and untouchability, we have found Muslim localities are no less responsible than others. Here Muslim elite also behave like caste Hindus. The economic condition of these Muslim families is not very great, yet, the mind of a caste Hindu exists inside them when they treat the Balmiki women in utter contempt. There is no apology or anguish if you find a 15-year-old girl engaged in this inhuman practice. And many of them have been doing it for years. The government has not reached them. The civil society is the upper caste monster in India. India is in a crisis and need a bigger surgery. Two diverse values, yet, when the issue of untouchability comes, Muslims too treat the Dalits as untouchables, though as a religion Islam does not sanctify any kind of discrimination based on caste and untouchability; yet it is frequent. In fact, manual scavenging is prevalent in the areas with larger Muslim population as their economic condition is difficult but social taboos force women to remain inside. With their inability to build up flushed latrines, they are compelled to get these lowly paid manual scavengers. The compensation for cleaning human excreta with hand is about Rs 20/- per month per family. In such a harrowing situation where keeping a ‘toilet’ has become ‘honor’ but keeping women who clean your shit is a proud position, how can we think that there could be any saner debate on the issue of manual scavenging? People don’t even think that this work needs to be abolished and that these fateful women are doing a thing, which doesn’t exist anywhere in the civilized world. Government of India has failed to eradicate it as they do not know what alternative could be given to the people and most of the governments’ funds are embezzled in bureaucratic issues. The government actually can provide funds but that does not come from heart. It tackles the issue economically and not as a social concern. Manual scavenging is an issue related to not only our divisive and discriminatory caste system but also violates the basic principles of human dignity and human rights. The problem is that the people from manual scavenging community face discrimination daily and cannot opt for any profession of their choice as caste based prejudices are very high. In many places, in the government schools, when the former manual scavengers who had left their ‘traditional’ occupation were given a job as cook, the students refused to eat food cooked by them. The caste Hindus withdrew their children from the school. Alternative model Fatehpur has seen lot of caste violence in the past. The district is predominantly situated on the banks of Yamuna between Kanpur and Allahabad. The conditions remain difficult and hence when Dheeraj Kumar and his team started working for the rights of the Community, it changed the perception as the voices were from within the community. The young got motivated when Social Development Foundation started a Garima Kendra exclusively for women who left manual scavenging and their children. Of course, it also engaged the most impoverish Muslim women working on Zardosi. So the Zardosi women, working for their daily bread, sat with Dalit women giving rise to a new movement. There are initial hitch ups, as caste discrimination has not left Muslims too despite all claims of equality in Islam. Muslim women, who knew Zari work, has started coming to our center and starting working. The Dalit women who left their manual scavenging work has also started coming and learning the Zari work. Many of them are learning sewing too. Some girls are learning computer skills also. The impact is very high. The demand for learning sewing and zari work is growing in Fatehpur. The Garima Kendra i.e. ‘Dignity Centre’ has been supported by us. In the past three years, over 300 women have left manual scavenging work in 10 Gram Sabhas. Many of them have now linked themselves with dignity movement and learning sewing and Zari work. Our attempt is to reach their villages so that they do not need to travel far away from their homes. More than 20 girls from the community have learnt computer in last one year. 10 women, who had left manual scavenging and have been coming from faraway places, have completely learnt sewing and can do their own work. Some of them are also getting work from the market. The women who are engaged in Zardosi work too are now gaining a new confidence. The process for formation of a union is on though it is difficult because of various religious circumstances, yet, daily 60 women come to learn and work at the center, which is remarkable. In the two shifts, Garima Kendra actually gave them the opportunity to look inwards and fight for their right. They are organizing and we are hopeful that a union of the Zardosi workers would be formed for their rights. The Garima Kendra has given hope to both Muslim women, who are working for their livelihood and preserving our art of Zari, and the Dalit women who were engaged in manual scavenging and have left their work looking for dignified alternatives. Their only wish is that if such support remains continuous for at least five years, they would grow in a much better way. It is a great achievement. Many have designed Zari work. They may not be experts but they are designing cloths. My wish is to have an exhibition of the work being done by them at certain point of time. There is lesson for all of us that positive work will pave the way. It does not mean that we should not fight for our rights from the government and authorities but we cannot totally depend on the government. Let us have our own initiatives so that the discriminatory practice of untouchability and caste becomes history. It may be a tall claim but then we cannot really struggle against anything which is impossible’. The battle for a better alternative human life has just begun.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Plights of Muslim Dalits in Jammu & Kashmir


