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.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is It Emancipation or elimination of scavengers in Laar town ( Deoria)

Nagar Palikas in Uttar-Pradesh continue to exploit the scavengers without proper alternative and rehabilitation

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

In March 2007, I visited Laar town and met many persons from the scavenger community. Many of the sweepers who came and narrated their plight had not got their salaries since the appointment in the Nagar Palika. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then chief minister was on a spree to announce various schemes and one of them was ‘jobs’ ‘reserved’ of sweepers for the Valmikis or scavenger community. In the eastern Uttar-Pradesh, they do not use the term Balmikis/Valmiks for the sweeper. Instead there are people from the communities of Rawats, Bansfors, Helas, Mehtars who are engaged in scavenging work. Many of the women narrated their plight and how they wish to get out of the scavenging hell.

A report was submitted to National Human Rights Commission and after which the commission, it seems, issued notices to the state government. We realized that after it the municipal authorities approached the Sweepers and those who were engaged in scavenging to leave their work otherwise face severe consequences in the form of dismissal or jail. It was like the victims themselves were being victimized for the century old exploitation they faced without any dilution.

Pain of contract workers

That time too, all those working on contract had not got their salaries for seven months. Those who joined the municipality in the hope it would ultimately relieve them from indignity of manual scavenging later felt betrayed, for they not only lost their earlier work but now had no chance to go another work.

To find out what was the latest happening there, I visited Laar last month to find out the condition of the people and their depressing condition. As being reported here that manual scavenging is still going despite the denial by Nagar Palika. In fact, we have not only recorded the entire event in video but also got affidavit from the families and large part of text is being produced here. It is unfortunate that all the government’s measures to eliminate scavenging are half hearted and lack sincerity and conviction. That time too our investigations revealed how the Swachchakar Vimukti programme has failed and gone in the hand of middlemen. The officers have got a new tool to exploit people.

It is unfortunate that the Safai Karmcharis had to resort to strike for their legitimate right just a few days ago, which ended after administration’s highhandedness and duplicity. The administration played its dubious role. One month salary was paid last month but ultimately till date it has now been informed that over 8 months salary is still due and the Nagar Palika has done very little to repair the damage. Instead, the Safai Karmcharis were threatened and we are informed Rs 500/- was given to each of the karmcharis to keep away from striking further. A small penny therefore divided the community, which has lost all hope.

What will happen to a community, which does not get its legitimate amount even when that is much below the ‘normal limit’ of decency? Why are the safai karmcharis at the receiving end at each nagar palikas. When the work on contract was publicized by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, in many municipalities we received complaint or even appreciation that even the backward and upper castes were applying for sweeper’s job. It has now been revealed that all these OBCs or Upper castes, working in municipalities in the name of sweeper do not really mix up with the sweeper community and some of them are benami sweepers. When the sweeper community does not get paid up salary for over 7 months, it reverse back to scavenging, a profession that government and nagar-palikas claims to have vanished. In Laar and other towns and villages of India, it is still prevalent and we have not only recorded evidence but also people on affidavit claiming they are engaged in the work.

Back to scavenging

In the Laar town the Mehtar community is still carrying the nightsoil. Around 10 women are still involved in the work. The national Scavenger Liberation Scheme has failed because of malfunctioning and corruption in the scheme, which never reach the poor. These 10 women are doing the manual scavenging work in nearly 110 houses.

As you may be aware of the fact that Social Development Foundation had earlier also given a report regarding Laar but so far we do not know what action has been taken. We have been given the impression by the scavenger community that after the report was send by NHRC, the Nagar Palika official went to the locality and threatened those who were allegedly involved in the scavenging work.

Rehabilitation of scavenger should be the utmost priority of the government but elimination of scavenging cannot be done by half hearted publicity measures, which the authorities are involved in. It will require lot of commitment and sincerity on part of bureaucracy and the officers. Unfortunately, that seems to be lacking in most of the towns in Uttar-Pradesh. If removal of scavenging is forcefully prohibited without providing an amicable and dignified solution, then we are afraid the situation would go out of control.

