Of Manual Scavengers In Gorakhpur, Uttar-Pradesh
By Vidya Bhushan
Rawat, Ram Bhuvan & Kirti Singh
25 February, 2007
Condition of Scavenger community in India is a matter of grave concern
for all the right thinking persons world over. It is regrettably noted
that the official attitude of the government has not changed towards
these communities. The surroundings of the community compel them think
in a ghettoized fashion which is considered as if the community does
not want to change. In an environment where parents do not know where
would the second day meal be achieved, it would be ridiculous to think
that the community would be able to rise at its own. Is it not the duty
of all of us who believe in human rights, dignity and human values to
come forward and help the community to delink from its traditional occupation?
We are shocked to say the
least that despite the people's will to get out of the profession, nothing
much is visual from the government's attitude for whom rehabilitation
means nothing except putting people into the municipality cleaning the
sewage system with out any proper hand gear. The overall atmosphere
around their locality is never congenial to develop a healthy and vibrant
society. The majority of those who work in the scavenging profession
particularly carrying night soil over-head are women. Over the years,
when men got jobs in municipalities, the numbers of women who are involved
in manual scavenging remain unchanged and a matter of grave concern.
A survey was conducted by Jan Kalyan Sansthan, Chauri Chaura, partner
organization of Social Development Foundation, Delhi under the guidance
of Shri Ram Bhuvan. Mrs M Sultana of Sainik Mahila Prakshishan Sansthan,
Gorakhpur provided local support to reach the community.
We had found out details
of nearly 117 scavenger families in Basantpur, Turkmanpur, Laldiggi,
Muftipur, Bhediyagarh areas of Gorakhpur town. Out of this, our team
was able to get full details of the conditions of the community in Basantpur
and Turkmanpur covering around 58 families. The total number of people
in these families is 369, which include children and aged people as
well. The data reveal some disturbing trend and need to be addressed
at the earliest. Do people really know about the nature of isolation
the community living along with us. Scavenger community has all along
been living in the urban areas serving the middle classes, upper elites,
feudal lords, Hindus and Muslims every one alike, yet none of them ever
bothered whether they have cared and bothered about those who clean
their shit, enter deep into the sewage pit to continue the sewage line.
In the coming days, we are going to cover a large part of Uttar-Pradesh
and bring reports on this aspect.
Housing and other
The social ostracisation
of the scavenger community remains complete and virtually no efforts
have been made to eradicate the practice of scavenging. But is it possible
to without addressing the basic issues of their livelihood. Even when
the community was involved in one of the most atrocious job the world
could ever have, just 5% of them lived in the government houses. 12%
of them are informally living in occupied land but 83% of them were
living in depressingly miserable conditions and half completed huts
on the government land.
The basic amenities in this
area remain a matter of shame for every one of us who claim to be civilized.
Those clean shits of other people remain toilet less and have no place
to even defecate. What could be a great paradox than the fact that 88%
of the families do not have basic toilet facilities? 10% have personal
toilets. 2% of them have toilets, which they themselves feel are not
worthy to use. One can assume how difficult it would be for those 10%
who claim to have toilets.
There is virtually no arrangement
of electricity in the specific areas where the community live. Just
24% of the families use light and that too with the illegal connection
termed as Katiya. 76% of the families still live in uncertain darkness.
If the situation persists like this how can the children grow? To add
their woes 71% of the people get water from the communal taps. Only
26% of the people have personal water taps and 3% do not even access
to water. The atmosphere is filthy to be described here as pigs roam
around in dirt and children 'shit' in open. In such a sickening environment,
how can one expect the children would get education for life?
Total number of men women was 29% each while 42% of them are children,
which falls under (0-15) years of age. In case of education and its
gender wise break up 27% of the children were literate while 31% female
and 42% males were literate. 76% of the total community people are illiterate.
This has resulted in virtual isolation of community from the rest of
the society and in continuous grip of superstition and backwardness.
The children continue to suffer as parents found little time to spend
with them and their caste and geographical isolation let to further
marginalisation in the schools. Teachers would not be interested to
roll them in and all them sit with other students. Though, these things
may not be visible when a team visit from outside as teachers, students,
staff every one has become alert about punitive action. Even the students
know this factor and avoid painting the real picture. The fact of the
matter is even when publicly untouchability has been eliminated yet
caste system is very much prevalent and no body would deny it. The other
fact is that every body knows about Dom, Mehtar, Bhangis and Helas and
such terms, denigrating they may look for a civilized society yet continue
in practice. Children, inherit, these terms from their parents and in
turn these communities face racial prejudices from every one. It is
therefore, not ironical that names of their localities seal their fate
as areas are always mentioned with the community names hence names like
Harijan Bustee or Domkhana. They remind us how crude our system was
vis-à-vis the untouchables. The very foundation of the discrimination
in India is caste system, which denigrate Dalits and hurt the very dignity
and pride of an individual, which are essentials for his growth and
development. The governance has not really got itself rid of the caste
system though it may claim to have demolished the untouchability at
least on the papers. Therefore, it is essential for the government to
make its plan in a comprehensive way and not respond to a situation
on purely technical way.
Education is basic foundation
and still the untouchable children do not get the attention of the state.
It would have been better to start community schools for isolated and
marginalized community like Scavengers, Mushahars and others.