Caste, Religion And Untouchability By Vidya Bhushan Rawat Ashaq Ali Wattal hails from a community which has the sole ‘right’ to clean the toilets in Jammu and Kashmir. Hailing from Doda, Wattal moans at the continuous negligence by the state government and its authorities towards the community of manual scavengers in Jammu and Kashmir. His father was a manual scavenger working with municipality but now has left the work and does bamboo work. Ashaq has passed 10th standard and does electric work in his town. He was in Delhi to speak about his people and the discrimination they face in their daily life. According to Wattal, nobody wants to keep relations with them though there is no discrimination in the mosque during the Namaz. Despite, living in a Muslim-majority Kashmir, it is strange that those who talk about nondiscrimination in Islam never ever thought that this issue needs immediate attention. Why has there been no movement among the Muslims to fight for the rights of the Muslim Dalits. A continuous denial will not work in this regard. Wattal says that his father used to work part-time in the municipality and could not even get Rs 1,000/- a month when he retired from his job. He says his maternal aunt Misha Begum has been working with a government hospital for over 40 years and her daily routine is from early morning till afternoon yet at the moment she gets just Rs 700/- per month. The problem with most of the Wattals is that they are forced to this work as there is no other opportunity available for them. The payments are below the norm, as the maximum for part time work as sweeper still fetches Rs 200/- per month in the government sector, and about Rs 300-Rs 500/- per month in private. It is strange that the Jammu and Kashmir government has no policy for these people. After much persuasion they are placed among the Scheduled Caste category and yet when the question of reservation comes, they never get any opportunity in the government. And therefore despite a huge population of about several lakhs, it would be a rare site to see a Wattal community person outside their traditional occupation. Ashaq has three sons and he is determined to educate them. In fact two of them are in the University. The fight for social justice and dignity continues. Shahid Hussain had difficult time. He used to work as sweeper but never accepted his defeat. He passed his 10th standard and got a job in a Nationalized Bank. With his determination he completed his graduation and is now working as an office assistant in the bank. For him, it was difficult but he was able to get it. There is no reservation for them he says; the pain reflects in his eyes as he narrates the story of struggle of his family. According to a report submitted to the Supreme Court by Safai Karmchari Andolan, there are 7.94 lakhs open latrines in the country and apart from Uttar-Pradesh and Tamilnadu, Jammu & Kashmir is one of the biggest violators in this regard, where 1,78,330 households need manual scavenging but the latest figures from J& K government suggest that out of total 1,60,804 Households in the rural areas over 1,49,492 depend on manual scavenging which shows the status of ‘development’ in Kashmir. Out of total 5,17,168 urban households, 17,768 houses are dependent on manual scavenging. According to reports, Shopian, Kupwara, Bandipur, Srinagar, Kulgaum, Anantnag, Ganderbal and Pulwama have very large number of dry latrines which need manual scavengers to clean them. And as Ashaq Wattal says, all of them who are engaged in the manual scavenging task are Muslims. This exposes the hypocrisy of those so called Jehadis, who talk so much about fighting against others and place an ‘Islamic state’ but never really bother about the conditions of the Muslims Dalits. Why has such a large population not got any legal right from the government of India? It is sad that the elimination of manual scavenging practices bill has not yet come in the parliament. Political parties can get consensus on everything which they want to get through but when the question of dignity of the manual scavenging communities comes, they remain suspect as they never cared for that. Today, if the bill is passed and makes the rehabilitation part of the process including alternative job reservation for them, how are the Muslim manual scavengers going to be benefitted from that? Secondly, whether the act would be implemented in Kashmir or not as it has always a problem that all central acts have to be separately developed in Kashmir? What will the J&K government