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.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Balmiks of West Bengal

Dalits Ask For Justice In West Bengal

By V.B.Rawat

“ If I speak untruth, I can survive,If I speak the truth,It will be Explosive’
Bulleh Shah
The Baul singers famous for love songs provide a musical odyssey to otherwise lackluster journey from Kolkata to Shantiniketan. The chaotic Howarah station wherefrom the train Vishwabharati Express left for Shantiniketan, reflected the old glory of Kolkata, the financial capital of the country. Today, thanks to the 30 years rule of the progressive left, Kolkata just live in its past. It is a city unlike other metros where the poor can afford to live, they say in their support of existing system yet failed to answer as why the man-pulling rickshaw is still one of the most familiar sights in this ‘city of joy.’
Old trams, pot holed roads added with unimaginable road traffic with heavy congestion and pollution are the hallmark of Kolkata’s road. A crude reminder of where it stand. Yes, they say that they stand for the poor and hence Kolkata ‘welcomed’ every one with open arm. After the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, it was Kolkata which invited the ‘terrorised face’ of Gujarat who was asking for his life. The entire country reciprocated that it is Bengal where the communal forces can be kept at bay. A very sensitive state and yet no communal riots are other hallmark of the left front’s rule in West Bengal apart from the land reform which it claims to have done though in reality in the first two years of its coming to power. Later on, the government just getting on the interest of the old good work that it claimed to have worked during its earlier period.
Despite all this, Kolkata does not look a city of freedom. At every nook and corner, you may feel somebody from the Marxist party is spying to you. ‘ Diwaron ke bhee kaan hote hain’ is a saying in Hindi but it could be well said about the cadre of the CPM in west Bengal where political dissent is just a blasphemy and you can ask nothing more than that. The highly intoxicated police force and administration can teach you a lesson. Everything is done in a very peaceful and systematic way in Bengal.
Dalits dissent:
During my recent trip, I could not meet a single person from Riksha puller to Dalits who have been evicted from their place who could laud the ‘ great communist’s ideology of the ruling class in West Bengal. While the left front and its leaders have been critical of the ‘imperialism’ and ‘globalisation’, very little has been done for the vast majority of Dalits in West Bengal. Will the left and its elite leadership would ever think of their bhadralok imperialism imposed upon the Dalits in West Bengal. Will they come out against it? West Bengal government does not even admit that there is a growing discrimination against the migrants Dalits from Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana. While the government is keen to be seen as a very secular government but it is the same government which does not mince words against the Madrasas. It is the same government which cleans the streets of Kolkata to greet John Major, when he was prime minister of Britain and visited Kolkata.

Stories of torture against the Dalits are not reported to outside people from Bengal. The intoxicated beaurocracy and police are there to play with ‘data’ as the left are expert in the same.

The entire left front structure is in the hands of upper castes said Mr Abhijeet Dutta, a lawyer in Howarah and though the backward communities forms a majority in West Bengal, it is a difficult nexus to break. While there is no doubt that the upper elite leadership of the left front is not corrupt yet the same is not true at the local level.

Kishan Balmiki narrate the plight of the Safai Karmcharis in the municipality. Many employees have been retired and yet to get their dues it take more than 5 to six years. Many of them have not yet got their PF dues. For getting a job other then the Safai Karmcharis we are asked to present our caste certificate. As our parents had come more than 50 years back to this place our children should be domicile to this state yet we are asked to bring our caste certificate from our native place. In the Municipal Corporation, there are positions in the name of Privy cleaners as well as New Resident Mehtars.” Unlike other states and municipalities where officially scavenging is prohibited, in progressive Bengal, the Municipal Corporation feel it is its duty to get the manual scavenging done from the migrant Balmikis. Like most of the states are serving notices to people who have dry latrines to convert them to the severe line or flush latrines, in progressive Bengal, the municipality still feel that if scavenging is prohibited it would ruin the livelihood of thousands of people while ignoring their legitimate demands of housing, electricity and schooling. Interestingly Kishan Balmiki also narrates how he has not been promoted to the position of a Supervisor because he was not matriculate. While he planned to do matriculate and got the promoted salary yet the Corporation want him to work on his present position of cleaning the streets. While for him the Corporation suggested that he should be doing the traditional work, one Bhadralok Brahmin was given a position of Supervisor despite his education being below 5th standard. May be because how could they employ a Brahmin into cleaning shit business which has been reserved for the Balmikis for over so many years and Kolkata cannot be an exception.

