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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Learning through working. Working at the grassroots made me realise the big difference between those who claim to represent communities as well as the communities themselves. Common man is crushed between the ambitions of various individuals to lead and dominate. The dominant and high numbered communities will always dominate our discourse and the most marginalised are losing in this entire discourse. That is the reason why Mushahar remain at the marginalised and the issue of manual scavenging still not on our top agenda and to eliminate that the community has to decide its own organisations..


I am devoted to freedom of ideas and expression. I personally feel that we in the subcontinent want to dominate and control our discourse and each one of is a ultra nationalist in terms of their caste and community. Nationalism is not just national and political but it is equally in term of religion and caste. I feel each kind of nationalism is a dominant discourse which deny the dissenter a right to speak.

At the end, we all want to listen the truth suitable to us.. we have become expertised in the art of speaking truth of convenience. As long as that remain hall mark of our society and we speak to already converts, this society will remain stagnant, it will always try to control our ideas and choices. We need to oppose any such perception, ideas that want to control our mind and victimise us.

To understand India further, I feel, it is good to do foot walk, ( Padyatras) to various parts of the country. I have so far done it thrice covering nearly 1500-2000 kilometers. It is always interesting to see how people are coping their issues and what is the reason of their exploitation.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Scavenging in Tamilnadu

Building up a new movement against scavenging: Tirunalveli’s Dalits show the way

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The bloody River

Every time, I pass through the Mythological Tamraparni river flowing in the middle of historical Tirunelveli town in the South of Tamilnadu, I am reminded with one of the most brutal massacre done by the police on the unarmed wageworkers, a majority of whom were Dalits some 7 years back. That fateful day of July 23rd, 1999 when the tea workers of nearby Manjauli tea estate number around 3000 decided to take to street after the six month silent protest yielded nothing. And how the protest was met with by an irresponsible administration and political class, is another matter to discuss. That 17 workers died jumping from the bridge into the river fearing police violence on them. The police ran after them till the hapless workers found easy escape to save themselves from the police brutality and jumped into the river. About 11 of the workers died were Dalits and rest Muslims. The story still reminds how the unrest in the tea estates have not provided any lessons to our political class anywhere in India.

For me who had read the horror stories through the media and particularly heard some of the people who met with violence, the river and the bridge send chill reminder how the movements for people’s right are met with brutality and unaccountability. One member judicial commission was formed to investigate into the incident and the judge exonerated the police from any brutality. Justice Mohan Rao said that the victims were responsible for their own killing and thereby police cannot be held accountable for the same. Since, the victims died by drowning and not by police lathicharge.

Self Respect Movement of Arundhatiars

In Tamilnadu, despite Periyar’s strong anti Brahmin movement, the issue of Dalits rarely got the importance that it deserved during his lifetime. Perhaps, because analysts clubbed the issues of Shudras and dalits, despite major differences. There is no doubt that both were against the brahmanical hegemony but it never meant that Dalits would support the other hegemony of the backward communities without questioning their motives. While Periyar was a genius and committed in his philosophy against the caste based varnashram dharma, the political movement purportedly based on his philosophy was completely hijacked by the powerful communities. Nobody ever thought on the issue of Dalits and particularly the issue of manual scavenging which is done by the Arundhatiyar community in Tamilnadu. A large number of them were originally from Andhra Pradesh but now fully settled in Tamilnadu. One is amused why great Periyar’s movement could not take notice of this heinous crime against humanity.

The fact is that communities have to moblise themselves to get their right. The Dalits also realized, though, very late, that their rights would not be fought by the backward community leaders who have become main power center in Tamilnadu. Regularly, the agrarian relation forced the powerful backward communities to launch their assault on the dalits. It resulted in various political movements and by 1990 when the north India was reeling under Mandalisation process, in Tamilnadu, the Dalits also started a new political alignment. Leader of Tamil Puthilgam Dr Krishna Swamy, started mobilizing various Dalit communities and was involved in the movement for the rights of the tea workers. It gave good opportunity also to build up the movement, though later Tamilnadu’s Dalit politics also got divided deeply into various castes.

Yet, the events of Manjauli tea estate did not go unnoticed and a strong politically nonpolitical movement was building up since 1997 and the unfolding events also helped the Dalit to resolve further for their cause. The village Pettai people still remember that three Arundhatiars also died during this protest for their wages at the Manjlaoi tea estate. That was time when many of the politically enlightened in the community felt that a time was there to go with full force against their oppressors and to start a ‘reawakening’ movement of the community. V Sundaresan, a young dynamic youth from Pallaya community who had finished his schooling and pursued higher studies which became a matter of pride for any family, decided to organize the Arundhatiyar community. Along with him were a number of other community leaders like, M.Bhoopathi and C.Manoharan from village Pellai in Tirnelveli district who felt the need to liberate the community from the age-old practice of scavenging. Thus Tamilnadu Arundhatiyar Vidudalaya Munnetta Iyyakkam” which means Tamilnadu Arundhatiyars Freedom Movement was born in this village of Tirunelveli district, which had now spread to other districts like Nagarcoil, Madurai, Tuticorin, Kanyakumari and elsewhere in Taminladu. A proud Boopathi informs me how they have over 2000 strong committed workers in these districts only. Their number is growing as they wish to recruit the youths to lead the movement for self respect in the community.

About 30 kilometer from Tirunalveli district is village Amba Samudram under Mukudal Panchayat. Over 15-20 families from the scavenging Arundhatiar community is living here. Unlike many other places where you find pigs roaming around and filth making you sink, this village looks very clean. The houses are neat and women are more vocal about their ‘liberation’, even when there is no rehabilitation in terms of profession and resources are concerned.

The village Panchayat decided some years back that there would not be any manual scavenging here. The other communities also agreed after the Arundhatiar community had launched their own struggle to liberate themselves against the heinous practice of untouchability.

Liberation from bondage

There was a time when village women were not allowed to go with slippers on. Any new cloth would be highly discounted by the upper caste Thevars and Nadars. They were not even allowed to ride on bicycles. They had to clean the latrines and throw the human excreta. Now the women were happy and felt they had been really liberated though they still cannot eat and dine with other upper caste fellows yet the first thing what they felt was important that their Panchayat prohibited the practice of scavenging.

Masanam, who now is a beedi workers says : If we wear good cloths, they felt very bad. You would say, you are Sakline (scavenger), you are not supposed to wear good cloths. But after we have left this profession, there is no work. All men go for work. Life is very difficult. We make beedis but that is an unsustainable work. We do not do scavenging. We do not announce death. Life is still the same even though she is able to earn about Rs 25 per day by making beedi. She feel liberated. At least, I am not doing that dirty work which made us untouchable. Her husband is wood cutter and earn around Rs 60 per day. Both are happy for the day and living a better life.

Many people feel that the municipality work is still better both as a financial security and a freedom from scavenging. The salary that the Panchayat offer to a permanent sweeper is Rs 4,500/- which is much better than any other wage worker involved in menial work. However, unlike any other government job, there is no increment provided no other social security measures for the people.

A majority of the people here remain in their traditional roots. They have not converted themselves. They have been celebrating all the festivals like dipawali, Pongal, Vinayaka chaturthi etc. A majority of the people have not completed their education and VIIIth standard is perhaps the highest education in the village for the community.

The movement started slowly building up with youths taking up cycle rally. However, community faced a lot of opposition with cycle rally as riding cycle was prohibited in the village for the community. Yet, the youths were determined to take on the upper castes. Today the youth are the backbone of this liberation movement which is considered to be one of the most powerful militant movements by the state government.

Says Boopathi, 20 years back the upper caste would beat us, cut our hair etc but today we are in a position to give them a good thrashing. They know it well that the Arundhatiars have mobilized themselves. Interestingly, Boopati has completely delinked himself with the scavenging work. He proudly displayed his identity card of a ‘video camera person’. President Manoharan is a driver with municipality.

Tragically, the community has no linkages with other in the same profession. They do not know who are Balmikis though they know the struggle of Madiga community in Andhra Pradesh and had met some of the leaders of the movement. They participated in Asia Social Forum in Hyderabad. Women’s who are the victim of both the caste movement as well as the religious fanaticism across the board are excluded from the decision making in the leadership. Said a community leader, women will lead only in our absence and should take care of the family. They should only lead when in the village only as they remain inside the village while men go outside the village.

Some of the activists were very angry with the apoliticisation of the community by NGOs. “ They never helped us in our troubles and crisis but often use our community meetings and rallies to show their strength, said Boopathi. We are unaware of the any other movement related to the welfare of our community as our movement is totally based on the contribution by the community. There is no support and therefore we have to be careful. He also scoffed at the political leaders claiming for redistribution of land to Dalits. We do not know how much land has been given. This village and particularly Arundhariars have not got anything. All our people are landless and yet nobody comes here and distribute land to us.

Providing Alternatives

V. Sundaresan, is a proud man today. Hailing from another Dalit community, he decided to take a plunge in organizing the Arundhatiar community. With a remarkable career record with several degrees including masters and M.Phil, Sunderesan helped the community to organize themselves to build a strong rural movement. With his strong conviction and community support Sundaresan started Grama Udhayam, a cooperative bank for the agricultural workers, wage workers, sanitation workers of Tirunelveli. The most important aspect of this bank is that it is for the women. According to Sundarsen, the bank has a turn over of Rs 500 million, which is remarkable. That the working Dalit women are getting benefited from this another feather in the cap of the positive side of the movement. Sundarsen claims that 90% of the working staff of the Gramaa Udhayam are women. Interestingly, among these 90% working women, 50% belong to Madiga community which brings us to the great revelation how the positive aspect of Dalit movement and their liberation strategies are being ignored by not only by the media but also by the Dalit movement itself.