propose to eliminate this crime against humanity? Will it rehabilitate the people and provide them alternative employment? Most importantly, what do the ‘thekedars’ of Islam say on this issue? All those who suggest we have a better alternative in religion must answer these questions. Dalits remained Dalits in most of the religions though unlike Brahminical system, the other religions opened a little window for them in terms of their worshipping pattern. They can go to mosque without being discriminated against, but the same is not true about Christian Dalits who face discrimination from the upper caste Christians even in churches. If the Centre is making a law against elimination of manual scavenging practices or even if a law is enacted for reservation in Promotion, the Muslim and Christian dalits would not be able to get any benefit of the reservation. It violates the basic principle of equality; it is important that benefits of reservation or rehabilitation must incorporate all the Dalits in diverse communities. The issue of Dalit identity and their discrimination became the tool for religious propagandists too who wish to fight it on the basis of their ‘religious’ beliefs and provide ‘liberation’ theology for it. The fact is the Brahminical practices of discrimination have penetrated deeply into other religions and beliefs also, and made them more ruthless in their attitude towards the Dalits. The condition of Dalits in the Muslim-dominated areas remains a matter of great shame and concern today as the movements for their ‘azadi’ has not reached inside the closed quarters where the Islamic zealots are ready to fight for everything in the name of their identity but have found little time to wage a war against untouchability and caste system. It is a totally different story that many people feel that religious conversion is the best bet to escape caste discrimination. The manual scavenging communities must be rehabilitated without being discriminated on the basis of their religious identities as they do not merely exists in Jammu and Kashmir but elsewhere also including Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh , Karnataka , Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu too. It is also important that the fight for the Pasmanda Muslims and their rights must begin at home too. It is easier to suggest that there is liberation of Dalits in religion but at the end if we investigate their socio-cultural conditions, it is open secret that caste virus continues there too and the discrimination level remains the same. Just being proud because your religion allows them in Mosque and churches will not suffice for their survival and dignity. War against untouchability must transcend national, state, caste and religious boundaries. It is time we all join hands against this crime against humanity to eliminate it completely from the planet. The Jammu and Kashmir government must come clean on it and take the issue of untouchability and manual scavenging on a wider scale. It is important that to eliminate manual scavenging the government must provide the eligible youths employment in the non-sanitary work and rehabilitate them completely. Why have the Jehadis of Islam kept quiet on these issues even when it is a routine to see the Wattals in Kashmir work on such terms? They are always worried about Islam in danger; let them raise a Jehad against untouchability and manual scavenging in Kashmir. We will be with them in their fight for dignity of Manual scavengers in Jammu and Kashmir. We cannot leave our Kashmiri friends isolated and hence will definitely join their struggle for dignity and self-respect.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Eliminating Manual Scavenging needs honest introspection By Vidya Bhushan Rawat Manual scavenging is a crime against humanity and yet the nation has failed to resolve it so far. It look that it does not attract us anymore and except for lip services we have left it to be resolved by the victims themselves. It is time for India to stand up together and resolve to eliminate this practice. Mere laws will not work as it needs greater social awakening and a movement against untouchability and caste system. The government of India is planning to introduce a new bill related to elimination of manual scavenging and their rehabilitation in the Parliament. The earlier law Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993 has proved to be inefficient and worked only to victimize the victims of this humiliating practice. Rather than reducing the practice of manual scavenging and punishing those who are still using the same practice to employ manual scavengers it humiliated them and forced them to hide facts about their compelling circumstances. Hence the need for a new law was felt by activists and political leaders too that if we were to eliminate this heinous crime against humanity, the government must come out with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for those engaged in it and rather than humiliating them, it need to look into the matter with greater concern and broader idea of elimination of this practice. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill 2012 is a clear departure from the past act as here the definition is broader and inclusive. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has been in the forefront of a discussion on the issue with civil society organizations to eliminate this practice. Unfortunately, the government of India itself does not have a clear figure about the exact number of people engaged in this practice. The government of India promised to the nation that the manual scavenging would be eliminated and every year new deadlines were set up but the scourge of manual scavenging never ended. Initially, the government at the center and at the state never ever admitted that there is manual scavenging prevalent in their states. Instead, they would always come out with data of ‘rehabilitation’ and the ‘great’ work done by them. Off late, the government came to the conclusion that the number was around 7 lakhs but now it has admitted that the total number of people engaged in manual scavenging is about 1.3 millions. But this number is totally fictitious and hence the government has decided to go for a census of the manual scavengers in the country but when will they be able to get the exact figure is still unknown. There are broadly two approaches which have been witnessed in the fight against manual scavenging. The law makers do not address the societal violence and would make us believe that once they have provided money in the name of rehabilitation the discrimination would go. Hence, they provided ‘economic empowerment’ schemes for those who had left manual scavenging and this include a grant of Rs 50,000 to Rs 50,0000 loan for self-employment. Now the question is that if a person particularly a woman who has always carried this task over the years, what kind of business would she do if just given money. If he or she start a hotel or a dhaba, would any one drink tea or eat food there? If she makes a pickle or papad for sale, would any one buy it? How do we expect such things will happen people. Actually, these grants only help the middlemen and those who know it and they grab it and blame the community for failure. We have demanded in the past that there is a serious crisis in our governance as those who join it do not really believe in the secular belief of the constitution and carry their caste prejudices. And that is the biggest hurdle in the governance system. It is not the issue of mere economic help when the root cause is the divine sanctity given in our religion. So, the issue has to be tackled not at the law making level but at the community level and without understanding those ‘tiny’ dynamics of our society, it is very difficult. One of the difficulties emerged in identifying the manual scavengers and defining it. But for our sake here in this article, we feel that the most urgent need is related to those directly engaged in the cleaning of the toilet and carrying the night soil. And this is predominantly a work of women these days. The reason is that the men want to work with municipalities which are considered to be safer, pay better remunerati0n and are solid government jobs. So, attempts have been made to get into it even if on the ad-hoc basis. That has forced many young to opt for that. Unfortunately and shamefully, the municipalities in India, though provided the biggest employment to sanitation workers are the biggest violators of labour laws. Most of the new people who are employed by the municipalities are either on daily wager basis or under contractors. The daily wagers have no social security and their salary get deducted if they are absent or sick. No medical benefit for them. Many of them have worked in the municipalities for even 15-20 years without getting confirmed. Their hope is that one day they get confirmed and will live a better life. Now, most of the Nagar Palikas have had a backlog of 7-8 months salary to these wage workers. They never get salary every month. Some of them have not get for even over years. This has resulted in forcing their female wards into manual scavenging. Despite all efforts, economy impacts every one of us. Much noise has been made about ‘upper caste’ or other backward castes applying for the job of sweepers. But the fact is that the job matters and for that people pays money too. None of the upper castes are engaged in sweeping or scavenging. If someone get a job at Nagar Palika, they very cleverly get them assigned office work and after some years are promoted as Safai Nayaks too, which is a supervisory job. This complains has come to me whenever I have meetings with people. They say what we have got in return. Our jobs have been offered to others but we do not get their jobs. And it was there, some of us felt that the government must have a long term compressive plan to eradicate manual scavenging. One is complete rehabilitation of the women and men engaged directly in it. Let them offer houses and agricultural land to them. That apart, youths must be given technical training, computer and other skills. A bigger social awakening needs to go in the community against this so that the new young in the community reject this work. We have worked on the latter basis. We have example of women engaged in zardosi work now. Many of them are learning computer skills and sewing and designing. Some