The Case of Bellilius Park in Howarah
Over 18 months back, the Howarah municipal corporation evicted about several hundred Dalit families mostly from the Balmiki community from the Belilius Park, Howrah. These families had been living in this area for over 40 years and their forefathers had come to Bengal and stayed over here. Many Dalit intellectuals says that the British always took the Balmikis to the areas of the cant and provided them housing facilities so that they could their menial work. Belilius Park is about 2 kilometer away from the famous Howarh railway station. It has a land of over 120 bighas which has not only a school but also various shops now leased to hundreds of people. An NGO in the name of environment filed a petition and got the order from the Kolkata high court for the eviction of the people. People were evicted without any alternative given. While the temples and schools of the community were demolished along with their houses, the Bhadralok police and authorities kept Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose intact in the dirt of the now defunct park. While the communists boast of morality, their morality kept quiet how a statue of a person become more important than the lives of several thousands people. They shout slogans and force the Delhi government to change its master plan otherwise face their wrath, keep a conspicuous silence over the same happening in Bengal.

Kishni Balmiki from Panipat Haryana who has been staying in this locality for over 40 years narrates the brutality of the police during the eviction : “ They did not allow us to pick up our utensils and other items. There were commandos and bulldozers. Our gold ornaments and TV sets were stolen. Even the daily usage items were picked up by the anti social elements. We don’t know where to go from this place.

Shame of Kolkata and the response

One and half year ago, I wrote a story “ Shame of Kolkata’ on this eviction and send it to many friends who felt that the story could damage the image of left front and help the fundamentalist forces and that’s why many of them did not carry it out. We circulated it to many friendly people and also to many of the left front people in Delhi who we personally know but without any response. Perhaps they cannot speak against their Bhadralok politics. We thought that they would speak in the same force as they had been in Delhi and elsewhere but to our utter disappointment, they did not even acknowledge our report which was mailed to some of them directly. Question is not whether they acknowledge us or not, the question is that these Balmikis had worked very hard for the left front candidate in various elections. And though they call the CPM is the most fascist party at the moment, none of them could be charged to follow the Hindutva line. They had been former friend of the Bhadralok communists. Many journalist friend advised me that the only people fighting for the downtrodden are the ‘CPM’ and gave me example how bad Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Yadav and others were. When they give such examples of corruption they tend to reflect the upper caste Hindu psyche which is selective in these things. Nobody, is debating here the pros and cons of identity politics. For us the issue of the eviction and rehabilitation of the Balmikis of Belilius Park is utmost. It is not left verses right issue. It is an issue of the rule of law and whether the left front which claims to be moral guardian of the proletariat really respect rule of law.

Some friends in Kolkata objected to my questions regarding Dalits. ‘ They are not sincere’, they said. We had fought for their case for years and they don’t come to us. It is difficult to find a friend among them. Despite doing our best we get nothing, they said. It was surprising that the mainline Bengal politics as well as social scientists ignore this fact that Dalits or any other marginalized refuses to be just a tool in the hand of any one. They would like to be a party of every struggle with dignity and honor. The days of a feudal politics where the upper caste speak of the rights of Dalits and they just listened are over. Interesting aspect of this socialism in Bengal is their continuous apathy to the cause of Dalits. Oh, We don’t believe in caste like you people from Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar are habitual of, they said. But sir, how many of the upper castes clean shit in the morning, I asked to a friend. Is it not a grave reality that the toilets are cleaned by migrant scavengers only. Let us assume that you only believe in class struggle and all of us who make noises about the Dalits are castiest. Please tell us who are the poorest of the poor in this country? Who are landless? Who are tortured in the police custody? Who clean shit? Who washes cloths? Who are the fishermen? Who are the leather workers? Do you mean these all are rich people, I asked. And what is the reality of other side? Should I name them and find about their land? How come you communists who educated in oxford now cry against the same when our number to go England has just arrived? How come the landowning Bhadralok become a well wisher of preliterate? Perhaps this is the only reason why communism has been destroyed in its own land of revolution because we gave it up to big landlords to lead the movement of landless and kept away the landless because they happen to be Dalits, Adivasis and backward classes because we did not want to really fight against our own caste brothers.
Sorry Sir, but the Balmikis of this country are the lowest of the low and if they cannot be communists then who will be the communist? How can the Bhadralok communists leave them alone? Is caste more important for them then a broader socialistic vision?