An angry young man, Sundaresan poses very disturbing questions about the motives of the NGOs. “ We want to build a political movement for the rights of Arundhatiar community in Tamilnadu. Our reach is regularly increasing throughout the state. We fear that NGOs are killing our revolutionary spirit. If we want to empower people, we have to snatch political power”, say Sundaresan. And political power without an alternative is not possible opine Sundarsen. ‘We all need to understand that Brahminism thrive on our weaknesses. We are powerful community and must now educate ourselves. Our women’s must be equal participant in our socio-political platform’, says Sundarsen.

Long Battle Ahead

There is a long battle overdue. The caste system, untouchability and issue of women are of great importance. The people in the Arundhatiars Freedom Movement, one is sure that the issue of roots of Arundhatiars would also be discussed broadly, as one cannot fight against Brahmanism by being a part of it. Arundhatiyars political battle for honour, dignity and right place in the society will gain strength only if they could learn a thing or two from the Self Respect Movement of Periyar. That movement was hijacked by the backward communities and yet most of them remained as shudras in the brahmanical scheme of things. When ideological clarity is absent and smaller identities are submerged to powerful and bigger identity, the result is the growing clashes between the Dalits and backward communities. One is amused how the Tamilnadu Panchayats are the domain of the backward communities who are still not allowing the elected representatives of Dalits to take charge of the village. It is because the same ideas of struggle are not replicated against your own ‘well-wishers’, which you apply against the ‘enemies’. It is because the issues are relegated to the back because your identity and numbers become more important. Dalit movement is not just a movement for replacement of one community from the other. It is a movement for the Self Respect and dignity of all those who are even less in numbers and living on the margins. It is a movement for human rights of all. It is an alternative philosophy of humanism and rationalism. A cultural revolution, therefore, should, essentially precede the political empowerment of the community otherwise it would turn counterproductive.

One hope that the Arundhatiayar community’s struggle for Self Respect and human rights would not be against another Dalit community. It has to take lead in bringing them also to their field. Gram Udhayam is a great reflection of the power and vision of Dalits all over India. Their achievement would definitely help the communities living in other parts of the country to think about their self and work for a socio cultural revolution that would free from the bondage of the caste based discrimination.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Report on Bellilus Park Eviction of Balmikis


The shame of Bengal: An unchanged social system
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Kishan Balmiki is a father of three who works for the Howrah Municipal Corporation, in greater Kolkota, India, as a 'New Reserve Mehtar'. He is aged about 60, and worked as a 'privy cleaner' until 1996, before being promoted. 'Privy cleaner' is a British title, which referred to those carrying human faeces on their heads. Ironically, although all over India, scavengers or sweepers have been given the new name of 'Safai Karmcharis' [cleaning labourers], in 'revolutionary' Bengal, they are still 'privy cleaners'. Since being promoted to New Resident Mehtar, Kishan's main role has been in sewage cleaning.

The majority of sweepers and cleaners in West Bengal are Dalit migrants, who are treated with utter contempt by the Bengali population. Kishan is one of those. His grandparents migrated to Kolkata from Murthal, a place near Sonepat in Haryana. His grandfather and father alike worked with the railways as sweepers. His wife is also a 'privy cleaner'.

This is the caste system in practice: for generations, Kishan's family has been tied to the same occupation, cleaning the debris and faeces of a society that despises them. However, Kishan's daughter, Jayanti, stood first in the high school board examination, and Kishan proudly says that, "I will educate my children and will not allow them to work in this profession."

But Kishan's plans for the future have been disrupted by what happened on the morning of 2 February 2003 at Bellilious Park, Howrah, where they were residents. More than 700 Dalit families were living there up to that morning. Their predecessors were settled there before India's independence. At that time, the Bengalis needed cheap migrant labour to clean their toilets and city, yet none were ready to rent out a house to these people. The municipality therefore constructed separate dwellings for them on the site of Bellilious Park.

By 2003, the neighbourhood was well established. There were two temples, one belonging to Sage Valmiki, and another to Lord Shiva. There was a primary school. There was also a big statue of Subhash Chandra Bose, the national icon, but definitely not a Dalit icon. The Dalits had asked to erect a statue of their historic leader, Dr B R Ambedkar, but had been refused permission by the authorities.

2 February 2003 was a normal quiet Sunday morning for the residents of Bellilious Park. Although a few days earlier, police from the Bantra Police station had announced on cycle-rickshaw that all the occupants should quit the place before February 2 or face the consequences, the municipal authority, the main employer, was conspicuously silent. In fact it was not the duty of the police but the municipality to evict these people, and there had been no word from them as to relocation. So the residents carried on like normal, never thinking that the municipal corporation for which they daily go out to work in atrocious heat and filth for a pittance would go so far as to remove them from their houses.

But the municipality had other plans. The park had to be 'cleaned' of the people who spend their days cleaning the filth of others. Hundreds of illegal builders and land-grabbers dominate the area, yet the victim of the municipality's 'beautification' scheme became this 100-year-old community, which works in the most difficult circumstances. So at least 500 of its personnel, along with policemen, bulldozers and local gangsters came that morning, and without any notice started demolishing the houses. Men, women and children begged to save their belongings, but nothing stopped them. The school and temples were razed to the ground, but the statue of Subhash Chandra Bose, which had been imposed upon the neighbourhood, was left intact; houses, schools and temples were destroyed, but this Bengali nationalist icon was not touched. This is the fundamental inhumanity of the caste system: the municipal corporation knew well that if it touched the statue, Bengalis would come onto the streets and protest, however it did not care for its own Dalit employees.

The eviction soon killed people. Kashmira Balmiki, a 74-year-old, died from hunger and illness. His wife did not feel secure in Bengal, and took her son back to Uttar Pradesh. Chander Balmiki, a municipal worker, died from shock and depression. Rupa Hela, a 19-year-old, died from kidney failure and a lack of medical attention. Many others are bound to have died, of whom we are unaware.

Upper caste social activists from Bengal have for a long time talked about land reform. What is the meaning of such words when thousands of people can be ejected from their houses of generations, without any plan for their rehabilitation? What is the meaning of being a 'communist' government if it is tied to caste interests? What is the meaning of being a high court judge, if in passing the order for eviction, the court did not ever raise the question of where the people would go? The evicted people are now living by a railway track and city dump. Their plight is unbearable. They keep the city hygienic, yet they must live in filth. Let alone international norms for rehabilitation, the Howrah Municipal Corporation did not bother to meet national laws on resettlement and basic standards for human existence.

The Dalits evicted from Bellilious Park want justice. They don't want to be slaughtered at the altar of 'anti' this or 'pro' that. Kolkata has witnessed so many protests against globalisation and communalism, but when it comes to a practical matter like rehabilitating thousands of people evicted from their homes and left to die on the streets, the upper-caste activists are silent. These people are owed an apology, and the means to live their lives in dignity. No ideological fight against imperialism or globalisation will do this. It is a simple matter of basic humanity.
Posted on 2004-09-14 by Article-2, Asian Human Rights Commission, Hongkong
www.ahrchk.org

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Response to Frontline coverstory on Scavenging

India’s Shame: Some unanswered questions from the Frontline reports

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat


Gandhi and scavenging

Frontline magazine’s September 22nd, 2006 issue gave wide coverage to the issue of
scavengers in India including one famous quote of Gandhi’. ‘I may not be born again, but
if it happens, I will like to be born into a family of scavengers, so that I may relieve, them
if the inhuman, unhealthy and hateful practice of carrying nightsoil.’ It is rather strange
that Gandhi is often quoted by the upper caste to justify their stand and prove a certain
point because in their own wisdom, there was no one else except Gandhi who fought
against the cause of untouchability. It is another matter that none of them ever questioned
Gandhi and his various act of idiocies. Above quote clearly means that Gandhi fully
believed that untouchability is not going to finish and he would have to take another birth
to get rid of it.

Ofcourse, Gandhi was right that such heinous practice would not end but untouchables or
Dalits perhaps do not need Gandhi’s sage advice to end scavenging. They are powerful
enough to lead the movements as the story of frontline clearly reflect. In fact, Frontline
would have researched a bit more and look Gandhi’s writing in the various issues of
Harijan, on the issue of untouchability, whether he really was interested in the eradication
of untouchability or supported the caste system. Dr Bhagwan Das, eminent Ambedkarite
and scholar has time and again said that Gandhi was least interested in the emancipation
of the Dalits in general and scavengers in particular. He quotes on many occasions how
Gandhi justified the caste-based profession of the Dalits. Said Gandhi :

“ I do not advice untouchables to give up their trades and professions. One born a
scavenger must earn his livelihood by being a scavenger and then do whatever else he
likes. For a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your president. That
according to me is Hinduism. ( Harijan 6th March, 1937)

Further, Gandhi might have said that he would like to be born in the untouchable family
yet he was no revolutionary to condemn the caste system. Even in Africa, he was not at
all fighting for the rights of the black Africans but the caste Hindus who feel offended at
clubbing together with the black community in Africa or elsewhere. Says Gandhi :

“My Opinion against sweepers strike dates back to about 1897 when I was in Durban. A
general strike was mooted there and the question arose as to whether scavengers should
join it. My vote was registered against the strike proposal.,,,, In spite of my close
attachments to sweepers, better cause of it, I must denounce the coercive method they
are said to have employed. They will thereby be losers in the long run. City folks will not
always be cowed down. A bhangi may not give up his work even for a day. ( Harijan 21st
April 1946)”

Mr Bhagwan Das has referred this narrative many times how Gandhi was against the
strike of the sweeper and every time he gave them moral lessons of Varna Ashram
Dharma. That way, Gandhi damaged the cause of the emancipation of Dalits with his
brutal immoral morality.

