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.

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


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