But the problem with the issue of scavengers is not just the left parties. None of the others dared to raise the issue of Belilius Park in their election manifesto. None would come to them and share their grief. An old woman in her 70s said “ pachas saal tak inkee tatee saaf karne ka yeh sila mila hai’. (This is what we have got for fifty year cleaning of their shits and toilets).

The biggest achievement of the left in the last 30 years is to use the Bengali chauvinism for its own purposes and therefore there is no question of any body raising slightly the issue of the violation of human rights. Outside Bengal they are the only people visible to us to fight the menace of the BJP with their ‘educated’ ‘casteless’ comrades. At a conference two years ago Comrade Bardhan said that why should you abuse us when we were not in power. His reference was to the Dalits who were questioning the credentials of the Dalits to support them in the all India context. I now want to remind our comrades whether the Dalits of Howarh are victim of that?

Balmikis: A community living in Uncertainity

18 months have passed when the communities were evicted mercilessly from the Belilius Park. Some of them are living in the nearby slum of ‘ East West’ bypass beside South Eastern Railway Carseth. The conditions are horrible there as people know they can be evicted any moment without any notice. The left front is expert in the paper work and that is why they want to keep this huge Babus over our head all the time, their trade unions will call for nation wide strike if any of the babus are ask to be accountable. It is imperialist theory of the World bank they would shout loudly and hence we must be keep the Babus all the time.

At the East West bypass, I enter the house of Chandra Pal Balmiki, 47, who has 6 children. Some of them stay there in a one roof hut while others at P Road where he has rented a small house for Rs 800 per month. Their expenses have gone up as they have to reach the place on the time.
Over 150 evicted families were virtually encroached this land when they had no other place to live. Just behind them is the railway track which link Kolkata to Mumbai. The pain in the face of Phool Kumari comes in open when she narrate those horrible events of eviction, “ they did not even allow us to collect our utensils. We lost our radio and TV as well as many other utensils. My husband Ganga Prasad fell unconscious on two occasion, as it was too much to bear. For many days he was just struggle for life. I earn Rs 2000/- per month for my family by working in six multi stories complexes in the area. I go at around 5 am and come in the evening around 6 am. That is the cost of our living. Nobody knows what our children will do and how long will we be staying here.”

Another woman who seems to be in her mid twenties narrates her own problem. She lives with her small daughter and young mother. ‘ I was born and brought up here but now the question of our identity has become vital. My husband does not work and I have to work in the nearby buildings to survive. We don’t know when will the municipality come again and throw us away?”
None of the administration or political parties are here to speak to the people about their plight. That is the pain of being non Bengali in a city or state which always harped on the big slogans of unity of the proletariat. Are these not preliterate?

Kishan Balmiki who led the movement of the Dalits against eviction work in the Howarh municipal corporation. Staying in Bellilius Park was easier for us as far as access was concern. We had all facilities including schools and doctor. Now we are far away in small rented house. Can we afford to live in such meager salary by spending money on commuting and living? ‘ I pay rs 1,400 as house rent and 600/- for commuting. It not only takes our time to reach but also create hassles at home. I normally leave my house around 5.30 am and return by 11 am.
The major chunk of the community evicted are living in Bagar ( Balgachhia) Howrah. Bagar is a dumping place where the entire waste of Howarah town is dumped. The number of families here is about 1500. The condition of this place is unimaginable. There is no electricity and no water hence people live in dark. Being dumping place, there are pigs, dirt and ooze at first place when you enter and staying there for even an hour will make you sick. An elderly woman from Panipat Haryana who is working with Howrah municipal corporation asked me to stay there for a day and ‘feel’ their problem. ‘ Beta tenu yehan reh ke dekh, abhee to tu pankhe ke neeche soya hoga isliye pata nahee chala. Hum log kaise rahte hai jara dekh.” I could see the tears already drying in her eyes. They cannot even cry because there is no one to listen. Many children have left school because the school is far away. For these people who work in the private houses to clean the toilets as well as Howrah municipal corporation, things are more difficult as their timing and money clash together. They cannot afford to go clean the toilet on Bus or rickshaw which will end up in nothing. In the evening they come home late with nothing to celebrate and enjoy, the only enjoyment for them become producing more children and thereby increasing their miseries.