Unfortunately, upper caste Indian’s fascination for a ‘spiritual guide’ always helped
Gandhi and his theatrics. Not many of them were ready to challenge his ‘stupid’ values
and caste based morality. The one who stood firmly and with conviction was Dr Baba
Saheb Ambedkar. Not only his questioned Gandhi’s Mahatmaisation by terming
‘Mahatmas have come and gone’ but also putting forward the issue of caste system and
untouchability together. Had Gandhi been alive today, Indians would have felt shame on
his rhetoric’s and antics. Ambedkar rightly described what exactly is scavenger in his
thought provoking volume-9 ( Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches, Volume-
9, published by Government of Maharastra),

“For in India a man is not scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of
his birth, irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not. If Gandhism
preached that scavenging is a noble profession, with the objective of inducing those who
refuse to engage in it, one could understand it. But why appeal to the scavenger’s pride
and vanity in order to induce him and him only to keep on to scavenging by telling him
that scavenging is a noble profession and that he need not to be ashamed of it. To preach
that poverty is good for shudra and for none else, to preach that scavenging is good for
the untouchables and for none else and to make them accept these onerous impositions as
voluntary purposes of life, by appeal to their failings is an outrage and a cruel joke on
the helpless classes which none but Mr Gandhi can perpetuate with equanimity and
impunity.

Strangely, there is no mention of the any other political leaders other than the ‘father of
nation’ in the front line report including Dr Ambedkar, Mangu Ram, Achhutananda and
others. While the report revolve around Safai Karmchari Andolan led by Baizwada
Wilson and the wonderful work he has been doing. The interview carried belong to
Martin Macwan and his much known work of Navsarjan. Respectable as they are after
fighting their own cases of social discrimination, both have valiantly tried to build a new
alternative for the scavenger communities. Yet, the struggle for human rights and dignity
for the scavenger communities continues for long. It is not that all those who have
converted to Christianity want justice and dignity. It is not that all those who have not
converted remain ‘Hindus’ as some of our friends would like us to believe. The fact is
that most of those who remain Dalits ( unconverted) have remain the most vocal critique
of the brahmanical system. Perhaps, there is a complete lack of politicization after
conversion. There are a large number of new movements building up in the Balmiki
community, among the Madigas in Andhra and Arundhatiars in Tamilnadu. Balmikis in
Uttar-Pradesh, Punjab and Harayana have also taken up their cause. They might not have
converted to either Islam or Christianity, they might not have got enough press behind
them or the funds yet there is a fair concern about the community. The new youngs are
ready to take on the Hindu social order and the corrupt practices. It is therefore important
to unite all these movements and not divide them on caste and religion lines. It would
have been really better if the authors had done some more work and spoken to political
movements in other states including West Bengal where the Balmikis want the outsiders
to come and report. But without going there the authors gave a clean chit to West Bengal
is a matter of grave concern.

Bigger Shame for giving clean chit to West Bengal

While it is appreciating for the magazine to have our website address
www.thesdf.org
For the material available on Balmiki. As a human right activist, who have been working
on the issue of the Dalit rights, Ambedkarism, human rights education as well as a person
who has recorded interviews with this community, it would have been better had the
authors tried to contact me. I would have provided them more material on the
community, my film Badlav Ki chah, which could have thrown some light on what the
community is thinking. Moreover, for the past four years, I have continuously followed
the case of the Eviction of the Balmiki community from the Bellilius Park in West
Bengal. I have visited Kolkata, Howrah on many occasions and lived with the community
to find out what pains them. It is strange and shocking that your cover story has given a
full clean chit to the government of West Bengal.

The condition of the Hindi Speaking Dalits in West Bengal is a matter of great concern.
Those who wish to note more about scavengers and their conditions in various parts of
the country may like to visit my newly created blog
www.swachchakar.blogspot.com

In Bengal, the brutal way in which more than 750 Balmiki families were dislocated from
Bellilius park under the builder mafia of CPM and in disguise of the court injunctions,
can put to shame even Delhi’s irresponsible Congress government against whom Ms
Brinda Karath and other CPM leaders regularly lodge protest. Rightly, I have no
hesitation in saying that we all support AIDWA and its campaign for the rights of the
slum dwellers and Dalits in Delhi and other parts of the country. But why not the same
about your own government and your own party under whose noose such thing happened
in West Bengal.

Last year, when I visited Kolkata and met a number of Balmikis, Hailas, Mehtars, all of
them lodged their complained how the CPM’s cadre threaten them. The bustees are being
threatened and CPM leader protests only on those areas where the Bengalis are under the
threat and that too if it is a central government projects that dislocate people like the
Railways. The party is simply not bothered about other communities from the North
India.

It was such a disgusting scenario that a women from scavenging community living in a
virtual hell at Belgachia’s Bagad area said that these Bengalis called us when they need
to clean their shit and now they are not interested in us when they made their flush toilets.

In places like Howarah scavenging is still officially practiced. Whatever argument the
Minister give, it is a shame that people under the municipal corporation did work as
manual scavenger and they were named such as ‘ New Resident Mehtars’. Mehtars had
objected that they were one of the communities involved in scavenging and not all
scavengers are Mehtars but in Bengal’s official gazettes, all scavengers are termed as
Mehtars. The Minister may further boast that they are appointing the Bengali Bhadralok
also for the Safai jobs these days but the fact is that the manual scavenging, cleaning
nightsoil, cleaning toilets, the roads etc are still carried out by these scavenger
communities from UP, Haryana, Delhi, and Bihar. The fact of the matter is that it is very
difficult for the people from these communities go get promotion in the municipality
while a Bhadralok Bengali who joins as a sweeper on paper soon become a babu. That is
a new way to enroll CPM cadre into the Babudome of West Bengal. It works both way.
On papers, it shows how radically the communist government has transformed West
Bengal by saying that they are now recruiting the upper castes also for the menial jobs
such as sweeping and on the other side they keep their cadres also happy who becomes
babu very soon. Many of the Balmikis who had been working in West Bengal for years
have not got due promotion.

The officials are not even interested in resolving the issues of the poor Balmikis. Their
children cannot get a job in West Bengal for they are asked to bring the domiciles of
their parents. For years they have been working in West Bengal and now they ask for
domiciles of their parents. What is the fault of the children who were born in Bengal.

Even today, the CPM’s cadre takes a vigil on all the ‘unwanted elements’ like us to
report. There is manual scavenging still prevalent in Howrah, Bengal’s connections to
rest of India. It is not far away in remote Bengal but very heart of Kolkata that
scavenging is practiced. It is difficult to get a Video footage since the CPM’s goons will
break your cameras once they realize that you are there for a human rights cause. I have
footage of West Bengal and the scavenging community. The only footage I could not get
was of the people involved in night soil because the area was a CPM’s stronghold. Our
people in West Bengal were frightened that CPM’s cadre may take revenge from them if
they found that some of them were responsible for the leak.

CPM’s tyrannical rule in Bengal is making it a closed door society. Giving a clean chit to
Bengal and its pathetic record on Elimination of scavenging and rehabilitation of
scavengers is a bigger shame for Frontline magazine. I am sure the Magazine would ask
the Bengal Chief Minister where are the Balmikis of Bellillus Park in Howarah. If they
do not have any information, I am ready to provide them all details. But please do not
compromise with people’s cause. Balmikis of West Bengal will not get justice from an
insensitive government. Those who create a fascinating world of ‘great’ social cohesion
outside West Bengal should try to sneak into the den and report independently on the
conditions of Dalit in West Bengal. Hiding the pathetic condition of Dalits in West
Bengal and particularly that of the scavengers is the bigger shame for India.





National Scenario : Scavenging

In denial mode

V. VENKATESAN in New Delhi

As States fudge facts and figures to deny manual scavenging exists, the Supreme Court may scan their claims to get at the truth.

A PRESS release of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on July 22, 2005, estimated the total number of manual scavengers in the country as 6.76 lakh. According to this estimate, the largest number of scavengers is in Uttar Pradesh (1.49 lakh), followed by Madhya Pradesh (80,000) and Gujarat (64,000).

Despite this stark admission by the Central government, almost all State governments have denied, in affidavits before the Supreme Court, the existence of manual scavenging and dry latrines in their States.

The Supreme Court has been hearing a public interest petition filed in 2003 by the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), six other associate organisations and seven individual manual scavengers. The petition pointed out that the practice existed in many States and was being continued even in public sector undertakings such as the Railways.

The petitioners sought the enforcement of their fundamental right guaranteed under Article 17 (right against untouchability) read with Articles 14, 19 and 21 guaranteeing equality, freedom, and protection of life and personal liberty respectively.

They urged the Supreme Court to issue time-bound directions to the Union of India and the various States to take effective steps for the elimination of the practice of manual scavenging simultaneously with the formulation and implementation of comprehensive plans for the rehabilitation of all persons employed as manual scavengers.

The petitioners also sought the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavenging and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, which banned manual scavenging. They said 12 lakh people in the country were still engaged in the degrading practice and 95 per cent of them were Dalits, who were compelled to undertake this "traditional occupation".
They also sought a direction to all the States and Union Territories, which are yet to adopt the 1993 Act, to get an appropriate legislation passed under Article 252 of the Constitution to ensure the liberation and rehabilitation of all manual scavengers, and prosecute those found violating the provisions of the Act.

The Act operates only after a State government issues a notification fixing a date for enforcing the provisions prohibiting dry latrines and the employment of manual scavengers in the specified area. The notification itself can only be issued after giving a notice of 90 days, and only where "adequate facilities for the use of water-seal latrines in that area exist". All States have not adopted the Act, and those who have adopted it have not enforced its provisions to achieve the intended results. Uttar Pradesh adopted the Act only recently after sustained pressure from activist groups.

The 1993 Act is perhaps an instance of how the Central government responded to a serious issue with a populist mind-set, without displaying the requisite commitment and sincerity.
The Planning Commission had proposed that all States where manual scavenging existed should adopt the Act. It had recommended the withholding or reduction of Central assistance to Annual Plans of States that failed to adopt the Act.