In the primary schools, there
is a clear untouchability since the children are not aware of their
rights and their parents do not know about the school. In the Lal Diggi
Harijan Bustee (domkhana), there was a school where children used to
get free education but for the last 10 years it does not function. There
was a teacher working here but after her retirement no other teacher
has been appointed in place of her.
Women and Children:
The condition of scavenging community is miserable. Since most of the
people from the community are uneducated. Social evils are prevalent
in the community. Poverty gives birth to different things including
alcoholism, wife beating, gambling. Most of the children cannot go to
school. The girl children become part of the profession. 20% of the
children below 15 years of age do scavenging work while 10% are involved
in it. Following the growing trend of feminization of scavenging, results
show a whopping 70% of women involved in most inhuman work. While children
below 4 years of age are 36% in the two areas and do not have anything
to study. 43% of them do nothing. 15% of the children go to school.
3% of them clean and mop the street and 3% of them are involved in manual
scavenging. It is a shocking detail that hurt and put us to shame as
even the children are not safe and cannot go to school.
When circumstances remain the same, therefore it is but natural that
42% of the families are still in the sanitation work. Tragically, despite
this 44% of the people are still unemployed which is a matter of grave
concern. Nearly 9% of the families are still scavenging while 4% have
retired. It also reflects that there is virtually no entry of this community
in the government sector as well as other labour work. It clearly means
that while in the sanitation work of the municipalities there is a one
hundred percent reservation for them, there is virtually no effort to
delink them from this tradition and rehabilitate them elsewhere. And
by merely proclaiming that government has banned toilets will not bring
out of the chaos that the social system has inflicted upon them. One
is that there is still scavenging and other grave fact is that absentee
Safai Karmcharis is growing. That means because of relatively better
salaries and contract system, those with connections in the higher ups
get the job while the issue of cleaning and going down the drainage
and sewage line. How can situation improve if the community is living
in complete social ostracisation and isolation? The students do not
get a congenial atmosphere to study their books. In the school, the
teacher, would obviously, not like to be supportive. Normal reference
for delays and late coming is ' these people are like that. They do
not want to study'.
In-spite of the fact that
this is most ill-treated and inhuman work that any human could do, the
women continue to do it because of financial crisis. We all know that
this does not really fetch them any money. The tragedy is that even
the schemes for poor do not reach them. Despite having no land to live
and cultivate, 69% of the community people in these areas have no ration
card. The rest 31% have APL Ration Card.
95% of the people drink alcohol and a majority of them (60%) drink country
liquor. So far we have got information of more than 8 people have died
and about 16 are ill. 6 persons have been paralysed and 2 are disabled.
70% of the people do not have balance diet. Most of the children are
malnutrition and anemic. There seems to be no Anganwadi workers working
with them. The fact is that even the Anganwadi workers have their caste
and who would like to visit the dirt and filth unless some one has extremely
noble ideas and commitment to do the work.
Financial Conditions: All
above indicators gives indication of extreme poverty in the community.
Despite poverty, male members continue to depend heavily on liquor and
social taboos such as dowry has resulted in growing financial crisis
in the community. They depend on local individual moneylenders who charge
hefty interest rates for every loan he pay to them. Our survey shows
that just 26% of the families were able to save some amount of money.
But a majority 76% was sinking in heavy debt. The debt is rarely reduced.
It always increases and every time the person gets a salary for whatever
work, he/she has to repay the debt.
What is the alternative?
Develop new localities with amenities like sanitation and water for
Start special schools for
the children of scavenger community.
Provide training programmes
like electrician, vehicle repair, driving, beautician, and sewing centers
for the youths of the community.
Give full scholarship to
bright students of the community and provide them training for computer
Involve the Civil Society
Organisations in the development and inclusion of the community in the
Municipal corporations should
be penalized if scavenging is prevalent in the area.
Provide better pay package
to safai Karmcharis so that they can fetch their children well. At the
moment, their conditions really need an emergency response.
There are no social benefits
for the children of Safai Karmcharis. Most of them are lowly paid and
working on contract which means any ailments not only increase their
debt as salaries are deducted with out any other medical compensation
as any other employee may claim. This has resulted in their further
With growing pressure, the
entire scavenging work is now feminized with more and more women taking
up the profession while their men working with the municipalities. With
shrinking jobs in the municipality, the government as well as the municipalities
have not been able to provide any social security to the community,
it is high time, a special monitoring body is constituted which not
only monitor violation of human rights and provide immediate relief
to the victims rather then waiting for long official process which is
proving to be disastrous.
Conclusion : Gorakhpur
burnt because of the communal violence. Political leaders played their
role. The city witnessed deaths due to brain fever, which reoccur every
year and kills young children. This is the district where we have seen
starvation deaths. The city is one of the major commercial city of eastern
Uttar-Pradesh. It is developing. It has one of the most revered shrine
of Guru Gorakhnath, whose head is a Swami forming Hindu Yuva Vahini
to protect Hindus from Muslims. Muslims have other work. Nobody has
time to think of a community which has kept the city clean at its own
peril. Can we expect serious response from the government to consider
the case of the scavenger community when they want to get out of it?
Let us fight against this inhuman practice of scavenging, which kills
human dignity .
Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Social Development Foundation, Delhi,, Ram Bhuvan,
Jan Kalyan Sansthan, Chauri Chaura,Kirti Singh, Social Development Foundation,