Starvation deaths

Marxist ‘doctors’ will never admit it that people are starving in their state. Over 18 people have died in the last one and a half year from the evicted Balmikis. And I can vouch after seeing many faces, some more are just waiting to die any moment. The conditions of the areas where these people are living are simply ‘hellish’, with no medical treatment and burdening their already burdened life with more expenses, it is Kolkata’s Shame not to love them who have kept them clean all their lives. In the hellish Belagachchi, with mosquitoes and old houses, one can see how even 16 families are living in one verandah with all of them cooking together in the evening. The faces of old men, children and women are showing how ‘nutritious’ their food might be. Without any concern, the people will virtually die in such a hell.

Phool Kumari Devi’s husband Ganga Prasad is unwell and she has to earn wages for her family. She goes early in the morning around 5 am and return only at the evening at around 5 pm. Where do we go from here babuji, this land belong to railways. We don’t know what to do but we are only waiting for death.

Ganga Devi who came from Kanpur has been living with her mother and daughter. The condition of all the three is reflect what she could be managing to eat. Sir, I was born here and my daughter is also born here and still I have to prove that I belong to this land. My earning is about Rs 1000 per month. What should I do? Where should we go? They have destroyed our life. I don’t even have the ration card.

Gopal Balmiki is about 3o years of age. His father died six years ago and he was just doing private work for his subsistence. All the dues of his father are still not paid. As he takes us to the back of his house, the dirt and filth ‘attacks’ you. Just in front of his so-called kitchen is the dirt spilling around. “ We cannot live here, sir, though we clean the houses of other, we ourselves remain in such a filth.

Walking down the lanes of this place one can see the mountains of filth and dirt which comes here to make the Howarah city clean though one know how clean is the city. But without electricity, water and other Medicare facilities, these people are dieing slow death. The anguish and pain reflect when Idrajeet speak to us. He looks handsome yet totally broken. “ I earn two thousand rupees per month. I clean a full seven-story building for which I go at 6 am and return around 11 am. We have five children. Both husband and wife work there and there is no one who can take care of our children. There is no guarantee of our future here. During the rainy season this area become totally hellish. We did not have such problem in the Bellilius Park.
Kisni Valmiki is originally from Panipat Haryana and lives here with her relatives. ‘ I work in the Howarh Municipal Corporation. I get up at four in the morning and return at eleven during the day. I have four children. With out electricity we have lot of problem. We cannot sleep in the night because so much of dust and filth. If you stay here for a day, you will realize the pain and anguish of ours.”

Barasa Balmiki has been living in Howarh for over 45 years. He cleaned latrines and worked with the Howrah Municipal Corporation for over 30 years and now retiring during this month. He knows that there are difficulties. Now living in a makeshift home at the Bagar Belagachhi he says that he does not know when will he get his money. “ I want to go back to Haryana as many others have done but you know our pensions never come to the bank. We have to come to this place to collect our pension. And therefore spending huge amount and time in train traveling is not feasible and that is why many of us are forced to live here.”

His young son who was a student of class 9th had to leave the classes because there was no school nearby. The horrible scene is yet waiting when I visit a big but zunk old semi constructed house where 16 cots are visible like a dormitory. The structure cannot be called a house because the roof can collapse any moment therefore endangering the lives of all the people. Many of the people were sleeping during the day. Many of them might not even have taken their meal. They cook together as they say in front of the house. The situation is alarming. All of them feel totally dejected and isolated in Bengal.