The Commission had recommended in 2002 that States should set a deadline of one year from the date of notification to convert all dry latrines into water-seal latrines in all urban areas and follow penal action after that.

The extraordinary intervention by the Supreme Court would have been unnecessary had the government accepted this recommendation in letter and spirit.

During the hearing of the case in April last year, the Supreme Court issued an interim order directing that every Department/Ministry of the Union government and each of the State governments should, within six months, file an affidavit through a senior officer, who would take personal responsibility to verify the facts stated in the affidavit.

If the affidavit admits the existence of manual scavenging in a particular government department or public sector undertaking or corporation, then it should also indicate a time-bound programme within which the rehabilitation of manual scavengers and the ultimate eradication of the practice is proposed to be achieved.

The Supreme Court warned the State governments against making false statements regarding the matter in their affidavits.

The Supreme Court heard the case again in November 2005 and in April 2006 and reviewed the affidavits submitted by all State governments.

The SKA found that almost all States demolished the particular dry latrines it referred to in its counter-affidavit to the Supreme Court. But the SKA claimed that there were many more dry latrines in the States, which the governments had concealed from the court.
The SKA is in the process of verifying the claims of State governments in their affidavits and is determined to present the data to the court, and expose the hollowness of the claims, during the next hearing of the case.

As Bezwada Wilson, national convener of the SKA, points out, governments have been placing more emphasis on the rehabilitation of manual scavengers than on their liberation from this despicable occupation.

This has resulted in misplaced priorities and wastage of funds meant for the purpose. Even the very definition of safai karamcharis has been expanded to include manual workers engaged in sweeping and other cleaning work to justify State governments' claims that the actual number of manual scavengers engaged in the pernicious practice may indeed be negligible.

Of greater relevance to the entire issue is the lack of powers with the authority entrusted to ensure the eradication of this practice.

The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, set up to recommend to the Central government a specific programme of action towards the elimination of inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities for safai karamcharis, is bereft of real powers.

Wilson, for instance, suggests that the Commission should have the power to issue notice to those who violate the 1993 Act and impose penalties. All these issues will hopefully engage the Supreme Court when it disposes of the case after hearing all the parties concerned.
From : Frontline, September 22nd, 2006

Scavenging in West Bengal

Bengal's record

SCAVENGERS who carry night soil on their heads for a livelihood are more or less a thing of the past in West Bengal, according to the State government. Ashok Bhattacharya, Minister for Municipal Affairs and Urban Development, Town and Country Planning, said that 120 of the 126 urban local bodies in the State and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, are absolutely free of such scavenging. "As of today, there are no human scavengers working in most parts of West Bengal. Such work may be prevalent in very remote areas, or newly added areas (including areas added to townships) but the different municipalities have specific instruction to address the situation," Bhattacharya told Frontline.

According to official statistics, there are still 178 people engaged in scavenging work, but they will not be doing the work for long. "We have set ourselves a deadline and by October this year there will no person in the State engaged in such demeaning work," said Bhattacharya.
The Minister said that one major difference between West Bengal and some other States on this issue was that all those engaged in this inhuman task were salaried employees of the various Municipal Corporations and received all the benefits, including living quarters, pay and allowances due to a Class IV employee of the State government.

In 1991, the CPI(M)-led Left Front government in the State launched the Integrated Liberation of Scavengers Scheme. By this project 1,82,000 dry latrines were converted to sanitary latrines in six phases at a project cost of Rs.100 crores.

According to Bhattacharya, even as recently as eight years ago there were around 20,000 scavengers, mostly from Bihar, working in different parts of West Bengal. "Today, apart from a few in very remote areas, all scavengers have been liberated and no one has to carry night soil on his or her head anymore. We have provided alternative employment opportunities to all of them, and they are working in different capacities, as sweepers, peons, labourers and so on," he said.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay
From : Frontline, September 22nd, 2006

Status of Scavengers in Tamilnadu

Out in the open

S. DORAIRAJ in Chennai

Tamil Nadu has miles to go before eliminating manual scavenging.

"AS promised in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) election manifesto... the abhorrent practice of manual scavenging will be put to an end and alternative jobs will be provided to these workers. In accordance with this, action is being taken to provide training in other vocations and to rehabilitate 11,691 persons at a cost of Rs.50 crore." This is how the Tamil Nadu government declared, in its review budget for 2006-07, its intentions to do away with the age-old practice.
But reports from the districts indicate that the number of identified persons formed only a small percentage of the actual population of manual scavengers, mostly Dalits, and that the State has miles to go to meet the 2007 deadline envisaged by the National Action Plan for Total Eradication of Manual Scavenging.

However, the DMK government's admission of the prevalence of the practice marks a shift from the stance of the previous All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam regime, which had denied the existence of manual scavenging and dry latrines in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK government had asserted in its affidavit of August 5, 2004, in the Supreme Court, which was hearing a public interest petition of the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) and others, that manual scavenging had been eradicated in the State.

The claim was found to be untrue in surveys conducted between July and November 2004. The feedback revealed that the practice was rampant in 12 districts, including areas under the jurisdiction of town panchayats, municipalities and corporations. Enclosing evidence with photographs to their rejoinder, the petitioners sought a strict view of the conduct of the State in the proceedings.

Though Tamil Nadu was among the first States to adopt the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, its implementation has been tardy, thanks to lack of political will, say activists. The Act prescribes imprisonment up to one year or a fine of Rs.2,000 for employing manual scavengers or constructing dry latrines, besides making the offenders liable to prosecution under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

As the SKA survey pointed out, people using public roads as toilets is a common sight in several small towns and some cities of Tamil Nadu. Open-air defecation is prevalent even in the corporation areas of Chennai and Madurai, making manual scavenging "indispensable". Besides, traditional notions of `impurity' and `pollution' still discourage people from having indoor toilets.
According to Census 2001, of the 1.41 crore households in the State, more than 91.90 lakh did not have latrines within the house. Only 32.91 lakh households had water closet facility. The number of dry latrines in the State was estimated at 6.56 lakh and that of pit latrines at 10.35 lakh.

In terms of households having water closet facility, as many as 13 districts, including Dharmapuri, Thiruvannamalai, Villupuram, Perambalur and Virudhunagar, were behind the national average of 18.02 per cent and the State average of 23.22 per cent.

K.R. Ganesan, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Ooragavalarchi Ullatchithurai Oozhiyargal Sangam, an affiliate of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, said that considering the total number of non-flush latrines, the public and private sectors should together account for one lakh manual scavengers in the State. As most of the rural areas did not have water closets, the scavengers, mostly women, had to carry headloads of human excreta, he said.

According to R. Adhiyaman, founder president of the Adi Tamizhar Peravai, which has been spearheading the campaign against manual scavenging, 35,561 people are still engaged in this despicable job in Tamil Nadu. Many of the toilets that the government built were useless because they did not have enough water supply.

Even public sector establishments such as the Railways are not kind to these workers. "We can see women cleaning raway tracks filled with human excreta manually in the early hours of the day," he said.

These manual scavengers bear the brunt of the "side effects" of congregations. Adhiyaman claimed that at a recent festival in Tiruchendur, where several thousands of people gathered, temporary pit latrines were set up and 500 persons - all of them Arunthathiars (Sakkiliars) - were employed to remove the night soil.

A disturbing factor that poses a serious health hazard is the failure to ensure total sanitation in towns and villages where nearly 60 per cent of non-flush latrines empty human waste into open drains. "These people never opt for septic tanks as mandated," said P. Deivanai, a social worker at Omalur near Salem. The majority of people in villages seldom used the toilets built for them and preferred to defecate in the open air, she claimed.

Ezhil Ilango, a social activist who has done a study on manual scavenging, felt that the integrated sanitation complexes constructed for women in different locations had not had a significant impact.


Most of the manual scavengers work without proper instruments. They clear faeces on to containers, which they carry on their heads or shoulders to the dumping grounds; the lucky few have wheelbarrows. In many places they do not have gloves or gumboots, not to speak of other safety equipment, Ganesan said.

In this context, activists have welcomed Local Administration Minister M.K. Stalin's announcement that the government will earmark Rs.1 crore to distribute gloves, boots and safety equipment to the sanitary workers of municipalities and corporations. Besides, in the recent budget session of the Assembly, Adi Dravida Welfare Minister A. Tamilarasi announced that the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers had been formulated to organise scavengers and their dependants under self-help groups for training and economic assistance.

But even today, despite their appalling working conditions, manual scavengers are not in a position to demand fair wages. In many places, they get an average monthly wage of Rs.20 a house and on an average every worker cleans latrines in 50 households. The insignificant remuneration forces them into the debt trap set by upper-caste people. Ultimately, they end up in eternal bondage, owing to usurious interest rates. This results in their wards also taking up manual scavenging.

Members of the Arunthathiar community, who are placed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and the hierarchy of Dalit sub-castes, are involved mostly in this caste-based occupation. Ilango said that though people of other castes were involved in the removal of garbage in the southern districts, Arunthathiars were forced to undertake this task. In the northern districts, `Adi Andhra' people, who speak a Telugu dialect, are engaged in the task. "It is unfortunate that call letters for vacancies of conservancy workers are sent to Arunthathiar candidates only, irrespective of their educational qualification. They can well be utilised for gardening and other maintenance work," he said.

Caste discrimination against these workers, more particularly in restaurants and tea stalls in urban areas, are on the wane, but they are still looked down upon by caste Hindus in rural areas, particularly in town and village panchayats. They still live in segregated colonies with little scope to utilise common facilities. In many villages, caste Hindus avoided giving them water in glasses or containers, Ganesan said.

The only silver lining seems to be the motor-driven pumps introduced in some towns and semi-urban areas to clean septic tanks. "We never use our hands as our predecessors did to clean septic tanks," said a Dalit worker of a private scavenging unit in Salem city. The city has 15 private agencies manned by Dalits engaged in cleaning septic tanks and manholes in houses and apartments. In several other areas, including Aruppukottai in Virudhunagar district, Madurai and Coimbatore, deaths due to asphyxiation while cleaning septic tanks have become common, Ganesan said.