The municipality officials not only threatened the husbands of the women involved in scavenging but also did not give them any other opportunity of survival with dignity. No action is normally taken against the municipalities who have failed with the compliance. Women are not being given any job opportunity by the Nagar Palikas resulting in their returning to old profession. Further, none of those who are working with the municipality have got any salary for the past seven months. We are still amused as why the authorities find it difficult to pay to those who keep their cities clean. It is said that the government is providing an alternative to scavenging in the form of providing employment to those who are involved in scavenging. Yet, as our report suggest, women have got no employment as well as those who got appointment on contract basis have not got any salary for the past seven month. The result is that their wives have started returning to their traditional occupation. The condition of the scavenger community is a matter of grave concern but our governments and civil society organizations have failed to respond to the issue. They are virtually suffering in indignity and humiliation. On the one hand the municipal officials threaten them with dire consequences, on the other side, there is no way they will get a job. It is a usual phenomena in Uttar-Pradesh that the Safai-Karmcharis never get their salary on time. Normally it takes six months to get their salaries. Government expects them to be rehabilitated. Their children do not get opportunity to sit with upper caste students. The women folks later resort to manual scavenging because it help them get not only a peanut for their survival but mainly they are able to get loans for local people for running their families.

According to report appeared in local newspaper Dainik Jagaran that 46 people were charged under this. For the financial year 2006-2007 about Rs 58 lakh came to the municipality but only Rs 9 lakh were used. No one knows about other Rs 49 lakh. More than 110 houses have still dry latrines. In January, it was reported that FIR was lodged against 17 persons. In March 2006, DUDA has lodged FIR against 29 persons (Dainik Jagaran, Gorakhpur, September 8th, 2007).

Work without payment

In his affidavit Krishna s/o Vishwnath said that he was given appointment on contract by the Laar Nagarpalika. But more than 7 months have passed and yet they have got no salary. Whenever she tried to contact the chairman of the Nagar Panchayat, he has been thrown away and is being threatened of being dismissal from the job. It is very difficult to run the family on credit. In the absence of no salary for the past seven months, his family and children are suffering in indignity, hunger and depression.

Sadabriksha has three children who do not go to school. For seven months of work, he was unable to get any salary. They go early morning at six and return at 10. Again for the day shift they go at 2.00 pm and return at 6 pm.

Gita, wife of Dilip has on record mentioned that she is still doing the manual scavenging work in more than 10 houses of Laar town. Mr Bakhsi in the Nagar Panchayat is forcing us to leave this work and got her signed at a blank paper. She was promised work under contract in Nagar Palika but never got it. However, her husband is a sweeper on contract in the Nagar-Palika and have got no salary for the past seven months. How do the government expect them to get rid of this vicious circle when they are not interested. Now, Gita claims that the municipality is threatening her husband with dire consequences if she does not leave her work.

Basanti wife of Krishna charged the municipality of threatening her to leave the manual scavenging work. ‘ I was promised work on contract but till date, I have got nothing. My husband was given work on contract and now it is over 7 month that we are without any money. I cannot open a shop and start selling things. One we do not have the money and second no body would buy any product from us. When people keep away distances from us how are they going to accept us other than sweeping and cleaning. But we are ready to any other work if alternative is given. Though I have left the work but what is the option. How do my children go to school in the absence of any income, she said.

Kanhaiya is a sweeper on contract at the Nagar Palika but because of non-payment of salaries his condition is worsening. He is a student of 12th standard but unfortunately he got no work. He is married and unable to run his family. Now, even the shopkeepers do not give us things on credit.

Subhawati wife of Ram Pyare is engaged in the manual scavenging work in nearly 15 houses in Laar. She charge municipal corporations officer Mr Bakhsi for taking her signature in plain paper under the pretext that she would get work. So far she has got nothing. Instead she is being threatened that her husband would be dismissed. ‘My husband is working in the municipality on contract yet nothing has been paid to him in the past seven months. Now the government says that you leave manual scavenging but what is it giving to us for our survival’, she said.

Gaura Devi wife of Bechu works in 10-15 houses. She gets rupees 10 per months for her work, which cannot survive her along with her three children. Unfortunately, because of the economy of indebtedness has an important role in the community’s inability to get out of the profession. Nowhere the municipalities are known to be paying salaries to sweepers on time. Most of the time they get their salaries after six to seven months. Therefore the women folks have to resort to manual scavenging as they remain in the good books of the upper castes and can extract some cash credit in the time of emergency.

Vidyawati w/o Harinder is also engaged in six to seven homes. She has the same argument that when the government does not provide them anything, how can they leave the work. Nagar Palika has promised them work but so far nothing has materialized.

Sushila Devi w/o Ramchander said that she was called by the municipality for a job but later denied me a job because my son got a job in the municipality. It is difficult to run the family and in the absence of salaried paid for over seven months. Now, we are in difficult condition as our children are virtually starving. Who will think of sending them to schools? I will have to resort to manual scavenging again to get food on credit to run my family says, Sushila.

