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.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Cry for Change



Scavengers are among the lowest of the low in the caste hierarchy even among the untouchables. For years, their main profession had been cleaning the human excreta manually and throwing it to. This work has led to their complete marginalisation in the society. In some of the places their very sights pollute an upper caste Brahmins. They cannot eat and dine with others. Even in the hotels if they want to drink tea, often, the hotel owner would ask them to bring their own cups and mugs and pour tea from a long distance. It is ironical that a country as diverse like India has one community involved in cleaning human excreta, a hundred percent reservation that led to their social ostracisation. The bias against them is as such that even if some of the people belonging to scavenger community who want to leave the work find it nearly impossible to get an alternative job. Those who are well educated, and their number is very limited, do not get job according to their education. They cannot go for a vocational training or alternative work because if they open a roadside tea shop, nobody is going to drink tea at their tea shop. So it is a difficult condition for the untouchables. The scheme of the government has further marginalized them because the issue is addressed from an economic viewpoint and not a socio-cultural problem without giving enough thought to their rehabilitation. In this profession, a majority of workers are women. They leave to work in early hours of the morning without even having the tea and return late in the afternoon. During that crucial period, nobody is at home to take care of their children. They have to fetch themselves resulting in their inability to go school. At schools they are discriminated and teased by the fellow students and teachers force them to sit at the last.

The working in the private houses is almost without any money. Most of the houses give Rs 30 (less then one USD) per month to the person who cleans the toilet manually. In fact, in many places, they are not even given this amount, just the left over food. The community itself is gripped in religious dogmas and rituals. Even among the Dalits, little efforts have been made to end their isolation. There are two kind of scavenger work in India. One is working in private houses and cleaning dirty toilets and taking the human excreta in a bucket or a basket to throw at some place. The other work is as sanitation worker in the municipal corporations where they clean roads, severe lines and choked pits. Though the government of India has banned the carrying night soil over head ( cleaning of latrine and carrying it over head) by a law in our constitution yet this practice is prevalent. In fact such kind of toilets still exist in a very large number.

In such a scenario, the scavenger community in Yusufpur, Mohammdabad ( Ghazipur) Uttar-Pradesh is trying to come out of the old profession and venture into a new direction. Activist, writer and film maker, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Director Social Development Foundation, has been involved in the struggle of the movement of rights of the scavenger community in various parts of the country and Ghazipur was particular focus of his activities. He first raised the issue of non payment of salaries to municipal workers and later tried to build up a new leadership among the community by organizing workshops and training programmes. He helped local groups to mobilize and start vocational training programme and also supported girls who wanted to study further. The signs were good and today there is a virtual Cry for change among the community in Mohammdabad. The young girls are learning vocational training like sewing and those who are able to go to school want to further study and do work in the social organizations and government services.

Rawat has tried to bring out this 'Cry for Change' in his modest effort. The interviews, recording and camera was handled by himself.

Rawat is a social activist first and filmmaker later because his effort is to highlight the issue of the marginalized, gender discrimination and issue of human rights of the people. The aim is that civil society should respond to such cries and discrimination. His only aim is that these people should get justice and opportunity to be part of civil society. The film has no sponsors so far. In fact, all the films that V.B.Rawat has made belong to social justice and human rights and so far remained a complete voluntary effort.

This fifty minute film has been shot at Mohammdabad, a town in Ghazipur district of Uttar-Pradesh, India's most populous state. Mohammdabad has a population of over 1,50,000. The film tries to narrate the plight of the sweepers in the municipality, their financial and social problems. Then film also speaks about those who work in the private houses and clean latrines. After this, the film shows the new voices of the scavenger community, their leaders. Those women who are doing vocational training have been interviewed. There is a village where every body has left scavenging and more successful initiatives among the community so that the new young of the community take inspiration from their local heroes.

The film is dedicated to this changing spirit of the scavenger community in Ghazipur. The film is also dedicated to one of the icon of Dalit movement in contemporary India, Bhagwan Das, who has been an Ambedkarite and himself belong to the community. Bhagwan Das is an internationally known human rights activist based in Delhi and has written many books for the benefit of the untouchables.

Vidya BhushanRawat hopes that people will respond to this cry for change to help the people. In fact, the film itself is a medium to generate resources for the people of Mohammdabad. Vidya Bhushan Rawat is currently making his new documentary on Tsunami named as Silence of Tsunami on the discrimination against women and Dalits in Tsunami affected areas.

Duration : 55 minutes
Language : Hindi with subtitles in English
Available on VCDs
Price : USD 25
Rs 250/-


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