Of Manual Scavengers In
By Vidya Bhushan
19 April, 2007
Laar is a small town in Deoria
district of Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. Like any other town in Uttar-Pradesh,
this town also has substantial chunk of Dalit population. The dusty
gullies, the filth all around and the stink in the market makes a perfect
town to reflect the idea of Uttam Pradesh so loyally advertised by Mr
Amitabh Bachchan, the superstitious Bombay star who perhaps did not
bother to check about the fact that the state at the moment is completely
and the anarchy that runs the state.
No body can match Mr Mulayam
Singh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh as far as announcing
compensation, jobs etc is concerned. He promised to reserve 300000 seats
of the Safai Karmcharis i.e. sanitation workers for the family of the
scavenger communities. This was another soap by the chief minister who
miserably failed to protect the Dalits of the state and the announcement
was only intended to wean away the Valmikis from switching their loyalty
elsewhere before the elections. The day he made this announcement the
upper castes also decided to jump into the fray. With in several days,
we received a number of reports in not only newspapers but also electronic
channels, which suggested that India was going through a social change
as now the Brahmins, Thakurs, Kayasthas too are joining the sanitary
profession. It is another fact that Mulayam government failed to pay
a single rupee salary to these people and through out the state the
sanitation workers never get their salaries on time. Apart from this,
Uttar-Pradesh's record on total elimination of manual scavenging is
questionable. Immediately after the announcement of the chief minister,
reports of other communities applying for the sweeper's job in the municipalities,
the enthusiasm of the upper castes was termed as 'historical' by the
Upper castes as Benami
While, I wrote a rejoinder
immediately on this story under title 'Brahmin seeks Dalit jobs', knowing
fully well that it was an upper caste mischief. Unfortunately, the media
which was making this a historical thing never bothered to inquire and
investigate on the reasons of the 'upper caste' change of heart. It
is important to find as how even in Delhi such things existed much before
the media ran the story. This issue could be termed as benami sweepers,
where the upper caste apply for the job in municipalities, railways
and hospitals and sign regularly on the register and take the salary
cheque. The Valmiki who is unable to get a job takes on sublease and
does regularly his job and get a paltry sum from the upper caste 'sweeper'.
Therefore, these benami Safai karmcharis work not only in municipalities
but also in Railways and no action has been taken against them. Perhaps
no efforts were made to find the truth. The government and its officials
feel that beyond the data and funds they have no official responsibility.
Now the condition of the
scavengers in Laar town has brought this fact as how the other castes
who have joined the profession are actually doing the office work and
now really are involved in cleaning and sanitation work.
Ramesh has been working with
the Nagar Palika for past six months and total salary comes to Rs 2130/-
per month. It is a daily wage work, which does not include social security
like insurance, provident funds. Contrary to this, on any holiday or
ailment, our salary is deducted. We work for more than 8 hours. We clean
the streets, the sewer line.
According to Ramesh, a total
number of 33 people got job in the Nagar Palika Laar, but none of them
have got their wages till this month. I have five sons and a daughter.
Earlier, I was doing some work and earning but now the governments'
move has made our conditions worst, we are neither here nor there.
Ironically, eight upper castes
(Muslim upper caste included) also got appointment along with the sweeper
community. The fact is that the upper castes were given the job of supervision.
They do not clean the street or jump into the sewage line.
According to Ram Chandra
who himself got the job, the eight people who have joined as sweeper
supervisor belong to Muslim, Rajbhar (MBC), Brahmins and Thakurs. All
of them refuse to work as sweeper while taking salary of a sweeper and
doing the Babu work of supervision. Ram Chandra is shocked to inform
that the municipality never felt that 'we too can do the supervisory
work'. I have eight children, now without salary, I cannot survive.
The local shopkeeper gives us daily needs items on debt. My wife is
still doing 'manual scavenging'.
hard yet get no pay
Leelawati says that she left
her job two years back. I wanted to do work in the municipality but
there is no work. Her husband is a labour who is involved in 'Gara-Mati'
work which means basically he is in the road construction work and get
Rs 60/- for one full days work which is simply tiring. When I went to
the Secretary of the Nagar Palika, one Mr Bakhsi, he said that I have
not filled the form and hence I can not get the job.'
