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, July 26, 2013

Death of Ethics

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

There has been no news from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art regarding the deaths of three sanitation workers who died in the campus on July 14th while cleaning the sewage line near to AC plant. The families of deceased have not heard anything from the company which has Rajesh as supervisor. The National Human Rights Commission and other government bodies need to act on it as one of the prime witnesses of the issue is Chhotu, 30 who was part of the team and survived. In an interaction, Chhotu and his mother provided horrific details of the incidents and how they have been treated at the hospital.
It was early morning at 7.30 am on that day when Chhotu along with his friends Rajesh and others started from Trilokpuri for the ‘work’. He was not told the nature of the work. He was informed that he would have to clean water tank, he said. At 8.30 am they reached Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art and the watchman at the gate took them to the AC plant side to carry out the work.

Chhotu was perhaps the youngest and hence was worked more than his elderly colleagues.  There was no big deal in cleaning the five pits as they did not have gas but just ‘water’. They had cleared five pits. Bahadur, the watchman of the Centre  helped them. They had pump also but that was not used fully. Bahadur left after the five ‘holes’ were cleared. It was five in the evening. A couple who too was working had gone out to have tea.

Chhottu felt that it was time to finish the last one too and go. As he entered the sixth pit, there was gas inside it. He could not face it and fell unconscious. His friends from the above were watching. So, they pulled him up but the person who tried to save him actually died.  He was Satish. Each one of them was trying to save but actually died. Satish, Ashok and Rajesh died trying to save each other facing the terrible gas. There was no staff of IGNCA. The couple who had gone out for tea had returned. There was commotion as they called police at 100 number. It came fast and took all the victims to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital where Satish, Ashok and Rajesh were declared dead while Chhotu was admitted. He was responding to the treatment.

The death of medical ethics

Chhotu’s parents at Trilokpuri were informed late in the night and both of them rushed to hospital. His wife was pregnant and got worried. His mother was in a very disturbed condition. At the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, they found them unwelcomed. The doctors were not interested in them. The mother rushed here and there but finally found the boy in the ward. He was unrecognizable as the body was completely oil and absolute black. None in the staff could think of cleaning him or washing his dirt. In the early morning when Chhotu came to senses, he saw his mother and asked her about his children. ‘They are all fine’, said the mother. He then inquired about Rajesh and others and his mother said that they too were fine. His mother was worried about his condition and hence felt that it was good not to inform him. Suddenly, he got up and went outside the ward. He was feeling unease and uncomfortable. It was very unfortunate and shocking that when he, returned to his bed after 10 minutes, the doctor and the nurse did not allow him. They were asked to leave. The doctors did not even give them the papers of their treatment and what he needs. His mother begged but the doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital did not bother to address.

Both mother sun due remained at the hospital only. Now, Chhotu had realized that his three other colleagues were dead as the families of them were already in the hospital. He was in deep shock but fortunately he could tolerate all this. Despite in terrible mental and physical condition, he helped the families of the deceased and was there with them till they had got the bodies of the three victims.

If we see the pattern of treatment meted out to all these victims including Chhotu, then one thing is clear that the doctors in India suffer from prejudices and perhaps not ready to touch those who clean the human excreta and other garbage in our cities as well as go deep into these sewage lines, the modern day night-soil. All of them were acknowledged as ‘unknown’ and their concerns were not addressed. Their families got the dead bodies at 12 pm next day. One can understand the amount of seriousness that the doctors showed. They were not given any report and when they asked for Post Mortem Report, they were asked to come after 40 days. Why are the doctors denying the patient the post mortem report?  Shockingly, the cause of death is not mentioned in the certificate issued so far.

Some More Fact

After speaking to Chhotu, who is the witness to the event following facts emerged and must be inquired.
The entire work was being supervised by Rajesh who is no more. He took them and promised Rs 300/- each for cleaning. They were promised that there was no sewage pipe but water pits at the Centre.
The other fact is coming to the notice is that Rajesh was employed at the IGNCA by a private company who has so far not approached the family after death. It needs to be seen as why IGNCA has not spoken on the issue. Who is responsible for the deaths of these people?
Why has the police not filed an FIR and if yes, why the copies of FIR not provided to the family. It needs to be seen whether the FIR contain any case of negligence against civic authorities or IGNCA.  What are the rehabilitation measures done so far? After the privatization process, contractors have given it to subcontractors and hence no social security for those who enter. Most of the time, it is the younger member or older one, who are not employed or are wage labour enter into the pit just for earning a few rupees.
Despite High Court’s order in the past, why were these people not informed about the last pit which was not really of ‘water’ but contained ‘oil’ which was really dangerous and contained gas. Chhotu informed us that till the five pits were covered, the watchman Bahadur was with them but when they opened the last pit, very suspiciously Bahadur left that time. The question is whether Bahadur had known what contained in that pit and if yes then why did he not inform them. They were clearly told that unless they clear each of these pits, no payment would be made to them.

