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

A Cry for Change by Ghazipur's Swachchkar women

A Cry for Change in an uncivilized society By V.B.Rawat

‘ I don’t want to do this dirty work. I want to study further and will marry a man who will not force me into this profession, as this is very mean and degraded work. I want to eliminate this and work for the uplift of my community’: Sitara, a young girl who passed 8th standard but could not go further due to family’s economic condition.

Sitara’s anguish and pain is not alone in the Mohammadabad block of district Ghazipur, known for few districts in Uttar-Pradesh with strong left leaning. While the district’s rich political heritage, no doubt, is a matter of proud for the local folks yet manual scavenging in most parts of this district reflect a dismal show of its development. Unfortunately, even the tall claims of worker’s unity never considered these scavengers known as Safaikarmcharis in the municipality or Swachchkar community otherwise, in their plan of action, easily reflect the issue of caste within the labour movement in India.

Neglected Community:

An old town, Mohammadabad has a population of over one hundred fifty thousands but just 66 Safai karmcharis have the responsibility to clean the streets and pipe lines, manual holes and other related things. Even among these 62 employees, more than 50% are women who have to share their home responsibilities and the corporation work. 17 daily wage workers are also working in the corporation yet get a meager Rs 42.50 per day which is less than a dollar. According to the latest UP government circular of the minimum wages, they should have been getting Rs 57.50 but as if not giving the Minimum wages is the fundamental rights of the corporation. It is also reported many times that the corporation deduct the provident funds from the salaries of the employees and never deposit it, a criminal offense for which even the Editor of The Statesman, has to go jail. But the grave fact is that the Safaikarmcharis in Uttar-Pradesh have never been taken seriously, their PF is deducted by the authorities from their Salaries but is never deposited. A large number of Safai Karmcharis could not get their retirement benefits. This PF issue will turn into a big scam and must be probed well. Even as many agencies now try to contractulise the Safai Karmcharis, a large number of ‘absentee’ Safaikarmcharis have been there because the contact work give a better payment and the ‘absentee’ is on the payroll but subcontract the entire thing to another Safaikarmchari. These ‘absentee Safaikarmcharis’ are the uppercaste middlemen, who have now tilted towards this job after a better salary offer and they sublet the entire thing to the Swachchkars, who they think, have no right to get the decent salaries and benefits.

Pain of work and under payment

At 5 am, we come across a Municipality tractor with about 7 workers who pick up the piled dirt and put it in the tractor trolly. While the small teashops are opening, people need the morning tea, before taking shower and reading the morning news, these people leave their children and come out for work, some of them have not eaten or drank anything.

Prakash Rawat is a daily wageworker with the Nagarpalika for almost 15 years and gets an amount Rs 1275/- for a months work. He has five children and gets no leaves. The anguish and pain is visible on his face as he says: I passed 11th but could not go for 12th because of my parent’s inability to teach me as they needed work from me. I passed in 2nd division and when I went for a job to the chairman, he offered me this. How painful is that when you educate yourself and don’t get a job of an office assistant or even a typist because your caste is reserved for cleaning the shit of others.”

The narrow and dirty street of the Muslim locality in the area show the old pattern of the toilets which need to be cleaned manually but who will do this work? The quality of the Varna system in India is that it created a community, which the Muslims and other people also think of the same pattern as Hindus. In fact, in Ghazipur, it is basically a Muslim centered problem as Hindus middle classes are better of and secondly their lower middle class women go out to defecate while due to Purdah system the Muslims women have to remain inside and their economic condition does not allow them to upgrade their toilets. Maybe none of ever thinks that this is a degraded work, which is abolished by the government of India by an act and is against the norms of civilized society. None of them ever thought that this is a class or community which should have got much more appreciation and money for their work but it was denied basic dignity and humanness. These dirty lanes surrounded by more dirt and filth outside where children are playing in open. A water tap with hundreds of buckets waiting to be filled in, a middle aged woman cleaning the streets in the severe sunlight of the day with pigs, chickens roaming around. We are at Shaikh Tola Ward no 7 to see Mrs Champa Devi, who work as a Safai Karmchari in the Nagarpalika. Champa is about 50 years of age and have adopted two children of her brother as I ask what she wants to do: “I want to educate my children and will not allow them in this profession. We all are doing it under compulsion. We serve the others but get humiliation. The condition of Safai Karmcharis who are permanent employees is better as they get better salary still we don’t get medical and no leave. Our bosses never give us any encashment if we are not availing our leaves. The pain for women is more in this work, as they have to leave as early as 5 am at the time of Azan says Champa. Our children have to look after themselves. How can we rehabilitate our self? At least society should now think of helping us as we have served them with whole heart, not time of repayment and banish this profession.
Right to work in undignified Conditions:

Kalawati Devi has four children and she is not employed at the Nagarpalika. She works in 15 houses every day from 5 am to clean the latrine manually, take it in a basket and throw it in a nearby place. As I ask her as why should she do it she counter question: “ What can we do? Who will give us any other work? What will our children do? We are doing this work for the sake of our children and we will not allow them to do this work again.’ Kalawati is ignorant about the rights of her people such as about the ban of manual scavenging.

As we move in the dirty lanes with smelling toilets, Sona Devi try to hide her face, as she brings the basket of the human dirty that she has just cleaned and is going to throw it in nearby barren land which has become a virtual ‘dustbin’ of the entire locality. She has not eaten anything so far, not even her morning tea, as after hearing the Ajan, she gets up and go to different houses to clean the toilet. They are open from the backside with a tame cover of old Tin plate or some of them are open and you can see the shit and flies roaming over. She clean and put the dirt into the basket and then go to clean the other house. After covering three or four houses, as her basket is full, she goes to throw it in to the area adjacent to the Muhalla, which is another hell. I go to the area, which is about 400 meter long with dirt and filth. A Few houses have their backyards and toilets facing this area so that the woman who clean the toilet just pour water and allow the shit disappear in the land. It is difficult to stand there for a minute. Some of the human waste has dried up and if there is a wind blowing then it also start blowing out of proportion. I see Sona Devi coming with her basket. She does not want to show her face, put her basket down and throw the garbage and again go to ‘cover’ the other houses. I catch her in the market and do a polite ‘Namaste’ to her. Namaste Mataji (Good morning Mother), I ask her and she is a bit surprised with my words, she does not want to respond as she feels that once her identity is known it would not be good. In her mind she feels that it is not good to be on the photograph because it reveals her identity of a scavenger woman, yet a few friends ask her to speak, may be her problems will be raised somewhere and she will get justice. At about 50, this woman looks much older, I ask her how many years have she been cleaning the toilets? Fifteen years says She. “ I clean 27 houses and get Rs 30/- per month per house. I want to leave this but what should I do. Can I get an alternative work? We don’t allow our children to work the same thing. So far no body has taken care of the pain and agony that we go through.”
The problem of following the tradition:

Kula Devi works in the Post office yet she works in the private houses also to clean the latrines. Why do you do this when you have a safe job and she says: My mother died and she wanted me to take care of her ‘people’ and I am just following this. She does not have children and working with post office give her a salary that can run her family better but her dieing mother asked her to take care of the people she has been working. Many of the people just don’t want to detradionalise themselves as they feel it will not be tribute to their parents.

The irony is that a large number of people are used in this profession by the emotional blackmailing of the elders just to keep their family tradition intact. While woman like Champa devi and Rani Devi have rejected the working in the private houses. They are ready to work with the municipal corporation where they might have some dignity and a better salary structure yet a majority of the families don’t want to work at the houses. See the irony that you work the entire month and get Rs 30/- from a family whose toilets you clean. Is not it an exploitation of a person that doing the most difficult and dangerous work they still get heavily underpaid?

Rani Devi is about 50 years of age and is sweeping the dirty streets of Shaikhtola in the afternoon when the sun is ferocious. A mother of six children she is pained at not getting holidays. She works from 5 am to 10 am in the morning and 3pm to 6 pm in the afternoon. Her grand daughter cooks at home when she is out at work but she does not work at private houses to clean the latrines which she describe as most demeaning and detestable.