Prashanti has five children.
One has been adopted by her husband's brother's wife and rest four live
with her. Her husband is a daily wager worker with the Nagar Palika,
Lar whose salary is 2,130/- per month. It is shocking that after his
appointment, he has not got any salary so far. Says Prashanti, "
I could not get any work. Actually, when I was doing the scavenging
work, I was told that all those who are doing dirty work must leave
the work and they would be provided new work. None among the women got
a job with municipality. Those who got the work have not any salary
and therefore most of them have returned to doing private work.
Prashanti is an angry woman
who felt that government has no right to seize their work unless it
helps them with alternative work. ' Let the government rehabilitate
us. I am ready to shun the work if I am given a new work. I feel bad
about the empty and false promises. What option do we have? I go to
work at 7 am and return by 9.30. I am also working in a college and
get Rs 200/- for my work for two hours. My children are going to school
as we want to educate them.
Sheela Devi got a loan in
her name under the sanitary mart scheme. Interestingly, she got loan
on the thing she claims that she neither saw nor heard about. Well,
she mention clearly that she was not at all involved in the Sanitary
Mart Scheme which has become one of the major factors of discontent
in the scavenger community in Laar. ' An Officer came from Deoria, the
district headquarter, and said that we should leave the work as government
was keen to give them loan. Second time, the officer came and took some
money. He wanted me to get involved in the works, which I declined,
but now I have RC in my name. Frankly speaking, I do not know anything
including shop. When my name was not there in the beginning, why should
I worry about it? We did not get anything. The scheme is an absolute
failure. I never signed any deal. I did not get anything and still I
got the notice. It was only after my fight that the notice was withdrawn.'
'I do work manual scavenging,
said a woman. ' As long as I do not get any job, I will do the job.
I did not get a job; I applied for it but did not get anything. We are
doing it in compulsion. I have young children. My son cries yet I have
to get out to do the work. I have 8 daughters and two sons. I do work
in 10 families and the earning is very little. My husband used to work
as a labor, stone- cutter work on the road but after municipality recruited
him on the daily wages, he has not got anything. It is the story of
every one who is working with the municipality. How are we expected
to run our families without receiving any payment?
Sushila says it is the condition
of starvation. 'We have to beg for our food from the houses of the people
we clean. All my children go to school. I get worried about my society.
What to do, its Gods wish. We are unlucky people. Who can erase the
misfortune? The government must do something to rehabilitate us. And
if they want new work, or us to rehabilitate please ensure that we get
salary every month and not like this where it is over six months we
have got nothing. What does government think of? Can they liberate us
this way? Most of the people will not believe in the government. The
other community people are getting our work but not doing the work.
If they cannot clean and sweep, why is the government giving the job,
which is meant for us', says Sushila.
The tragedy of the locality
of the Rawat community of sweepers in Lar is that it is another dumping
ground for the waste in the town. People come here to defecate and the
women who clean shit, throw it here. During the rains, it stinks. The
municipality has not even made a toilet for us. We clean the city but
live in the most unclean and highly unhygienic place.
Shubhwati is doing private
work in six houses. She gets Rs 10/- to Rs 20/- per house depending
on the size of the house. ' I leave my children at home. My husband
works in the town area. I also filled the form for the municipality
job but did not get it. We can't leave the work unless assured of another
job. We do not have any instrument except a small tray/ pan to clean
the toilet. If the government is serious to remove this practice then
it must provide us an alternative.
Bhanwari Devi work in 12
houses and finishes her work in less than two hours and the earning
is as high as Rs 20 and lowest side is Rs 5/- depending on family size.
She has four children. Her husband works in the cinema hall. His earning
is not sufficient to run the family. The earning is not even Rs 300/-
per month. He has not got salary for the past three months. I have to
beg for my work. They do not give a full meal, just two pieces of bread.