Officialdom, however, takes every opportunity to project a rosy picture. "We have completely eradicated manual scavenging through the total sanitation programme" is the refrain of the district administrations, including those of Tiruchi and Coimbatore. Citing the recent example of panchayati raj institutions in the State bagging several Nirmal Gram Puraskar awards, officials claim that Tamil Nadu is a model for other States in sanitation.

They also highlight the success story of Keerampalayam village panchayat in Cuddalore district and the achievement of a women's self-help group in Coimbatore, named after Kalpana Chawla, in creating awareness among the public on a low-cost sanitation project. Sources in Coimbatore even claim that since manual scavenging has been eradicated, workers engaged in the dreaded practice have switched to jobs such as cleaning underground drainage systems and septic tanks. The claim only underscores the need for a path-breaking, scientific approach to this sensitive and complex socio-economic issue.

With inputs from S. Annamalai in Madurai, R. Ilangovan in Salem,
V.S. Palaniappan in Coimbatore and M. Balaganessin in Tiruchi

Curtsy Frontline, September 22nd, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Status of Scavengers in India

India's shame

ANNIE ZAIDI
in New Delhi, Punjab and Haryana

Manual scavenging is still a disgusting reality in most States despite an Act of Parliament banning it.

`SHAMEFUL', `degrading', `dehumanising', `disgusting', `obnoxious', `abhorrent', a `blot on humanity' - these are some of the words used to describe `manual scavenging', which in plain language means people lifting human excreta with their hands and carrying the load on their heads, hips or shoulders. If they are lucky, they get to use a wagon.

Over the years books have been written, committees and commissions have been set up, laws have been enacted and crores of rupees have been spent to eradicate manual scavenging. But even after six decades of Independence, India continues to dehumanise, degrade and shame the most vulnerable amongst us. Governments in several States have denied in court the existence of manual scavengers despite evidence to the contrary.

In 2002-03, the Union Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment admitted the existence of 6.76 lakh people who lift human excreta for a living and the presence of 92 lakh dry latrines, spread across 21 States and Union Territories. However, when the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), along with individual scavengers and organisations which are working for the cause, filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2003, most States hotly denied having scavengers and claimed that most of them had been rehabilitated in alternative professions. It took three years and strong admonishments from the apex court for the States to respond. Most of them submitted affidavits claiming that no dry latrines exist and, therefore, no manual scavenging exists. Since then, several affidavits and counter-affidavits have been filed.

Bezwada Wilson, national convener of the SKA, says the problem is not about identifying, educating or providing alternatives. The problem is one of attitude. "No reliable data are available. We have conducted sample surveys with our limited resources and we estimate that there could be as many as 13 lakh manual scavengers in the country," he says.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine (Prohibition) Act was passed in 1993. Says Wilson: "It took another decade for some States to adopt it. Some States refuse to adopt the law, saying that they don't have any manual scavengers, despite evidence to the contrary, while some States adopted the law only after the SKA went to the Supreme Court. How can you solve a problem unless you first admit that a problem exists?"

Capital falsehood

A Frontline investigation found that the state of denial extends to the national capital. The affidavit filed by the Delhi government in the Supreme Court has accused the petitioners of levelling "bad allegations against answering respondent without verifying facts". On a visit to Nand Nagri near Shahdara in the National Capital Region in order to verify, Frontline met Meena, who is a volunteer with the SKA and has been working as a manual scavenger since she was nine.

Says Meena, who is in her mid-twenties: "I remember the first time I had to carry a basketful on my head. I slipped and fell into the gutter. No one would come to pick me up because the basket was so dirty and I was covered with filth. I sat there, howling, until another woman scavenger arrived. She hosed me down and took me home. But that day I felt like the most unfortunate child in the whole world."

According to her, there could be anywhere between 100 and 150 families in that suburb working as manual scavengers. "There is Rampur, Seemapuri, Tarpur, Kachipura, Ashoknagar, Seva Dham; in Seva Dham people go into open fields around their kuchcha houses. But afterwards, they make you clean that open space also," she says. "Many people just dig a hole in the ground and hang jute mats around it. Then they call people from our community to clean up."


Meena somehow managed to stay in school until she cleared her secondary level examinations, but education brought little change. "This is what we've been doing for generations and nobody gives us other work. In fact, my mother was married to my father based upon the fact that he lived in a busy, crowded area and there was that much more to carry."

Meena's husband Mukesh works in a community toilet near their shack in Nand Nagri. Mukesh wanted to apply for a government sweeper's post, like his father, but could not. "They ask for Rs.50,000 in bribes for a government job. At best, I could hope for occasional work, where I get Rs.100 on a daily-wage basis, but the policeman takes his cut," he says. "Finally, I cleaned this public toilet, which was run by the MCD [Municipal Corporation of Delhi] until last year. Now, it is in private hands. There is no water to clean the toilet, incidentally. I fill my bucket with water from the open gutter outside." He adds that many people simply squat outside the toilet, instead of sitting on the commode; the safai karamchari is left to clean up.

Meena's mother Sharada cleans most of the private dry latrines in the area. She says: "There are about 10 dry latrines now. I get Rs.10 per house. Many houses have got pucca latrines now. But the way they are constructed, the sewage comes from a pipe into the open gutter below. And we have to clean this gutter. On many days the gutter overflows with excreta and when there isn't enough water to wash it away, it accumulates and dries. My husband sweeps it into a corner and I lift it out of the gutter using two pieces of plastic and put it into a basket."

Sharada's current grouse is that her basket is broken. A new one costs around Rs.70, which she cannot afford. So she has hired a rickshaw-cart, which she pulls herself. She piles it with both garbage and gutter-filth, which she later sorts to pick out anything with resale value.

Even Mahatma Gandhi's Gujarat has not learnt to clean its own toilets. There are about 55,000 scavengers in Gujarat, according to the Navsarjan Trust, which has been leading the movement in the State. Its founder, Martin Macwan, believes that it is impossible to determine correctly the size of the problem because people refuse access to their homes. "We can know only about those employed with the government, local civic bodies or panchayats. The estimates are based on the population of Balmikis, the kind of work they engage in, and sample surveys," he says. "The State government does nothing except allocate money. The scavengers are made to believe that this is their work and they cannot do anything else, so they don't want to talk about it."

Clearly, State governments are not going to talk about it either, if they can help it. Haryana and Punjab claim they have no manual scavengers. However, visits to localities in the two States showed that they had not only failed in their commitment to eradicate manual scavenging but also lied to the Supreme Court.

At Sanoli Road, a locality in Panipat town in Haryana, Frontline saw at least five dry latrines and met three scavengers. Bhagwati, who lives in Deha basti, has spent her whole life doing precisely the task the civic authorities deny the existence of - cleaning dry latrines manually. She says that she carries narak (hell, in Hindi). "I have been doing this ever since I can remember. My mother did it, my sister did it and I am doing it." The only saving grace, according to Bhagwati, is that there is no lack of water in the area. "As it is, my hands and feet and waist get marked by the `narak'. At least, I can bathe after work," she says.

Bala, 35, lives in what is commonly known as Balmiki basti in Panipat town and has been cleaning dry latrines in some of the houses in the area for the past 18 years. She would gladly stop doing it now if only she had an alternative. "Who wants to lift other people's filth? But I am forced to because we're so poor. No household gives me more than Rs.15-20," she says.

However, as far as the State government is concerned, people like Bhagwati and Bala do not exist. Its affidavit filed this year in the Supreme Court claims that until 1992 there were 2.02 lakh dry latrines but these were phased out and not a single one remains. It also claims that the Rs.18.36 crores received from the Centre was used up for training and rehabilitation, that 15,739 scavengers were rehabilitated and that "Haryana is a scavenger-free State".

Punjab has a similar take. The State government conducted a survey in 1992 after the Centre launched the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their dependants. The scheme, which was to be implemented by the States, enabled beneficiaries to get vocational training and be settled in alternative professions. It also provided households below the poverty line an 80 per cent subsidy to build flush latrines.

At that time, Punjab identified 12,444 scavenger families. In the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court this year the State claimed: "Since banks were not providing timely loans to the beneficiaries, the Punjab Scheduled Castes Land Development and Finance Corporation also started disbursing loans to them under its own scheme to avoid hardship to this class. The pace of the scheme was very slow as scavengers were not coming forward to avail the loan under this scheme; therefore, fresh survey for identification of scavengers was got conducted (sic) through Deputy Commissioners in all the districts of the State. As a result, only 531 scavengers were identified."



K. ANANTHAN

IN COIMBATORE, TAMIL Nadu, going down to clear a choked drain with minimum equipment.

How this statistical miracle occurred is anybody's guess. Of the 531 people identified, the State claimed that 389 "rehabilitated on their own and remaining 142 scavengers have been rehabilitated by the Corporation". Most of them are women and that they are "on their own" is clear to them.

Subhash Desawar, State convener of the SKA, told Frontline that in Samrala town, in relatively prosperous Ludhiana district, he could recall readily the names of 20 women. "Incidentally, this is the home town of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president. We also have evidence of manual scavenging in Patiala, the constituency of the Chief Minister," he says.

Most of the women got into this work only after marriage. Shanti, 70, began cleaning dry latrines about 20 years ago. "Many have been converted to flush latrines, especially after the SKA people came with cameras. Those people whose homes had dry latrines got frightened and were ashamed, so many of them converted," she says. "But there are a few left. We get Rs.20 from each house, and sometimes leftover food."

Amarwati, another senior citizen, has been cleaning dry latrines for as long as she can remember. She says: "I don't like it. I have studied till the 4th standard. I can read newspapers, novels and can write a bit. But there was no option. It seems I have done this forever. I didn't let my daughter do it, but I have no alternative for myself."

