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, May 29, 2009

India's Shame : Death of two Dalit boys in Shit-Pit

Dear Friends,

Following letter has been send to various authorities for action including UP Chief Minister.. you may like to write them please..manual scavenging is not going to die.. it is in fact reappearing in a big form..

Caste purity could not allow a Brahmin to touch and save two Dalit ( Balimiki) boys cleaning his ‘shit’.

Deaths in the Soak pits in Gazipur village, Fatehpur District, Uttar Pradesh

Ms Mayawatiji,

Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh,

Chief Minister’s Secretariat,

Lucknow May 29, 2009

Two workers from valmiki Dalit community died after inhaling poisonous gases in a soak pit of Abdul Gani Locality of Fatehpur district on May 5, 2009. The victim Naresh aged 35 years, son of Bankelal was an employee of local Municipality while the other victim Deepak aged 22 years son of Munnilal, was a daily wage worker with the same municipality and a neighbor. Both were residents of Arabpur locality of Fatehpur.

A fact finding team constituted by Social Development Foundation, Delhi lead by Ms Sehroj Fatima, Chitrakoot, visited the site on May 7th, 2009, to take stock of the situation in Abdul Gani locality where the accident occurred and Arabpur locality where the families of the deceased workers live. The situation in the entire area is grim and unrest prevails still.

There is no manual scavenging prevalent in the district, said the District Magistrate a few days back in Fatehpur district of Uttar-Pradesh. Fact of the matter is that most of the districts in Uttar-Pradesh and elsewhere claim that manual scavenging have been eliminated. Many notices send by the National Human Rights Commission have been returned empty handed blaming the complainant for politicizing the issue.

About the victims:

Naresh who used to work in the Local Municipality as Safai Karamchari was aged 35 years and was living with his wife, four children, younger brother and sister. He was a permanent employee of the municipality for the past 10 years, yet due to economic pressure, would take up the private work of cleaning the soak pits on requirement. Due to lesser wages for Class IV employee in municipality, Naresh has to work beyond is working hours to meet ends. He used to go for cleaning jobs and even as part of orchestra playing in weddings in the area to earn a little more.

Despite repeated reports, the municipalities claim that there is no manual scavenging. Some of them feel that with the construction of cemented toilets without sewerage system, the issue of scavenging is over. Hence they falsely report about the elimination of scavenging. With low wages and irregular wages for the daily wage workers in the municipality, most of them work privately and clean night soil.

On the fateful day also, he went to clean the soak pit of one Jugal Kishore Misra, who promised Rs 1000 for the work, along with Deepak 22, an unemployed youth who would play drum and orchestra to meet his financial needs. Deepak was not married and was living with his parents and other siblings. Naresh and Deepak, parents were working in the Municipality. Deepak was highly dependent on Daily wage work and used to do all sorts of cleaning work and also be part of the Orchestra party like Naresh. On the day of incident, Naresh took Deepak along so that they can equally divide the money among each other after few hours of work.

What happened at the site?

Most of the houses in the area are dry latrine and the Balmiki community is still engaged in manual scavenging and this is how they earn their living. But there are few houses which have toilets connected to a deep soak pit where the waste gets collected over years. After few years, depending on the depth of the soak pit, people have to get it cleaned. This can be cleaned both through machines and also manually. Unfortunately, mechanization process has not yet happened in India and therefore we see young and old boys from the scavenging community involved in this gruesome work at the risk of their life. This can not be called a work as it involves killing of human dignity and degrading his self respect, yet despite all this, the work continues, thanks to our governments and their antipathetic bureaucratic attitude that emancipation of the community does not come in their mind and rehabilitation of the community means a job in the municipality for them.

In this particular case, Mr. Jugal Kishore Misra, the owner of the house where the site of accident is, engaged Naresh to clean the soak pit for Rs 1000. Naresh, after coming back from work, had his food and asked Deepak to come along to clean the soak pit. At first they used rope and bucket to drain waste water collected in the tank. But then the owner shouted at the two workers ordering them to get inside the tank and clean the entire tank properly.

On his insistence, the duo entered the ill-fated soak pit with help of an iron ladder, immediately lost consciousness and fainted in side the tank. Naresh got stuck in the sludge immediately while Deepak drowned in the waste water while yelling for help.