According to Channo Devi who belongs to Panipat Haryana without electricity and toilet facilities we are just living dead. “ We have been put in a living hell, she says and adds that we go to work at 4 am in the morning. We cannot afford Bus so go either by cycle or on foot. My daughter cooks for me. See my feets and hands they have developed various kind of diseases.” And Channo devi shows her legs and hands which look like skin disease which will grow in the coming days if things are not taken care of.

What is happening in Bellilus Park

We were informed that NGO had filed a case to clean the Bellilius Park in the name of beautification. And the Howrah Municiple Corporation wanted to honour the court’s verdict did not demolish the 65 shops which fall with in the premises of this Park as they belonged to upper caste Bengalies. Inside the park where these families were living has now become another dumping ground. Piles of dirt lying with people from the nearby area come to defecate in open while some of the washermen do their work from the dirty stale water of the area amidst which the statue of Subhash Bose is still there. Perhaps Netaji would be weeping wherever he is when he sees his statue in such a dirt being left unattended. The remains of temples, schools are still there. As we are discussing the issue I see young boys and girl sitting in open and defacating in the area while the washermen and women cleaning the cloths and drying them over the remains of the destroyed houses. The beauty of the park is that there are only pigs and stray dogs apart from a few washermen who have to clean the cloths in the stale water in the area. The big street light poles are still lying and telling the story of the police brutality.

If the story of destruction of Belilius Park has not become an issue in Bengal, the conscious keeper of the country, then we will have to think about the issue of human rights being politicized in India. We will have to think how the ideological pursuits are dominating in the Indian political scene who don’t want to speak against their own atrocities. An unwritten code of conduct is working here for the media and for the activists they say, it will help the BJP hence we must keep quite. But for how long? How long will the lives of the Dalits be kept in such a subjugation where they don’t have anybody to speak with and complaint to?

Just in a few yards from the old destroyed temple, a small ‘dhobhighat’ ( washermenplatform ) is being constructed by the Member of Parliament Mr Swadesh Chakrawarty. It is interesting that Mr Chakrawarty did not bother to meet and see the eviction of this area. His party has forced the Delhi government to change its master plan and reverse a Supreme Court Judgment regarding factories in domestic residential areas, which according to court were polluting Delhi. The party seems averse to antagonize its vote bank in Bengal at the cost of migrant Dalits. We all know how the Member of Parliament are using their funds. These funds could have used to rehabilitate the people even if there was a need to displace them in the name of environment and beautification.

Conclusion:

Nothing happen to Bellilius Park’s which was evicted in the name of beautification. Today, it is just a reflection of old demolished houses, temples and schools and show us the brutality of those who shout atop of their voice against global imperialism while condoning their own brand of racist imperialism in Bengal which the migrant Dalits face. It is more ironical that none of the mainstream political parties and even the media has come forward to raise the issue. Have we become obsessed with the market and international events that we tend to ignore these issues related to lives of thousands of people without any importance? If displacement can become an issue elsewhere surely it could have become in West Bengal but why this conspicuous silence. Is it because all the opposition platform are in the hands of progressive left who would not like to dig their own grave by raising these issues.

In the eighteen months miseries of the Dalits of Howarah have increased and none of the left front people including its member of Parliament bother to ask as what is the way out. The ruling party in West Bengal and its well wishers will have to tell the world whether they are the best defender of a Varna system or they care for the lowest of the low in Indian society. Whether the discrimination being done to the migrant Dalits in West Bengal will end or they will simply say there is no such problem. Hope they will not deny that manual scavenging is officially not prohibited in West Bengal and that municipal corporation employ people for cleaning private toilets. One sincerely hope that the Dalits of Howarh will get justice and for that the government will have to be sensitized as well as upheld rule of law. It cannot throw away its people who kept its cities clean despite facing indignities and humiliation. In fact, it is Kolkata’s time to repay the debt of the Dalits who worked day and night so that the city remains clean and hygienic. Let the left front government come out of its preconceived mindset and abolish manual scavenging, give the Dalits representation in the government services and rehabilitate them in such a way which become symbol of a new India where work is not confined on the basis of the caste and where every one is free for his choice of work and living.

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