Lilawati Devi has no work. Her husband Om Prakash is also jobless. They have four children and all starving at the moment. Municipal officials asked us to leave this work but provided no alternative. What do we do? After all, we have to work for our livelihood and we do not get anything else.

Kamala Devi wife of Basant was doing work previously but after the municipality promised them work, she left manual scavenging. I was asked to sign on a blank paper and informed that my job has been confirmed. When she went to the municipality she was told to get out. She has big family of 10 people to support and her husband has no work at the moment.

Rajan Kumar is working in the municipality on contract and is depressed at the moment as he can not go to any other job in the absence of non payment of salaries for past seven

Shambhunath is a permanent sweeper in Nagarpalika, working for over 25 years. At the moment he is getting Rs 7000/- per month. He says on the discrimination against his community that he never got promotion in the municipality as a Safai Nayak. Till date not a single person from the Balmiki community has been appointed as supervisor. The other community people who never get involved in sweeping and cleaning are appointed as supervisor. We all clean dirty lanes, Nalis, sever etc but without any mask, globe or shoes. Whenever we tried to ask question regarding our safety, we have been threatened away.

According to Basant, there are number of Safai Karmacharis who can be termed as ‘benami’. Many people from upper caste Muslims and backward communities have been appointed in the sweepers job on contract but they never come along with us to clean and sweep the street. They normally do office work and later many of them got promoted as supervisors.

Conclusion: The aim of this write up is to bring to the notice the persistently denigrating conditions of the swachchakar community in various parts of Uttar-Pradesh. We will continue to bring out reports on prevailing situation and where has our governance failed. We would warn the authorities not to go on exploiting our report and torturing the people who are in the profession. Aim is that the authorities should introspect and provide decent employment to people from this community. There should be income generation programme for the community and special school targeted to help the community’s new young children. Most importantly municipalities must be penalized for not being able to rehabilitate the community and holding up their salaries for so many months. Special focus should be given to women, as it is they are one hundred percent involved in scavenging. Swachchakar Vimukti Yojana needs to be channalised through Non Governmental Organisations and not through the government officials. All the scavenger women should be provided alternative and decent employment. The Swachchakar community needs special treatment. May be government can fix a quota for the educated youth of Swachchakar community in the jobs other than sweeping and scavenging. That would be the first step from the government side to delink the community from its traditional occupation, a burden it still is carrying on its vast soldiers. It is time we wake up and bring dignity to our work and fellow workers and stop this greatest sin of our time.

The Swachchakar community needs to be liberated from this living hell at the moment. Their locality has no water supply. Dirt everywhere and in the absence any proper sewage system, they throw the human excreta in the stale water. I was amazed to find the same women after doing their work washed their hand in the same water they threw the garbage. It needs to be seen how this community is surviving in filth. It reflect of our betrayal to the community that even fifty years after independence we have not been able to modernize our life style and most importantly our thoughts remain completely out of date and racist in nature. That a community is made to clean your dirt and this thing is still happening in India is a shame which we all have ourselves to blame, most importantly the political class for whom they become a ‘vote bank’. It is time we get out of this mindset, involve ourselves in the national mission of liberation of manual scavengers and the first thing could be penalizing the officials and Nagar Palikas if they do not rehabilitate the community and exploit them.

P.S: Copies of affidavits of some of the swachchakars from Laar town are being send to National Human Rights Commission, National Scheduled Caste Commission as well as Chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh, along with our previous reports.

Following are the persons in Laar town municipality who have not got any salary for the past Eight months as on October 25th, 2007

Ramchandra s/p Swaminath
Ramesh s/o Mahesh
Krishna s/o Vishwanath
Rampyare s/o swaminath
Jitendra s/o Kailash
Rajan s/o Ramchandra
Raju s/o Harendra
Parvati s/o Lal Saheb
Mamta w/o Shankar
Ramesh s/o Baijnath
Bimla w/o Late Lakhan
Gita w/o Dilip
Sriniwas s/o Chanmuni
Dilip s/o Bhola
Rajkumar s/o Bhola
Manoj s/o Bhola
Anil s/o Suresh
Kanhaiya s/o Suresh
Sharma s/o Nebulal
Sadavriksha s/p Nebulal
Nirmala w/o Ashok
Suresh s/o Gambhir

Women working as scavengers and need rehabilitation are following

Shubhawati w/o Rampyare
Shakuntala w/o Shyambabu
Gauri w/o Bechu
Vidya w/o Harendra Rawat
Lilawati w/o Om Prakash
Basanti w/o Krishna
Manju w/o Mahesh
Kamladevi w/o Basant
Manju w/o Kailash
Sushila w/o Ramchandra

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Balmikis face eviction and isolation in Uttarakhand

Has the state of Uttarakhand abdicated its responsibility to social justice ?