of them do agricultural work in certain pockets that we worked. The point is government must build us up raising social issues and not deal this issue in economic and law term only. It is therefore essential that the government of India provide a specific reservation for those engaged in manual scavenging and their children in non-sanitation occupation so that they move ahead and are completely delinked from this. There are number of youths, boys and girls who have capacities and qualification for doing so. They must be trained and employed in various jobs which are not related to sanitation or cleaning etc. All the municipalities who fail to pay the daily wage worker ‘Safai Mazdooors’ on time should be penalized. But then there is a need to look beyond organized sanitary workers. There is no doubt that we must eliminate all forms of scavenging including those who clean the sewage but priority wise, it is essential for us to first rehabilitate the women engaged in manual scavenging, working in private toilets and carrying night soil. It would be good if they are identified and rehabilitated. A rehabilitation schemes cannot be done in isolation and hence it would be good if they are provided houses along with other communities. We have seen houses for Balmikis in certain places constructed by municipalities in the outskirts of cities named as ‘Balmiki bastis’ but it is time to be more aggressively provided them houses along with other communities. So, in the general housing scheme, government must ensure houses for those who have left manual scavenging. It would be good that such bastis which isolated the community further are not developed further. Instead, all must get houses along with other employees or in mixed localities. There are issues of Muslim Safai workers like Helas and Halalkhors. There condition is worst then the non-Muslims as they have been denied even the jobs in the municipality and have no access to reservation in jobs. Muslim Swachchakars are simply not included in the Scheduled Caste Category and it is the biggest violation of their fundamental rights of being discriminated on the basis of their religious identity. This is a case for all of us to bring in front of the Supreme Court who is looking into the matter. Manual scavenging cannot be eliminated unless the community raises a banner of revolt against it. There are inherent weakness too which need to fought. It is a difficult task but not impossible. Social movements cannot feel satisfied just because government has made a law and thrown money to rehabilitate the community. There are loads of issues with in the community and they need to be addressed by the community itself. It is equally important to prepare community and its youth in to the liberation theology of Ambedkarism which changed the lives of millions others like them. Ambedkarism became a model of challenging the status quo not just by law but changing our own selves too. No movement succeeds if the people who it is revolve around do not develop a passion of revolt against a system which subjugated them. Having said so, it is important that this issue does not relegate to mere manual scavenging communities. It is our national duty, a duty of humanists, human rights defenders and social movements that this crime against humanity is arrested and done away with soonest. Hence we cannot absolve the rest of the society, which remained mute or may have enjoyed this subjugation for centuries. Manual scavenging remains a curse to our society and it cannot be confine to be the issue of the community itself who is on the receiving end. It is a war against discrimination and hidden apartheid which existed in our society. A nation like India need to get rid of it to be counted as a civilized nation and that would be possible when we see that no individual is cleaning human excreta of others and each of those who have been traditionally doing it are settled with honor. World over, democratic societies have apologized to their indigenous people for the historic wrongs that they have committed to them. In India, Dalits have faced this historical wrong for years. The Manual scavengers remain at the lowest rung and faced the trauma of this ‘traditional’ ‘duty’ which is a crime against humanity. It is time that our law makers actually apologize for this historic wrong done to the Swachchakar Samaj. Let the parliament in unison apologize for the historical crime that the country has committed against manual scavenging and in the form of untouchability so that they too feel that this country actually is repenting for what has been done to them. An apology or good will gesture by Indian parliament and assemblies would help us make a civilized society which we all would be proud of. --