Defied death

Chhotu defied death. He is a daily wage worker. He parents are sweepers at different places. His mother works in a local hospital and is too concerned about him as he is the only son. Fortunately, they have their own house unlike other colleagues who died. Chhotu’s mother clearly does not want him to do this work.  ‘I would have died if anything had happened to him’. She is more than happy. Just next day after Chhotu came back from this danger zone, his wife delivered a baby girl and now his mother says,’ the daughter has brought her father back, so she is a special child. He is now father of four children and one shudder to think the event which happened in his life.  His daughter was born one day after this horrific incident had happened. So for mother, this daughter has brought her father back. 

Chhotu’s story is of deprivation, denial and rejection. It is a social violence brutally legalized by the state apparatus which has failed to provide protection to Dalits all over the country. The state which claims to work on the secular principles of its constitution has not been able to construct a secular bureaucracy which treats all of its citizens without any preconceived notions.

There are serious questions from this incident and I am sure it is not the last despite our wishes because neither the people nor the civic authorities have any civic sense here. They go scot free because the power elite have not taken these issues seriously. There are provisions for protection and punishment for violating yet shamelessly nothing moves. Can the NDMC, MCD, Delhi government or Ministry of Social Justice keep quiet on the issue since the entire sanitation work is now ‘privatised’. The problem is that things remain the same. The death occurs in the heart of Delhi and at the premium institution of India. It has shown the callousness of our police which did not show any concern of the people. We don’t even know what they are doing as far as this case was concern. The story of RML doctors is well known who did not even bother to give full treatment to Chhotu. He is still going to the doctor at the Lal Bahadur hospital in East Delhi. He is still not well and faint but the authorities have no botheration. One does not know whether they have any shame now even so many days of the death of three ‘murders’ which has been committed to keep our city safe. Where are the masks, gloves and machines meant for this work? We hear so much of mechanization process and yet we send people from a particular community to die in these gas chambers without proper protection measures or medical insurance.  Manual scavenging is prohibited legally and on papers and in the heart of our capital city, the community which has been compelled to do this work is dying daily without any dignified response to their issues including rehabilitation.

A challenge to human values and constitution

The deaths in sewage system and subsequent treatment given to those who died and those who continue to suffer doing this inhuman work need to be properly investigated. The role of each agency must be clearly mentioned. Doctors and other medical staff, Delhi Jal Board, New Delhi Municipal Corporation or Municipal Corporation of Delhi, private contractors should not be allowed to go unquestioned. Let there be heavy penalties on them. Let them answer for the deaths of all these people and maltreatment to them. Will the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Scheduled Caste wake up? They take up suo-motto actions which are published in newspapers but what happens to things which are not taken up by the media seriously? It is wakeup call and time for a decisive battle against all form of  manual scavenging has come which will not disappear just with mechanization process but will need a complete overhauling of our social value system as well as strict implementation of anti-discriminatory laws including SC-ST prevention of atrocities act. In the meantime, we wish the authorities to answer to the families of the victims as what is their planning for them. Who is responsible for these deaths and what is being done to the families of these people who languish in humiliation and uncertainty of life. Each death in the sewage line or toilets is an upfront to our constitution as it is the very negation of society based on equity, liberty and fraternity as envisaged by Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

