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.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

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


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