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Women wait for liberation from manual scavenging in Sonadih Village, Ghazipur By Vidya Bhushan Rawat After years of delaying tactics, the government of India is coming with a new act on manual scavenging and their rehabilitation. Every year the government tried to provide us fictitious data about the number of manual scavengers in the country. The states have lacked in both vision and commitment to eliminate manual scavenging. The civil society also failed to raise this issue to a new level and work as change makers. We are discussing too much on the technicality of the issue and not on the complete elimination of manual scavenging from our minds too. It is tragic that the inhuman practice still continues in a state like Uttar-Pradesh despite all talks of so called political empowerment. There are numerous villages and towns where this criminal inhuman practice is still prevalent. Today, we are talking about Village Sonhadi which comes under block Bhanvarkol of District Gazipur in Uttar-Pradesh. Ghazipur is on the bank of river Ganga and is about 2 hour drive from Varanasi city. From Ghazipur city, a bumpy ride of about 35 kilometer towards Bihar is Sonadih, a village dominated by the Bhoomihar community, known for its powerful political nexus and control over land. Sonadih has a population of over 6500 people. All the villages in Uttar-Pradesh are now developing into another hell, in the form of unorganized and chaotic towns. Sonadih is no exception. With land prices soaring in, people are developing new clusters with out any planning. Since, they do not feel that planning is needed for villages hence the chaos is more visible. Uttar-Pradesh shamelessly does not have a proper sewerage system. Urban towns are virtually dying under their own weight. Eastern Uttar-Pradesh has the worst case scenario as far as manual scavenging is concern. Despite the so called flush toilets, it is still the scavenger community individuals who have to ‘enter’ into the dark deep pits to clean them. And the reports from various parts of the country suggest how many of the sweepers usually die when they go in and face the huge blast from the gas chamber which is stinking gas smell. The story in Sonadhih is pathetic and distressing to our conscience. As usual the bastee of the scavengers is the last one in the village virtually unapproachable during the rains due to the water logging. Those who clean the other people’s locations remain amidst the dirtiest track. It was raining and therefore impossible to reach the houses. Women are forced to go out to clean the latrines. The island of mud and dirt are actually island of exploitation and ignorance. A typical village culture is visible here in Sonadih where even a family of a Dom, another scheduled castes refuses to sit with that belong to manual scavenging family. The reason is that every one of the oppressed wants to enjoy that small ‘acceptance’ over the other. This village dominated by the Bhoomihars, a powerful community of Eastern Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar which is landed. There are however, a number of other communities Bramins, Rajbhars, Yadavas, Chamars, Muslims, Dhobi and Doms. Each community lives in its own nation with only relationship through communication and no further physical relations and social relationship. There is no chance of the communities touching each other or speaking to each other for a social cause. Ten families of Rawat community (the scavenger community in the region) have over 60 members. Since the village does not have the flush latrine system, the duty of the community is to clean the toilets every morning. It is tragic that none of the community members have even a single unit land for living, leave alone for agricultural work. The population of 10 scavenger family is 63 some years back but now many of them are migrating to cities in search of jobs particularly in the municipalities in Mughalsarai, Varansi and Ghazipur. This village never adopted the people who clean it. It was a cantonment area in the past. Two Muslim landlords actually brought these people here to do the ‘work’ in this village. They arranged some land for these people to live which was not even ½ acre of land for these 10 families. This 8 manda land was distributed among equally among the Rawat community and Rajbhar and other communities. The Gram Sabha has not taken into account the growing problems of the community. They are just used for their work and contemptuously looked down upon. There is no question of asking for any advice when they are not even the citizens of the village. Any threat of not doing the work would ultimately throw the people away from the land they are living. None of them have any land in their name. Paradoxically, all scavenger families have Above the Poverty Line (APL) ration cards and cannot purchase anything from the subsidized shops. Due to complete landlessness, they cannot even get the Indira Awas Yojana, a faltering housing scheme by the government of India, where you will not get any grant from the government unless you have the land to construct the dwelling for yourself. Hopefully, the new census survey and BPL list would take them into account. There is a primary school in this village. For higher studies students must go to the Avdhahi. Avdhahi is about 2 km far from the village. Though there is well connected road network to the village yet it is still a remote place as far as the linkage to the scavenger community is concern. There is a complete lack of health services here and the village does not even have a dispensary. For any eventuality, the villagers have to take transportation to