The ‘death Holes’ of India

By Vidya  Bhushan Rawat

The news of three deaths of sanitation workers in sewage line at the prime location of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art (IGNCA) in Delhi on July 14th, has passed off ‘peacefully’ as the country is ‘busy’ in many things and media has no time to raise the issue as these are not ‘political deaths’, to raise pitch on our studios. The government is unable to bring new law so far as the parties have no time to pass it. Our huge growth and infrastructure developmental activities are unable to find machine to clean sewage lines and we need a particular community of Balmikis to enter into it. And poverty, isolation, oppression force the young men of the community to enter into these ‘hellish’ ‘death holes’ or ‘shit bombs’ knowing fully well the dangers involved in it. Authorities continue to get their things done despite deaths of hundreds of workers in past few years in these ‘death holes’ and the responsible civic agencies like Delhi Jal Board, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Corporations put blame on others. So far not a single official has been booked for this criminal negligence. Question is how long will we allow these incidents go scot free without any one being made accountable for these deaths? Secondly, what are the rehabilitation measures for those who have died in these plants and thirdly when will we see a complete prohibition of people entering into these ‘death-traps’ It is time to ask questions and fix responsibility on people. Sewage work is another name of manual scavenging for which government of India and state governments are claiming that they have ‘eliminated’ from their states. It is the new form of manual scavenging much more dangerous as it completely kills human spirit, degrade them and compel them to do things for purely economic reasons. No one would like to enter into these death traps. The death of three young workers in Delhi and the treatment meted out to them in death itself shows how much dirt exists in our mind. That those who make our cities clean are treated worse than animals in their death too. That their bodies are treated as ‘unknown’ by the police and medical doctors and families are not informed adequately about their deaths. The height of negligence is when IGNCA authorities refuse to accept, tender apology or even speak to the families of these deceased. So far none of the so-called authorities have visited them. Families are left to fetch themselves. It is a story of our criminal neglect, poverty, desperation, isolation, caste indignities, racist society and barbarianism. We must hang our head in shame.

The death in the hole

It was Sunday and Rajesh 35 decided to go to work thinking that he would earn a few bucks more to bring to his family. He took along with him Ashok, Satish  and  Chhotu to Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art (IGNCA) in the Lutyen’s sprawling Delhi for the days ‘cleaning’ operation. Little did they know that this would be perhaps the last ‘working’ day for them? They were supposed to clean 6 sewage pits near the AC plant in the IGNCA and hence they started early morning at 7 am from the home so that he could finish that on time around 5 pm in the evening and get back home to do his additional work of Rickshaw pulling which was essential for him to run his family. It is not well known so far as whether they were hired by the company or whether IGNCA had subcontracted the work to any company. It needs thorough investigations and criminal case of murder must be file d for those responsible for this.

In the semi urban locality of Trilokpuri nearly 50,000 Balmiki families live to earn their livelihood through various kinds of engagements. A majority of them now work with the private contractors after the sanitary work was privatized. The MCD and NDMC jobs became lucrative and out of reach for most of them. Many of them actually work in absence of those who ‘sign’ in the register. The signatories get the salaries but most of these youngsters work for someone and get a meager sum of money for their survival. Some others are destined to work with private contractors as they can’t get any other job. The private contractors squeeze them and pay well below the minimum wages and take a minimum of 8-12 hours’ work a day against all the norms of the government. There is no social security benefit as well as no leaves and holidays for them. They can be called at any moment and even there it is not known how many of them are truly registered as employees. So, most of them actually, despite working regularly with these private contractors are treated as daily wage workers and hence their condition is pathetic.

Rajesh was a supervisor in the private company and was earning Rs five thousand a month. Living along with his wife, a son and a daughter, he was the sole bread-winner of the family. A few months back he had lost his elder daughter who was about eighteen years of age. Just two months ago, he got his second daughter married. The neighbor says that he was a very hard working man, who after coming from work used to ply rickshaw till the night. ‘How much can you really make in Rs 5000/- when you have to shell out nearly three thousands for rent, says an elderly woman in the neighborhood. He was under tremendous pressure as his second daughter got married two months ago and we know he had taken a loan of Rs 100,000/-.  The pressure is so much that the family has not been able to return the money. It is this reason that Rajesh and many like him actually work in the evening and ready to exploit their bodies further.
In the first floor house lives this family. Rajesh’s son is too young to understand. He does not go to school. I asked why,’ mere paas vardi nahi hai’, he said, I don’t have school uniform’. And one can understand the pain in his eyes in saying so. We know how the Balmiki students are humiliated in the schools. They are normally asked to sit at the last and if they come late the teachers beat them and scold them in best known expletives.

The family was therefore aware that he was going for some extra work. There was no information at home till late in the evening at 11 pm two boys came and asked them about the where about of Rajesh and his number. In the night police came to inform them about his death. They died in sewage line but surprisingly and shockingly the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art is shamelessly ignoring the facts about their presence. Rajesh parents are no more. His wife is in a state of deep shock and his son has no mean to go to school. His brothers live elsewhere so for this family now life has become more challenging and traumatic. The family does not even have a ration card leave alone of having a BPL card. One does not know what are these card made of and for whom if the most oppressed of the people have no access to it.

