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.

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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your blog, social activities for dalits, and for strong action to save the poor Balmikis.
Balmikis are being exploited in every state of India. Appointments of sweepers in government offices have been stopped in every where in India. Sweeping job is being given on contract to upper caste contractors. Poor balmikis working under these contractors on temporary basis and their monthly wages is not being given as per sanction amount from concerned goverment deptt.

1:19 AM  
Anonymous Sudheer Gupta said...

My name is Sudheer Gupta and I live & work as a documentary filmmaker in New Delhi. I live in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
I congratulate you for your efforts regarding the Balmiki community. I am deeply concerned about them, and you can count me as a friend.

10:54 PM  

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