Mohammdabad. Though there are substantial number of other communities but do not care much for any one. Our trip to village generated much enthusiasm and suspicion. Many of the upper castes who had these women as cleaning their toilets were not only apprehensive but blamed the victims themselves. The problem is that the dependency of the community on the upper castes is so much that they feel threatened with the idea of any change. If they do not do the work, they would be displaced. People like us who pretend to work for the community come and go but they have to live along with the people. At the time, when even migration won’t help, the community women are just clueless. More than this, they do not get anything in cash. Their work is compensated with about 5 kilogram of rice or wheat at the year end per family, left over food every day and special alms during the festivities like Dipawali, Dussehra, and Holi. One can imagine how difficult it is to live this life of indignity by begging daily. While preaching is easy the fact is civil society has failed to do anything for them. Just by ‘advocacy’ will not resolve the crisis of the community. The pain of the community is further aggravated by some ignorant voices who blame the community for not ‘following’ the path of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. However, our aim is not to go in debate at the moment. We just wanted to narrate the plight of the community in a village where they are suffering and we need to develop an idea. Some of the village elders suggested that not all are in a position to develop flush toilets but an initiative has to be made. Since the sanitation programmes are mostly in the urban areas hence it is important to focus in the villages which remain uncontrolled and unplanned. Any case of the scavenging is normally dealt with the Nagar Palikas but who is accountable for scavenging in the villages and what is the government alternative to it ? As mentioned many times in our reports, the scavenging profession has been totally feminized. Over the years, the male folks not only try to get jobs in the Nagarpalikas i.e. municipalities but also migrate to big cities in search of jobs. For women, the job is doubly tiring as they not only have to take care of the family but also face the numerous indignities of life. In the absence of resources they end up in begging and doing whatever is demanded from them. Sudhani Devi is mother of one son and two daughters. She not only doing manual scavenging in the village Sonadih but also in other villages with in the vicinity of 5 kilometers. She cleans a total of 15 toilets. Munni is taking care of 16 families in Rasada and Sonadih villages. A mother of three, she starts her day with early morning at six to finish the target by 10. Similarly, Manju work in 15 houses in three villages. A mother of six children, she says that they have no future. They are completely disgruntled and do not know what to do. Most of them do not have ration card. Now the question arises whether they can do any other work. The problem is that the Panchayat does not even think of them. They are not the citizen of the village. What ever land they have acquired is basically on the mercy of the village and any challenge to the supremacy of the villagers would virtually seal their fate and throw them on the streets. It is because of this reason, every one of them said that the situation is fine and that they are not being forced to do the work. One should not be surprised that no woman would ever admit that she is doing the work at some body’s compulsion but her own fate has allowed her to do such an atrocious job. Now, whether they say or not that the work is a compulsion, the fact is we all, as a nation, as a civil society, as a village or even as a Dalit Rights or human rights defender have failed. We blame the victims themselves. Preach them like ‘leave this work’ asking them to die rather than to live. Now such preaching is easier but the enormous social mental block needs to be broken. How would that be broken? What could be the solution for a fair rehabilitation of these people? They are completely landless and do not have their own home which could be termed as decent. That should be the first task. Two, the problem is their landlessness. If they are provided some agricultural land, one is hopeful that they would be able to some work and earn something. Three, Let the village Panchayat build some community toilets at the village and hand over the management of them to the women. A biogas plant can be developed and cooking gas as well as electricity can be provided to the subscribers in the village. And most importantly access to health services as well as education for children is essential for their development. That brings us to important issue of elimination of caste bias from our minds. Unless we resolve to do that untouchability and manual scavenging will to continue. We continue to shame ourselves that those who do this work do not even get a payment for their work. That is a perfect example of a racist society which still believes in slavery. Unless manual scavenging and untouchability goes India’s claim to have a civilization will always be questioned and scrutinized.