Similar scenes were visible at the house of Ashok who too was living on a rented place. With 4 children, two daughters and two sons, Ashok was paid Rs Five Thousand for his work every month by the company. His father is too old and his younger brother was worried about him particularly his growing daughter who is expected to get married in November. His family is living in a difficult shape as they pay Rs 4000/- as rent and his two sons are too young and don’t know whether they would be able to go school again or not. The families do not know what to do and where to go, who to approach. They become vulnerable to exploitation further.

Bodies treated as ‘Unknown’

According to preliminary information from the hospital three persons, Rajesh, Satish and Ashok were brought dead there by the Parliament Street Thana Police. It is surprising, shocking and disturbing that there is no information filled up in the police form and the initial form provided to the family of diseased looks as if they are ‘unknown’ and found dead lying in the street. Three deaths were recorded everywhere as unknown which means neither the IGNCA nor the contractors have anything to do with this issue at present. If that is true than how can police take up this matter without registering a case of negligence against those responsible for it? Is it just the case of negligence or our lack of humanity and basic dignity provided to Balmikis for doing all the work which none other can do? It raises basic question of how we treat our people who doing the most dangerous work. Did the police make any arrest in this regard? Did they speak to any one on the issue or just want to close the file? Were these people working without any body’s knowledge? How can they enter sewage pit when it is prohibited? Who is responsible to manage and maintain sewage lines? Can the IGNCA get away without any penalty? The three workers were working with private contractors so it needs to be investigated whether they were working on the guidelines of the private contractors. If yes, then what was the role of the authorities to stop such things?

We all know that Delhi and other parts of India shamelessly use the poverty of people to fulfill their ulterior agenda. The manual scavenging in India continue and is on the increase and without any sincere effort to eliminate it. How can the authorities treat the persons who were doing this work as ‘unknown’ and lawaris? Rajesh, Ashok and all others had not only their mobile phones with them but had some cash as well as their company Identity Card. They would not have entered the IGNCA air-conditioned block without the entry at the gate and if it is not entered then why? The pain is that we have seen deaths for years without changing the pattern of our governance system as well as social attitude.

Who is responsible for these deaths?

After showing these deaths as ‘Unknown’ not a single official from either IGNCA or the private contractor where Rajesh and other worked visited their homes. And it is till yesterday evening 6 pm when I was speaking the families had neither the copy of the FIR nor any other details as how their people died.  Leave aside asking about their people, there is something fishy as all the families were not informed properly by any responsible authority about this ‘accident’, which is clearly a murder.  The families are shocked that no one from these ‘responsible’ bothered to ask about them.

The deaths seem to occur at 8.30 in the evening but families were not informed properly about this. In fact, people were sent casually to find out the whereabouts of these people as well as their contact details. It is late in the night when they were informed by the police about the ‘accident’ and asked them to visit Ram Manohar Lohia. Ashok’s brother actually informed that they got information next morning. It is shameful that our authorities do everything to kill the information and hence any investigation further becomes a mere formality.

It is well known that after such pressure a token amount could be given to the next of diseased yet the way everyone has behaved here shows the criminal apathy of governance, civil society and media. Except for DNA, there was not even news on the issue. The news which die next day and none try to find as what happen to families who’s everything is lost.

Impartial Inquiry and comprehensive rehabilitation of the families 

Rajesh, Ashok and Satish are no more. None cry for them except their family people. Government of India has not been able to bring a bill in Parliament to eliminate manual scavenging and rehabilitate the manual scavengers. It is shocking negligence by each apparatus of our system that the families of these people suffer in agony and uncertainty. On the one hand we want to stop it through legislation and the other side there is no security for them. Strangely and disgustingly their families do not possess ration cards here as they live on rented houses. The government facilities do not reach them. Fact of the matter is, it is difficult for any Balmiki family to get a house on rent in a ‘normal’ locality. The community which should have been on our agenda to eliminate not just discrimination but caste discrimination to be precise is suffering all humiliation.

While an impartial inquiry is important yet the most important is fixing up of responsibility and rehabilitation of the families who lost their members.  You cannot allow people to die in suffocation and suffering and hence the government must compensate adequately to the families. It is time when bodies like NHRC, NCSC must take suo-moto action against the private contractors, NDMC/MCD /Jal Board officials for gross dereliction of duty and negligence resulting in deaths of three young men. The government on the other hand must come out with comprehensive rehabilitation measures completely banning entry of human being into these ‘death holes’ as well as other forms of manual scavenging. It is gross violation of human rights to live with dignity and show our caste and racial prejudices, a ‘divine reservation’ which has been meant for Balmiki community. It would be better if the government address the issue seriously and show some sign of action at the ground before other deaths take place in these death traps. 

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