At least 15 women confirmed that they clean dry latrines and that they have not got any help from the authorities. They had not heard of any government scheme to train and rehabilitate them, no civic official had approached them with an offer of loans, and, until the SKA intervention they were neither included in any survey nor asked to stop doing their work.

Another major hurdle to the eradication of scavenging is the Railways. The tracks have to be cleaned manually since coaches have the `open discharge' system, and most stations are not equipped with concretised platforms that would allow waste to be washed away with jets of water. In their response to the Supreme Court, the railways cited lack of money. The Railways claim that a proposal to fit fully sealed latrines is "under consideration" and "various technologies shall be tried out", but refuse to set themselves a deadline to end the present practice.

Challenges ahead


In the 13 years since the passing of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine (Prohibition) Act there has not been a single prosecution; the Act stipulates imprisonment up to a year and fines up to Rs.2,000 or both. "The law is more like a scheme; it has no teeth. The powers rest with the sanitary inspector or the Collector, while the worker himself cannot file a case," says Wilson. "Workers who clean open gutters, manholes and septic tanks, who are exposed to great risks, are not covered by the Act. Also, though the States have adopted the Act, most have not adopted the rules and regulations along with it."

While the government has made attempts through various schemes offering loans and subsidies, setting up the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis and the National Safai Karamchari Financing and Development Corporation, they have not succeeded.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in its affidavit, claims that 1.56 lakh people were trained and 4.08 lakh were rehabilitated until 2002, and that Rs.712.14 crores have been released to the States. It also says that there were only about four lakh scavengers in 1989, conveniently omitting to mention more recent statistics.



COURTESY: ADI THAMIZH AR PERAVAI SAXENA

In the same city, a public facility that is cleaned manually.

The Social Justice Ministry, at different points of time, offered five different sets of figures, as stated in the Ninth Report of the Public Accounts Committee. For instance, the number of scavengers identified in Assam went up threefold between 1997 and 1999.

Interestingly, an audit of the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers for the period 1992 to 2002 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) threw up a maze of conflicting data. In fact, the CAG report on the audit said the Rs.600-crore grant given by the Centre to the States had "gone, literally, down the latrine". The latest scheme is a National Action Plan for the Total Eradication of Manual Scavenging by 2007, under which the responsibility for liberation and rehabilitation has been shifted to the Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, which is the nodal Ministry to deal with the issue.

However, the Centre cannot resolve this problem alone, for `sanitation' is a State subject and manual scavenging is, finally, a sanitation issue and, more importantly, a health issue.

The SKA petition had mentioned a study by the Environmental Sanitation Institute, Gandhi Ashram, which said the majority of scavengers suffered from anaemia, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Besides, 62 per cent of them had respiratory diseases, 32 per cent had skin diseases, 42 per cent had jaundice and 23 per cent had trachoma, leading to blindness. Many died of carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning septic tanks, it said.

Any public health official would agree that septic tanks themselves are a health hazard. Sewage and storm-water drains often mix, and the effluent flows into the local river. Open gutters are another menace, making whole populations vulnerable to malaria, dengue, gastroenteritis, hepatitis and many other diseases.

Unfortunately, government and municipal authorities tend to ignore sanitation because it does not bring the voters' wrath upon their heads as urgently as, say, water and power supply. It takes a plague, as it did in Surat, to make them sit up and smell the sewage.

As far as the primary issue of dry latrines is concerned, there is no way of countering it other than the demolition of all existing units.

Uttaranchal, in fact, may have inadvertently struck the nail on the head when it filed an affidavit saying, "as long as dry latrines remain in existence, the scavengers to clean the same will also remain".


Frontline, September 22nd, 2006
www.frontline.in

India's Shame

India's shame

ANNIE ZAIDI in New Delhi, Punjab and Haryana
Manual scavenging is still a disgusting reality in most States despite an Act of Parliament banning it.

`SHAMEFUL', `degrading', `dehumanising', `disgusting', `obnoxious', `abhorrent', a `blot on humanity' - these are some of the words used to describe `manual scavenging', which in plain language means people lifting human excreta with their hands and carrying the load on their heads, hips or shoulders. If they are lucky, they get to use a wagon.

Over the years books have been written, committees and commissions have been set up, laws have been enacted and crores of rupees have been spent to eradicate manual scavenging. But even after six decades of Independence, India continues to dehumanise, degrade and shame the most vulnerable amongst us. Governments in several States have denied in court the existence of manual scavengers despite evidence to the contrary.

In 2002-03, the Union Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment admitted the existence of 6.76 lakh people who lift human excreta for a living and the presence of 92 lakh dry latrines, spread across 21 States and Union Territories. However, when the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), along with individual scavengers and organisations which are working for the cause, filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2003, most States hotly denied having scavengers and claimed that most of them had been rehabilitated in alternative professions. It took three years and strong admonishments from the apex court for the States to respond. Most of them submitted affidavits claiming that no dry latrines exist and, therefore, no manual scavenging exists. Since then, several affidavits and counter-affidavits have been filed.

Bezwada Wilson, national convener of the SKA, says the problem is not about identifying, educating or providing alternatives. The problem is one of attitude. "No reliable data are available. We have conducted sample surveys with our limited resources and we estimate that there could be as many as 13 lakh manual scavengers in the country," he says.
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine (Prohibition) Act was passed in 1993. Says Wilson: "It took another decade for some States to adopt it. Some States refuse to adopt the law, saying that they don't have any manual scavengers, despite evidence to the contrary, while some States adopted the law only after the SKA went to the Supreme Court. How can you solve a problem unless you first admit that a problem exists?"
Capital falsehood

A Frontline investigation found that the state of denial extends to the national capital. The affidavit filed by the Delhi government in the Supreme Court has accused the petitioners of levelling "bad allegations against answering respondent without verifying facts". On a visit to Nand Nagri near Shahdara in the National Capital Region in order to verify, Frontline met Meena, who is a volunteer with the SKA and has been working as a manual scavenger since she was nine.

Says Meena, who is in her mid-twenties: "I remember the first time I had to carry a basketful on my head. I slipped and fell into the gutter. No one would come to pick me up because the basket was so dirty and I was covered with filth. I sat there, howling, until another woman scavenger arrived. She hosed me down and took me home. But that day I felt like the most unfortunate child in the whole world."

According to her, there could be anywhere between 100 and 150 families in that suburb working as manual scavengers. "There is Rampur, Seemapuri, Tarpur, Kachipura, Ashoknagar, Seva Dham; in Seva Dham people go into open fields around their kuchcha houses. But afterwards, they make you clean that open space also," she says. "Many people just dig a hole in the ground and hang jute mats around it. Then they call people from our community to clean up."

Meena somehow managed to stay in school until she cleared her secondary level examinations, but education brought little change. "This is what we've been doing for generations and nobody gives us other work. In fact, my mother was married to my father based upon the fact that he lived in a busy, crowded area and there was that much more to carry."
Meena's husband Mukesh works in a community toilet near their shack in Nand Nagri. Mukesh wanted to apply for a government sweeper's post, like his father, but could not. "They ask for Rs.50,000 in bribes for a government job. At best, I could hope for occasional work, where I get Rs.100 on a daily-wage basis, but the policeman takes his cut," he says. "Finally, I cleaned this public toilet, which was run by the MCD [Municipal Corporation of Delhi] until last year. Now, it is in private hands. There is no water to clean the toilet, incidentally. I fill my bucket with water from the open gutter outside." He adds that many people simply squat outside the toilet, instead of sitting on the commode; the safai karamchari is left to clean up.

Meena's mother Sharada cleans most of the private dry latrines in the area. She says: "There are about 10 dry latrines now. I get Rs.10 per house. Many houses have got pucca latrines now. But the way they are constructed, the sewage comes from a pipe into the open gutter below. And we have to clean this gutter. On many days the gutter overflows with excreta and when there isn't enough water to wash it away, it accumulates and dries. My husband sweeps it into a corner and I lift it out of the gutter using two pieces of plastic and put it into a basket."
Sharada's current grouse is that her basket is broken. A new one costs around Rs.70, which she cannot afford. So she has hired a rickshaw-cart, which she pulls herself. She piles it with both garbage and gutter-filth, which she later sorts to pick out anything with resale value.
Even Mahatma Gandhi's Gujarat has not learnt to clean its own toilets. There are about 55,000 scavengers in Gujarat, according to the Navsarjan Trust, which has been leading the movement in the State. Its founder, Martin Macwan, believes that it is impossible to determine correctly the size of the problem because people refuse access to their homes. "We can know only about those employed with the government, local civic bodies or panchayats. The estimates are based on the population of Balmikis, the kind of work they engage in, and sample surveys," he says. "The State government does nothing except allocate money. The scavengers are made to believe that this is their work and they cannot do anything else, so they don't want to talk about it."

Clearly, State governments are not going to talk about it either, if they can help it. Haryana and Punjab claim they have no manual scavengers. However, visits to localities in the two States showed that they had not only failed in their commitment to eradicate manual scavenging but also lied to the Supreme Court.

SANDEEP SAXENA Clearing garbage and sewage on a cart she has hired.

At Sanoli Road, a locality in Panipat town in Haryana, Frontline saw at least five dry latrines and met three scavengers. Bhagwati, who lives in Deha basti, has spent her whole life doing precisely the task the civic authorities deny the existence of - cleaning dry latrines manually. She says that she carries narak (hell, in Hindi). "I have been doing this ever since I can remember. My mother did it, my sister did it and I am doing it." The only saving grace, according to Bhagwati, is that there is no lack of water in the area. "As it is, my hands and feet and waist get marked by the `narak'. At least, I can bathe after work," she says.