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Dogadda Garhwal is a small town and perhaps the smallest Nagar Panchayat in district Paurigarhwal. With a population of less than 5000 inhabitat, this town is encircled by two rivers named as Khoh river. Nearly 15 kilometer from Kotwara, the train link between Uttarakhand and rest of the country, Dogadda is a serene town with enormous beauty of the mountains. The small town had an isolated pocket where the Balmikis live. The municipality provided them one room houses on the river bank in the early sixties. In fact, these houses were granted by social welfare board of Uttar-Pradesh. After the Uttarakhand came into being, Dalits continue to face marginalisation, subjugation and complete isolation in the otherwise upper caste dominated states where the Brahmins and Thakurs fight against each other and other communities become as an added advantage to both these communities.
The story of the Balmikis in the hills is same every where. Every town has Balmikis who immigrated from various rural towns of Uttar-Pradesh nearly 4-5 decade back. They could not be assimilated as the caste identities in culturally sensitive Uttarakhand are very strong. Yet, because of isolation and subjugation, they worked and stayed here. Many of them were born here and started working since the independence. Now with the mechanisation process on, Nagar Palikas are not recruiting the Balmikis. Actually, it is a conspiracy to keep them subjugated so that their labour is easily available. While government might claim that carrying nightsoil is prohibited yet the fact of the matter is who clean the cemented pit of the latrine when it is filled in a year or two ? Ultimately cleaning these pits is simply as inhuman and degrading as cleaning the human excreta daily. The only difference is that one pretend that they have switched to flushed latrines.
Today, many of these Balmikis face eviction threat not only in Dogadda but elsewhere in Uttarakhand under the pretext of a Supreme Court order. I have written the attached letter to many commissions including National Human Rights Commission, National Scheduled Caste Commission and the Lokayukta of Uttarakhand state in Dehradun, in hope that the government would take action on it at the earliest.
You too can write to the authorities to stop exploitation and harrassment of the scavenging community in Uttarakhand. In the 21st century we still continue with this heneious crime against humanity and have failed in rehabilitating the community ? One must ask this question to all those guardians of the government in India as why have they failed to honour their words to world community and to the people of India through its constitution and by signing various international treaties.

Dr Buta Singh,
National Commission for Scheduled Castes,
Lok Nayak Bhavan,
Khan Market
New Delhi October 23rd, 2007

Re: Urgent appeal to save the five Balmiki families of Dogadda Garhwal (Uttarakhand)
from eviction from Balmiki Busttee by the Nagarpalika.


We would like to bring to your notice the fear of displacement lurking over the head of nearly 12 Balmiki families in the town of Dogadda Garhwal (Uttarakhand). Though notices have gone to five of them yet at the moment the entire bustee fear police action as well as manipulation by different political outfits, which term them encroachers. These families had settled many years back (over 50 years) in the state of Uttarakhand and were working in the Nagar-Palika, Dogadda as sweeper. Many of them worked as manual scavengers in the private houses, a practice which is still prevalent in many parts of Uttarakhand despite loud claims of total prohibition.

We, in the social Development Foundation, Delhi have been working on the issue of the rights of the Dalits particularly manual scavengers and would be bringing out a status paper on the condition of Balmiki community in Uttarakhand and Uttar-Pradesh next year.

At the moment, this urgent call comes to you as the Nagar Palika of Dogadda Garhwal has given notices to five families to vacate their houses, which were given to them in the Balmiki Mohalla. Some of them have retired from the municipality but still live in the mohalla. The Balmikis in the Uttarakhand are immigrants and are virtually landless and shelter less community. It virtually has no socio-cultural linkage with the local communities yet it served them unhesitatingly and in total subjugation for the past fifty odd years. Yet after serving the people of the state and towns for past so many years today they are thrown away, unwanted and uncared for. Their condition is pathetic and the state has shown no sympathy towards their welfare. It is clear that their economic condition is not such which can allow them to rent out a house elsewhere. Secondly, it is impossible for them to get a house on rent in the otherwise upper caste dominated Uttarakhand state.

No political party raises their issue for the fear of offending the upper castes. It is tragic that the issues of Dalit’s right have become politicized in a very negative way. While Dalit rights campaign were aggressive everywhere it remain mute in the Himalayan states of Uttarkhand and Himachal Pradesh.