The owner and his son were witness to the entire episode, instead of rescuing the duo; they asked his grandson to inform the family of the victims. Even though the distance between the two localities was hardly 500-700 meters, but by the time the relatives reached and removed the bodies from the soak pit, both of them were dead.

Role of the Authorities

Later the doctors of the Government Hospital also confirmed the death. According to the relatives, if the owner had acted quickly in rescuing the men, they would have been alive. As the angry relatives demanded arrest of the owner and due compensation to the family, the police called PSC force to keep the protest under vigil.

The local tehsildar calmed the agitators by saying that the information of the death has been sent and they are waiting for the news from the State Government. While the officials from the Municipality gave Rs 5,000 to each of the victims family. While the SDM of the Area Mr Arvind Chaurasia said that since both of them have government connection they will not be eligible for compensation but help will be given from CM relief fund.

The police did not show the FIR while Mishra was having his connections. The cases have been filed after much pressure but people do not know what exactly the charges are. The community leaders have not been consulted on this, neither the family people were told about the charges leveled against Mishra. Moreover, the Post Mortem report has also not been given to the family people of both Naresh and Deepak.

It is sad that the authorities in the state still behave in feudal brahmanical way and do not have sense of duty towards the Balmiki community which remains lowest of the low due to its traditional occupation. Such racial prejudices on part of administration is condemnable and we demand strict against the police officials, district officials and municipality leaders.

Evidences collected from the relatives of the victim:

According to Naresh’s wife Anita, Naresh was removing waste water from the tank with help of bucket and rope, but then the owner asked him to go inside the tank to clean it properly as he was paying him Rs 1000. Then they entered the tank with help of an Iron ladder, but soon lost his conscious and got stuck in the sludge. When the owner was questioned about his inaction he categorically said that he had only one son and moreover this work is of the Dalit untouchable community.

According to Rakesh, brother of the deceased Naresh, when they rushed to the site, they saw the sludge all over the place and the owners’ family was also standing. When he looked inside the soak pit, he saw a body and soon realised that both of them had died in the tank. Then he tied rope on his waist and got down the tank. According to him, it was easier to lift Deepak’s body as it was floating on water, but Naresh’s body was stuck in the sludge. Both the bodies were full of insects. After removing the bodies from the tank, he was also feeling giddiness due to the gas.

The bodies were taken to the police station where they refused to register the case, next they took the body to the government hospital where the doctors refused to do post-mortem. But then the relatives got very angry and they agitated and blocked the road. This compelled the hospital to do postmortem but the report is still not made public.

According to Deepak’s mother Rampati, Deepak will not be getting any compensation as both his parents are working in Municipality and he was unmarried. She also pointed out that nobody took photographs of the accident site. The postmortem was conducted at the time it was dark. They have not received the report as yet.

Jugal Kishore Mishra is a powerful man and trying to save his skins. For two days the local bar went on strike against filing case against Jugal Kishore Mishra. This shows which side the law stands in our society. It is tragic that the entire issue is being seen as a ‘mere accident’ by the administration. After the Balmiki community protested, there are efforts to silent it by a token compensation from the Chief Minister’s Funds.

While we demand the enough rehabilitation and compensation need to be paid to both the families so that none of their family people return to this disgusting work, it is also needed that government must work on taking prompt action on the issue. The Nagar Palikas are lying in the state and every year going for huge ‘appointments’ to placate the Balmiki community for the ‘government’ job. We request this must stop. To rehabilitate the community, a proper alternative time bound action plan is needed and the time has come when the government shows that it is seriously concern.

We demand the following:

Can the issue be just relegated to mere compensation according to the law? How much does government give to class IVth employee?

Should not there be an action against the owner of the house for forcibly sending the two into soak pit.

What is the role of municipality? The District Magistrate and Government Officials must see what have the municipality report to them related to this case.

Why this case shouldn’t be filed against the authorities under the prevention of SC-ST act.

Compensate the families of both the deceased handsomely so that none of the family members return to this work again and it becomes a model code for every one. May be a hefty fine should be imposed on both the owner of the house as well as municipality. Some strict punitive measures are needed in this regard.

Order a judicial inquiry and ask for recommendation to eliminate this practice and fixing up responsibility and accountability of various departments.

I hope that your government will look into this serious crime against humanity and take necessary action.

Thank you,

For Social Development Foundation,

Vidya Bhushan Rawat