Bala, 35, lives in what is commonly known as Balmiki basti in Panipat town and has been cleaning dry latrines in some of the houses in the area for the past 18 years. She would gladly stop doing it now if only she had an alternative. "Who wants to lift other people's filth? But I am forced to because we're so poor. No household gives me more than Rs.15-20," she says.
However, as far as the State government is concerned, people like Bhagwati and Bala do not exist. Its affidavit filed this year in the Supreme Court claims that until 1992 there were 2.02 lakh dry latrines but these were phased out and not a single one remains. It also claims that the Rs.18.36 crores received from the Centre was used up for training and rehabilitation, that 15,739 scavengers were rehabilitated and that "Haryana is a scavenger-free State".

Punjab has a similar take. The State government conducted a survey in 1992 after the Centre launched the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their dependants. The scheme, which was to be implemented by the States, enabled beneficiaries to get vocational training and be settled in alternative professions. It also provided households below the poverty line an 80 per cent subsidy to build flush latrines.

At that time, Punjab identified 12,444 scavenger families. In the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court this year the State claimed: "Since banks were not providing timely loans to the beneficiaries, the Punjab Scheduled Castes Land Development and Finance Corporation also started disbursing loans to them under its own scheme to avoid hardship to this class. The pace of the scheme was very slow as scavengers were not coming forward to avail the loan under this scheme; therefore, fresh survey for identification of scavengers was got conducted (sic) through Deputy Commissioners in all the districts of the State. As a result, only 531 scavengers were identified."

How this statistical miracle occurred is anybody's guess. Of the 531 people identified, the State claimed that 389 "rehabilitated on their own and remaining 142 scavengers have been rehabilitated by the Corporation". Most of them are women and that they are "on their own" is clear to them.

Subhash Desawar, State convener of the SKA, told Frontline that in Samrala town, in relatively prosperous Ludhiana district, he could recall readily the names of 20 women. "Incidentally, this is the home town of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president. We also have evidence of manual scavenging in Patiala, the constituency of the Chief Minister," he says.

Most of the women got into this work only after marriage. Shanti, 70, began cleaning dry latrines about 20 years ago. "Many have been converted to flush latrines, especially after the SKA people came with cameras. Those people whose homes had dry latrines got frightened and were ashamed, so many of them converted," she says. "But there are a few left. We get Rs.20 from each house, and sometimes leftover food."

Amarwati, another senior citizen, has been cleaning dry latrines for as long as she can remember. She says: "I don't like it. I have studied till the 4th standard. I can read newspapers, novels and can write a bit. But there was no option. It seems I have done this forever. I didn't let my daughter do it, but I have no alternative for myself."

At least 15 women confirmed that they clean dry latrines and that they have not got any help from the authorities. They had not heard of any government scheme to train and rehabilitate them, no civic official had approached them with an offer of loans, and, until the SKA intervention they were neither included in any survey nor asked to stop doing their work.
Another major hurdle to the eradication of scavenging is the Railways. The tracks have to be cleaned manually since coaches have the `open discharge' system, and most stations are not equipped with concretised platforms that would allow waste to be washed away with jets of water. In their response to the Supreme Court, the railways cited lack of money. The Railways claim that a proposal to fit fully sealed latrines is "under consideration" and "various technologies shall be tried out", but refuse to set themselves a deadline to end the present practice.
Challenges ahead

In the 13 years since the passing of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine (Prohibition) Act there has not been a single prosecution; the Act stipulates imprisonment up to a year and fines up to Rs.2,000 or both. "The law is more like a scheme; it has no teeth. The powers rest with the sanitary inspector or the Collector, while the worker himself cannot file a case," says Wilson. "Workers who clean open gutters, manholes and septic tanks, who are exposed to great risks, are not covered by the Act. Also, though the States have adopted the Act, most have not adopted the rules and regulations along with it."
While the government has made attempts through various schemes offering loans and subsidies, setting up the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis and the National Safai Karamchari Financing and Development Corporation, they have not succeeded.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in its affidavit, claims that 1.56 lakh people were trained and 4.08 lakh were rehabilitated until 2002, and that Rs.712.14 crores have been released to the States. It also says that there were only about four lakh scavengers in 1989, conveniently omitting to mention more recent statistics.

The Social Justice Ministry, at different points of time, offered five different sets of figures, as stated in the Ninth Report of the Public Accounts Committee. For instance, the number of scavengers identified in Assam went up threefold between 1997 and 1999.

Interestingly, an audit of the National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers for the period 1992 to 2002 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) threw up a maze of conflicting data. In fact, the CAG report on the audit said the Rs.600-crore grant given by the Centre to the States had "gone, literally, down the latrine". The latest scheme is a National Action Plan for the Total Eradication of Manual Scavenging by 2007, under which the responsibility for liberation and rehabilitation has been shifted to the Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, which is the nodal Ministry to deal with the issue.
However, the Centre cannot resolve this problem alone, for `sanitation' is a State subject and manual scavenging is, finally, a sanitation issue and, more importantly, a health issue.
The SKA petition had mentioned a study by the Environmental Sanitation Institute, Gandhi Ashram, which said the majority of scavengers suffered from anaemia, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Besides, 62 per cent of them had respiratory diseases, 32 per cent had skin diseases, 42 per cent had jaundice and 23 per cent had trachoma, leading to blindness. Many died of carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning septic tanks, it said.

Any public health official would agree that septic tanks themselves are a health hazard. Sewage and storm-water drains often mix, and the effluent flows into the local river. Open gutters are another menace, making whole populations vulnerable to malaria, dengue, gastroenteritis, hepatitis and many other diseases.

Unfortunately, government and municipal authorities tend to ignore sanitation because it does not bring the voters' wrath upon their heads as urgently as, say, water and power supply. It takes a plague, as it did in Surat, to make them sit up and smell the sewage.
As far as the primary issue of dry latrines is concerned, there is no way of countering it other than the demolition of all existing units.

Uttaranchal, in fact, may have inadvertently struck the nail on the head when it filed an affidavit saying, "as long as dry latrines remain in existence, the scavengers to clean the same will also remain".
Curtsy : Frontline, September 22, 2006
www.frontline.in

condition of Hindi Speaking Dalits in West Bengal

Hindi Speaking Dalits at the receiving end in West Bengal By V.B.Rawat


"Kamane wala khayega, Lootne wala jayega, Naya Jamana Ayega…"

(The worker will rule, the looter will have to go, Soon there will be a new dawn)

These slogans are not just a matter of past. The rhetoric's are still visible in Bengal even today but hollowness of this slogan is visible when you watch the condition of Dalits who migrated from Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana and living in utterly miserable conditions. One wonders why the displacement and disenchantment of these people did not become an issue for any of the political outfits of Bengal. The façade of the slogan of proletariat is exposed once you visit the bustees of the Hindi speaking Dalits, share their pain and anguish as an isolated community.

While slogan like that were loud in the air, the famous Belllilius Park was ready for inauguration of biotech 'Dhobighat' on 16 th of November 2005. Local Member of Parliament from the Communist Party of India along with the Mayor of Howarh were being welcomed by the Marxist supporters. Both of them talked about the importance of this biotech Dhobighat for their 'dhobi' brethrens. I was wondering of a slogan raised by the Dhobi community in Uttar-Pradesh a few years back in which they said 'nahi chahiye dhobighat, hame chahiye rajpat' (We don't need wash platform, we need power). One has to understand why the Marxist leader opted for a Dhobighat and not for any other thing, even when there are very few dhobis located there. Yes, the brahmanical doctrine of putting one Dalit community against other is well known despite its miserable failure.

Bellilius Park is spread on a huge area which has college, shops, along with some Dalit particularly belonging to Safai communities living there. It was time when the British brought a very large number of these people from Uttar-Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Bihar and other parts of the country to clean their manual toilets as well as involved them in the municipality's work of road cleaning. Bengal does not have its own scavenging community and therefore it imported people from the Hindi heartland. It is a fact that Bengali society does not have that much of untouchability as exist in the cow belt. Yet, the Safai communities here never got a house to live even on rent. It was a difficult condition that despite all their pain and anguish there was no place under which these people could live a life of their dignity. The British and later the Howarh Municipal Corporation allowed them to stay in old constructed isolated houses in various places including in Bellilius Park.

As new life started building, the Safai communities in Kolkata and Howarah started looking for new alternatives and vision. They started sending their children to schools for education even when the West Bengal's Upper Caste government did not give them SC certificate. The Dalits who migrated from Hindi heartland today face double victimization in Bengal. The houses and land they occupied could not give them legal entitlement and hence in new Bengal where communists are inviting not only multinationals on the one side but also Bangladeshi Bhadralok on the other. Bellilius Park fell to the conspiracy of the left front, which fool people in the name of land reform. Whose land reform are they talking about? How come such a vast number of migrants Dalits who devoted their life to the well being of Bengal remain thoroughly isolated and homeless even after 50 years of independence? Who should we blame this for? To the US imperialist forces, who the left front always chant from morning till evening on every issue they confront with? In February 2003, the state authorities came along with bulldozers and destroyed the colony where the Safai community was living. As I mentioned earlier, this Bellilus Park is a huge area occupied by the shop owners, schools and others. The Bhadraloks destroyed the schools; temples of the Valmikis, Hellas, Mehtars, Rawats and Sudarshans which they had build up during the year. The only non-destroyed structure there was a statue of Subhash Chandra Bose. Bengali Nationalism was bigger than the human loss. The communists would erect temples and get involved in Durga Puja but would not allow the Dalits to worship their own Gods.

Why were just the Safai communities targeted and not others?

It is important to understand that the Hindi speaking Safai communities were developing well. They were not interested in carrying night soil over their head. Shamefully, Howarh Municipal Corporation still has this practice. Despite numerous notifications this heinous practice of carrying Night Soil has not been prohibited fully. This work is thoroughly done by the Safai communities of the North.