This Nagar Palika orders comes in wake of an instruction from the Directorate of Urban Development, ( Uttarakhand), Dehradun dated September 19th, 2007. This order refer to Supreme Court petition no 4064/2004, S.D.Bandi verses Divisional State Officer ( a copy of the priority of the directorate is being enclosed herewith), asking state to vacate those houses where people are over staying. These include government accommodations, public sector, local government bodies etc. Now to put the sweepers in the same category with that of a bureaucrat or a Babu is not only condemnable but must be questioned. Asking the sweepers that they are overstaying in a one room semi-constructed Balmiki locality shows the mindset that works to put the Dalits on the defensive. Rather than feeling apologetic that the state and the Nagarpalikas have shamelessly not done anything to rehabilitate the Balmikis, the state here is forcing them out to live in the streets. At the time when there will be severe cold waves in the hills, the state’s action amount to violate right to life and right to live with dignity and must be resisted at all cost.

I would also like to add here none of the Dalit landless have been granted land for housing in Dogadda and these Balmikis were living their on the bank of river Khoh in complete isolation. Nobody visit them, their socio-economic profile is of deep misery. They live on the mercy of the upper castes and there is no awareness among them as at the moment their first struggle is of survival.

It is also ironical that at the moment only 9 permanent staff is working in the municipality while several years back their number was 12. They work on sever and cleaning the Nalis. Only one woman has got a job in the municipality. There are 5 persons working on contract with a salary of Rs 2,100/- while the two persons appointed by local Samiti are being paid rupees one thousand five hundred per month. When women do not job at the municipality they simply work in the private houses to clean nightsoil, a practice still active and not visible because of the threat to those who expose it.

Following are the retired sweepers who have got notice to vacate their houses and who have nowhere to go.

1. Shankar,
2. Ramdayal
3. Chandrodevi
4. Gurudeva
5. Sunehari

At the moment, following are the people who are working as ‘regular’ employees in the Nagar Palika

1. Ramnath
2. Chandrapal
3. Gopalram
4. Ratan
5. Rajpal
6. Saroj Devi
7. Shambhu
8. Kumar
9. Vir Singh

Those who are working on contract are following

1. Sanju
2. Subodh
3. Raju
4. Prakash
5. Virendra

Those who are appointed by the local Samiti are following

1. Rakesh
2. Kamal

Ironically, like any other municipality in Uttarkhand and Uttar-Pradesh, the nagar palika here also has not given salaries to its sweeper for the past 7 months. What does it expect them to do? Not even go for strike and ask their fundamental right. While it is claimed that carrying night soil is prohibited, we would like to challenge that. Even in the so-called flush latrines would have to be cleaned annually or biennially, as there is no sever in real sense. For cleaning you only need Balmiki boys. While men can get a job with the municipality the female still do ‘private’ work. Most of those who have retired have not got their dues from municipality. Shankar, Chandrodevi, Gurudeva, Tarawati , Ramdayal and Sumarati. These dues includes pension, gratuity, GPF etc.

Most of the scavenger community people are not in a position to buy land. They claim that the area where they are living at the moment were allotted to them in 1964-65 by the ‘ Samaj Kalyan vibhag’ and that they were given these rooms as a contribution by the department. In fact, this reflect in the letter of Mrs Saroj Rana on July 29th, 2007 to CEO of the Nagarpalika in which she has asked the Nagarpalika to provide her the list of people living in the Balmiki Bastee and who are the allottees.

It seems that the officials and political leaders of the Nagarpalika are manipulating the entire incident to pressurize the sweepers to leave the place and do not ask for their legitimate rights. As Gurudewa, a former sweeper in the Nagarpalika writes in his letter to Chief Executive Officer of the Nagarpalika that his father started working in the municipality since 1947-48 and that he too got involved in the Nagar Palika work since 1958. He has not got anything from pension to gratuity from the Nagarpalika. Their children were born here in this town and now they are being forced to leave this place. One does not know where they will be thrown away. This is the best gift by the bureaucrats and upper castes officers can give to the Dalits in a state where they live in complete subjugation and isolation.

I would be grateful if the Scheduled Caste Commission take note of it and ask the Nagarpalika not to get the houses of the Balmikis vacated without providing them a suitable alternative. Tomorrow is the last date of notice and the Nagarpalika threaten them with police action.

Thank you,

Yours Sincerely,

For Social Development Foundation,

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Enclosed :

1. G.O. from the Director, Directorate Urban Development,
Letter of Eviction to Mrs Chandro and Shankar,
Letters by Gurudeva and Chandro
Letter from District Samaj Kalyan Adhikari claiming that the houses were allotted to Balmikis by the nagarpalika.

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