Status Quo challenged:
Though Champa Devi has been working in the municipality and is the leader of women Safai karmcharis, she would not allow her children to work in it unless there are severe compulsion. And the private latrines, she become angry: ‘I will die but not do the same’ and then narrate an incident which reflect her endeavor not to do the manual scavenging prevalent in the area, ‘ A rich man came to me telling that their latrine has not been cleaned for many days as the person who usually was their sweeper, had left. They will give me Rs 20/- for a month, if I could clean the toilet. I was angry and told them that I am ready to pay them Rs 100/- per month if they could clean her toilet. They have ruined our caste by involving us in this profession. We are kshatriyas, the warrior community.” Champa is a God fearing lady worshipping Durga, a symbol of Shakti (power) but it is just to pass her time when asked about her choice “ What will God give us, it cannot give anything. If it were so powerful, we would not have been in such a horrific situation”, explains Champa.

Sitara Devi is 16 years old and has passed her 8th standard last year. She wanted to study further but her family condition did not allow her to join the school further, yet if given a chance she want to study further and become a social worker. “ I will marry to a person who will allow me to pursue my goals and not impose his will on me. If he will force me in this profession, I will not marry him’, says Sitara, who does not believe in God. “ What has God given to us --- this degraded work. We are not interested in God and I will ask my sisters not to believe in God and leave this work which degraded and mean.”

Arti is another student of 8th and want to become a teacher after study. She does not want to do anything with profession. She feels it has degraded them and made their standing week in the school.

Seema, is making beedis outside her house during the hot noon. I ask her how much she earns per day after making these beedis and she reply ‘10-15 rupees’. Her father died earlier and she was workless as she did not want to work with the municipality and sweep the street and says ‘that’s dirty work and I want to have nothing from it.”
Sajan Rawat is about 30 years of age and has now started selling vegetables. He changed the profession, though he is still working the municipality yet he says that he would like his son to become a teacher. He does not fear any ostracisation due to his caste and could sell his vegetables in the market.

Education brought the change:

A majority of this community is highly illiterate and suffer from superstition and other social evil. The marriage ceremonies shows the love of the community for high-tech celebrations and dowry which is high in this society, yet in Mohammadabad is visible the changes in the community. One, unlike elsewhere, the community, celebrates the birthday of Dr B.R.Ambedkar on April 14th every year like other Dalit communities. Secondly, unlike their counterparts in western UP, Punjab and Haryana, the community does not link itself to Valmiki, the great poet who wrote Ramayana. In discussions, one can find enlightenment of the community because of education and Ambedkar movement among them.

About five kilometer away from the town of Mohammadabad is a village called Tiwaripur and Rajkapur Rawat cycle regularly from this village to his work. Having devoted his entire life to the Swachchakar community, Rajkapur now support a quiet big family including his mother, wife and six children. But he has a vision for his community and that is to educate them. After having completed his post graduation from Varanasi, Rajkapur started Swachchkar Kalyan Samiti (a Welfare Organisation of the Scavengers). It was an honour for entire community. Living in semi develop house which adore the photograph of Ambedkar and no God, Rajkapur has a dream for his family. A dream for their well-being. With two buffaloes, his wife is a confident woman who opened up a Self Help Group in the village to work and not embrace the tradition of sweeping in the street. His six children go to school. Two elder daughters are in the 10th standard and wish to become teacher. The other one wants to learn computer.
Rajkumar’s mother was a safai karmchari in the municipality and she died last year. Rajkumar had been working with Swachchkar Kalyan Samiti, an organization of the Safai Karmcharis. He did his masters and then LLB. Proudly, he went to the chairman and asked for a job and the chairman offered him a job of sweeper or a fourth class employee. Rajkumar confidently rejected the job and wanted a suitable job according to his qualification. Finally, the municipality succumbed to pressure and he is today appointed as a municipality lawyer for the local court.
Ashok Kumar completed his Bachelor and wanted to become a clerk with the municipality but his community wanted him to be a safai karmchari. The municipality gave him the job of a painter, which he detested. His wife was also educated and she was teaching in a school. An outspoken his wife interacted with social activists and participated in the seminars and workshops, which are organised in the town. The community did not take it well and she was blamed for moving out and speaking to outsiders. Ashok is bitter with his community today “ I lived without eating for many days because I don’t want to work the same profession. We must leave the work even if we remain hungry. I don’t want this religion, which has made a hell of our life. We must leave it.” Today, with his hardwork, Ashok is leading a much better life, working with a private organization and enjoying life. He still wants to contribute to his community.
Human Rights violated:

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights say: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Is it a fact that this community which is at the lowest of the low with in the Dalit segment has been treated equal. Nirma Kumari was a student of 8th standard, in Gurgaon with boy cut hairstyle and a modern outlook when her upper caste teacher could not tolerate the ethical change in her behaviour and slapped her, beat her father who was unconscious for more than a month and could survive because of his government job. Nirma finally left the school. Similarly, Satish, a young boy from Narela in Delhi married to the daughter of a Jat who happened to work with Delhi Police, face ‘death sentence’ from the community. His family has run away from their house in Narela and roaming to various offices of Delhi police for their survival. The laws of the land are circumvented for the benefit of the powerful. The civilized society has not been able to democratize itself where the poor masses are also termed equally as per the high caste Hindus. Not every one is fortunate like Rajkumar who got a clerical job in the municipality or Ashok yet the people continue to struggle. These successful people don’t suffer from identity crisis for they have completely embraced Ambedkar’s thought. They have come out of the identity crisis of the community, which force them to work more vigorously on Hindu uppercaste symbols. At Ghazipur Champa Devi linked her to Kshatriya status and said that they were ‘jhadupher kshastriya’. In the western part of Uttar-Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, some of the community people linked them to Valmiki, the author of Epic Ramayana, which Dr Bhgwan Das, a well known author and Ambedkarite, described as Hinduisation of Bhangis. Dr Das’s famous book “ I am a Bhangi’ is still one of the best known writings from the community. The Swachchakar’s who are called by different names in different places like Valmikis, bhangis, Lal Begies and Mehtars, are crying for change. At the time when the government of India has banned the manual scavenging, it is still prevalent in areas like Ghazipur is a blot to our society. It is not that Ghazipur is an exception; even the Nation’s capital is no different. Delhi government might claim that there are no manual toilets in its domain (though there are in certain localities), yet sewer deaths have increased here. They have to go deep into the pit to clean the chocked lines and particularly during the rains when the city comes to a halt. There is no up gradation in work. Government of India proscribed this in 1993 under which carrying night soil over head was a punishable offense. Construction of dry latrines and asking for work there is another offense. The government decided to register the people involved in this profession and there was package to rehabilitate them. But the recent report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has clearly indicated that the rehabilitation measures of the government have miserably failed. It has also mentioned that Rs 600 crore earmarked for this, have gone completely waste.

In 1992, according to government of India, the number of scavengers was 400,000 and the money earmarked was to eliminate this profession and rehabilitate them yet the cruel irony is that the number of scavenger today rose to 787000. The budget for their rehabilitation was slashed in the 9th plan and was brought down to 170 Crore with a 41 percent decrease. ( Indian Express Report on CAG –April 23,2003).

The Safai Karmcharis are the lowest in the caste structure. They are forcefully doing the hereditary profession. Nowhere in the world such a profession is visible. Our caste system have degraded people and forced them in undignified profession. If even after 50 years of our independent we have this system still rampant then our Its, Space programmes and technologies should not bring much proud to us then the shame of the civilization which does not have a will to change. Swachchkar community want change and upgradation, it need our love and affection, it need our will to root out this system which is blot on any civilization. It is the duty of civil society, individuals, philanthropists and organizations to come forward and help Sitara, Champa, Arti, Neha and large number of others who are crying for change in this uncivilized society which still have manual scavenging denying human dignity to a large mass of humanity. During a film making last year, I was stunned that many of these girls were on the verge of leaving their education. Despite a clear will to study further. And immediately I asked them whether they would like to study further if we provide minimum support to enhance their education. All of them jumped and we gave them the minimum what could be given. It is interesting to note that after one year, two of the girls got first division in their respective examiniation in 8th and High school (10th) and the other qualified for next round. There are many educated people coming up and want to serve the community. It is time that we hear these cry of changes and encourage them get justice. We have initiated a training center for the women where they learn not only skills but also learn about their rights. It would be great for the people volunteer for such a cause and support this movement which will ultimately change the lives of millions of swachchkars who are not considered equal by the hierarchical system in India.

SDF has initiated a process to empower the women and men from the Swachchkar community in Ghazipur Uttar-Pradesh. We do plan to bring out successful initiative in other parts of the state also. Please do send your feedback as well as support this initiative for empowering the lowest of the low.


Blogger aparna said...

Did you do a study of this village/area? Do you have more details/stats from the study? Was it academic?

I am interested as a researcher... looking at women's rights in manual scavengers

9:16 PM  

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