To rub salt on the wound, West Bengal government does not treat the communities working on the Safai as different castes under the Scheduled Castes. According to government notification Safai is a profession and not a caste and all those who are involved in this profession should be called as Mehtars. Therefore, Helas, Rawats, Valmikis, Bhangis, Sudarshans, Dhanuks have been clubbed together as Mehtars much to the resentments of the people. Helas for that matter would not get an SC certificate by Hela name and they have to put themselves under Mehtars. By choosing a caste denomination, West Bengal's left front government has shown how bankrupt it has gone on ideas.


Paradox of A Dalits Life

All the Safai Unions in Bengal are crying against the state government for dereserving their seats. Their children do not get any reservation as they are forced to produce their forefather's certificate. ' How can I get the caste certificate of my grand father when my father has been working here for over 50 years, says, Veerendra Kumar, whose father and mother both worked in the Railways in the Sanitation post, belonged to Mehtar community. Ramesh was born in 1980 in Howarah itself and passed his examinations fairly well. He finished his B.A. by getting 56% marks and in the intermediate he scored first class with 64%. All this under severely difficult conditions as they had just one room house. Today, Veerendra is working as Sales agent in a mobile company. He cannot apply in the government jobs under the reserve category, as he has not got any SC certificate from them.

Vikas Hela could not get a government job as he has not got a certificate of the residence of Bengal. Hence he work as a wage labor. The West Bengal's Bhadralok government does not believe in caste and therefore feel no need of reservation. Comrade Asim Das Gupta was lauding his government's effort to remove poverty and provide a secular alternative. Yes, Mr Das Gupta, you gained a lot in entering India and the gates of West Bengal are still opened for Bangladeshi's. They can get any domicile easily in West Bengal but not those who happened to be Indian and came hundred years back, ask Ashok Hela.

Now the mechanization process has started in the municipality. Most of the work is not of cleaning night soil hence the Hindi speaking Dalits have been denied this right. The new positions are being filled up by the Bengalis. Mr Mewa Lal Param Das, State President of All India Scheduled Caste Yuvjan Sabha openly blamed the West Bengal government for ignoring the interest of migrant Dalits. He said that there has been fund for rebuilding houses for all those who have been displaced from Bellilius Park but the state government did not use the fund and it went back to the Center. Though Mewa Lal's organization has been working on providing new alternative to Dalits particularly women, yet he share the growing concern of the Safai communities that a majority of them would be rendered jobless in near future as the government is least bothered about them. ' That way, he says, West Bengal remain ungrateful to those who made it clean.'

Most of the displaced families (they are over 750) from Bellilius Park are living in different places like Eastern Bypass, Belgachchia Bhagad and Tetultulla. The conditions in these localities are unmentionable. Most of these areas were the nigh soil depot but now being used by the community. The people do not know when they would be shunted out of these places. When I visited the by pass area hundreds of women, children and old men surround me. They were afraid of the CPM's cadre who might play spoilsports as the new dhobighat was being inaugurated in the nearby Bellilius Park where from these hapless people were thrown away. The land they live on the track of railways. People fear that one day they can also be thrown away without giving any notice. The fear and agony comes on their face.

Pain and agony of non recognition

Kishan Balmiki lives in the outskirts of the town Howrah. Earlier he was in the Bellilius Park. His life has been a remarkable life of a revolutionary. Though he worked as a non-resident Mehtar and was involved once upon a time in the practice of carrying night soil for Howrah Municipal Corporation, Kishan blames his circumstances and friends for forcing him in to this hell. " I was into the studies. Then I embraced Marx and became part of the Naxalite movement. I talked about revolution, even when I was forced by my father to get into scavenging profession. Some time my colleagues in the movement worked for me.' Kishan developed other skills and started taking insurance and other work. It worked very much for him. He wanted to leave the work once the insurance and other part time work was providing him enough money but then the lure of 'government' job forced him to the corporation. Today, he blames not only his father but also community guides.

Kishan could get a house in a better locality because the owner does not know that he work as a Safai Karmchari in the Howrah Municipal Corporation and because his children are being educated well.

But Laxmi Devi, a mother of four children found it difficult to rent a house. She was living in a small hut, which was later purchased by another fellow from Bihar. He developed a multi story complex and rented it out. The complex has small rooms and highly unhygienic conditions. This complex is owned by a Paswan from Bihar, a Dalit and most of the occupants in this complex belong to dalit communities from Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar and yet tragically, they all fought together to deny Laxmi Devi, a Hela, room. The matter went to local court and Laxmi Devi and her husband won the case and now they are living on the third floor of the complex. The agony of marginalisation due to scavenging work is clear on her face. Laxmi Devi's husband Mata Prashad Hela worked for Railways and is about to retire now and yet in his forty years of service he could not get a house in Railway colony.

Due to non-availability of separate houses, people shifted to 'Maila depots' (where all the nightsoil used to be thrown in the past) of Jogmaya, Julahapada, Balgachiya Bhagad and Goltalla area. These depots are also under threat in the similar way as of Bellilius Park because the builder mafia is now lobbying for good locations in the city.

So the West Bengal's Safai communities are facing two threats on their lives. One is no recognition as a Scheduled caste of West Bengal and the other is that they can be displaced any moment. Even if some people who want to go back to their birthplace are forced to stay back because the Howrah Municipal Corporation has no arrangement to send their pension by bank or post office transfer hence for a smaller amount of money one cannot expect people to travel every month from their residence to Howarah.

Shyam Kumar Dhanuk, Secretary of 78 block Congress Minorities Committee fear the same thing. Hundreds of families of the Dhanuk Samaj are living in KMC labour quarter on Mayur Bhaj Road, South Kolkata in utterly miserable conditions. The houses, they alleged, can come down any moment. It is dangerous to be there. " We have submitted many petitions to the Government it does not act. Perhaps it is waiting for people to die so that they could get rid of us." It is shameful on part of West Bengal establishment to force people to sign in Bangla particularly when it is difficult for Hindi speaking people to do so.

Wonderful Voices

Despite all adversity, the Safai community in West Bengal is doing wonder. Perhaps that is the reason why the Bengal society is unable to digest their progress. This year one new young boy from Hela community made it to Indian Idol. Another fellow from Jogmaya bastee Raj kumar is a play back singer and has sung in numerous programmes. He gave his play back to a Bengali movie and also trying for the Bombay Hindi films. He has got one film so far. Not only he has sung Bhajans but also brought out a cassette on Baba Saheb Ambedkar. It is wonderful to see artists, and poets in the community. Gurucharan Hela Kamal is over 75. He is spreading Ambedkarism among the community by his writings and poetry. In all the community is involved in a lot of activists, and intellectuals who are guiding it in this hour of crisis. Bhullan Masterji is leading the Dalit Mukti Morcha in Howarh and can recite number of great poetries of Sahir and Shailendra to prove his points.

But the most astonishing story is of Mrs Kewla Devi. It is a story of grit and achievement in her own sense. Kewla Devi married in 1950 and came to Howrah that time to be with her husband. Her husband was in the sanitation department of Railways, which was not enough for running their family two sons and a daughter. She too decided to work as a domestic sweeper. She started carrying night soil. It was a difficult decision for Kewala was one of the most beautiful woman in the locality and people did not like her doing this work. Later she got a job in the health department of Railways as a sweeper. But the lady doctor from Punjab compelled her not do the cleaning work. Even the community men opposed her sitting on the chair with the doctor. Kewala Devi when remember her old days, never forget to thank her doctor who gave her a dignity and fought with every one in the railways. She was made an assistant in the nursing. But Kewala worked harder. This time Bhullan Masterji informed her to learn typing. In the difficult circumstances of running family and doing work, Kewala learnt typing and passed the test in the Indian Railways. She was selected and today after years of working in Railways she is head clerk in the Howarh division.

She wants her community men to allow their women to leave this heinous practice of scavenging. ' We should not do this job even if we are hungry, she says. We cannot we opt for other profession, she says. Our children are not less than any other community children. They can write, read and work harder. Her grand children are working fine with their education. Kewala Devi now want to commit her time for the community after her retirement after two years. Kewla's son is an artist and has made numerous sketches and has a vision of developing an art college for students of his community despite his poor educational background.


Main issues of the Hindi speaking Dalits in Bengal

No Rehabilitation of those evicted from Bellilius Park while the petty businessmen are making money from the park.
No issuance of Scheduled Caste Certificate for the Hindi speaking Dalits hence no reservation for them in the government services.
On retirement no arrangement has been made by the municipalities to send the pension to their residence outside Bengal
Hindi speaking people are forced to sign in Bengali language
Hindi speaking Dalits have not got scholarships and all benefits, which their counterparts are getting elsewhere.
All the communities involved in the Safai profession are clubbed under 'Mehtar'. The government calls Mehtar as a profession and not as a caste. Helas, Bhangis, Rawats, Sudarshans, Dhanuks are clubbed together as Mehtars which they all object.
Unlike other places those involved in Safai work are called Mehtar officially in Bengal which is a derogatory word.

The Safai post are being offered to CPM's cadre as the issue of carrying night soil is getting over. Night Soil work is totally and one hundred percent done by the Hindi speaking Dalits.
There is a clear lack of commitment and sincerity on part of government of West Bengal towards the welfare of the Hindi speaking Dalits.


Conclusion:

The condition of Safai communities in Bengal is terrible. They have achieved a lot in these adverse circumstances. They want justice and if the government and authorities fail to fulfill their promises, these peace loving people can come to the street to protest against the conspiracy to keep them isolated and shunt them out. Government of West Bengal needs to show its commitment to social justice. A secular Bengal without social justice is unwanted. Peace will remain fragile there if the communities continue to be marginalized. Human Rights Activists outside Bengal should focus on the plight of the Hindi speaking Dalits in West Bengal and try to resolve the most difficult crisis of their life. West Bengal need a regular mechanism to monitor the violation of the rights of Dalits particularly those from outside Bengal.