Manju is another community
woman involved in cleaning the night soil. Her problem is similar to
others, who say that Earlier, I had got some work in the municipality
but after working for 20 days, I was dismissed without any compensation
because they said that my son too was working with the municipality
and according to them only one person could do the work. I go early
in the morning. The houses are not in the nearby vicinity but quite
Working as a scavenger in
the private homes takes around 5-6 hours. In the morning we start our
core work from 7 am and finish it by 9 am. The total earning remains
Rs 50-60/- per months. Now not all houses have dry latrines. I left
the work some six months back when the government said that they would
give me a job. But I did not get it. Sushila, Vidyawati and Subhawati
have not got jobs in the municipality despite our application. We were
promised but did get nothing. We are workless at the moment. My husband
is a labor and my children are students of Class IV, Class IX and Class
If you give us employment
and work, we will leave this work and would be happy to work.
It is 11 am in the morning
when the women have come from cleaning. I ask them whether
They still remember things
they do in the morning.' Yes, it is difficult to forget what you do
in the morning, they say in the Unison. We feel suffocated and like
vomiting. It is only after some hour of taking bath, that they cook.
Still, they have developed many psychological problems. Apart from this,
they suffer from various diseases like skin problems, gastroenteritis
etc. In the absence of any facility from the government they suffer
in criminal silence, exonerating the state from its biggest shame and
failure to protect them. Most of them now feel, it was their bad luck,
which forced them to do this work. The power elite which rules over
them and give false ideas of India's shining abroad, must hang its head
in shame over this mischief.
will not change the system: How Sanitary Mart Scheme Failed
The rehabilitation scheme of the government would not work if there
were no sensitivity to resolve this crisis. The half- hearted measures
of the government only help the petty officials and few middlemen of
the community who turned handy for them to exploit others. A proper
monitoring and evaluation mechanism need to be developed with serious
participation of the civil society and intellectuals. The issue of manual
scavengers is not just economics, it is a fight against the feudal culture
and traditional values which have kept them subjugated for years. Government,
unfortunately, bosses upon the people and show them the strength of
money without changing the basic thinking of their staff and advisers.
Let the government officials visit and see through eyes the reasons
for its inability to eliminate the manual scavenging. Vishwnath is a
retired sweeper. He says that the work has reduced now but still many
people are doing it because of an uncertain future and inability to
rehabilitate them. The Municipality has not given any work to the community
and that has resulted in depression and starvation in the community.
Rajan Rawat is a student
but could not complete his high school because his parents did not have
money. He is unmarried. After chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav announced
that there will posts for sweepers, some of the community persons got
employment but not all. Those who did not get the job have no option
except to clean the latrines and the total monthly income does not go
beyond Rs 30-50/- He suggest that the government must support their
programme. Unfortunately, the Sanitary Mart scheme of the government
failed. Many people joined but never felt an ownership of the mart.
The son of an old man whose
name is now in the list of those who have received loan in the name
of Sanitary Mart says, " People never knew how the money came.
My father was part of it. Notice came to him to return the money. It
was Rs 11000-Rs 12,000/- per head. The culprit is now in town as he
has left for Kolkata and we are suffering in his absence."
Anil Kumar Rawat is a young
aspiring student of 11th standard. His face reflects the agony and frustration
of the youth of the community. His father died several years back. His
grand father gave them some land to live and mother applied for the
municipality job and got it. Unfortunately for them this job could not
bring any joy in their life as life become more miserable. There is
no social security. Where do we get money to buy our daily ration? 'I
want to study BA/MA. I do not want to do this work. But how do I study.
She used to clean latrine earlier but now whatever was the source of
income has gone, as the municipality has shamelessly not paid anything
so far. I have two brothers and 5 sisters. How do we live? I do get
some scholarship in the school. My friends do not know that my mother
is in this profession otherwise all of them would reject me in the school.
I would become thoroughly isolated. Since, I have not informed them
about my mother's work and hence they all are my friends. I fear if
my identity is exposed to them, I would be devastated thoroughly.
Indian government has presented
a report to Human Rights Council, in Geneva. On the issue of total sanitation
programme the government report says:
273. The Central Rural Sanitation
Programme launched in 1986 restructured into a community led and people
centered Total Sanitation Campaign with emphasis on Information, Education
and Communication for demand generation of sanitation facilities. School
sanitation and hygiene education is a prominent component of the Total
Sanitation Campaign for bringing about attitudinal and behavioral changes
for relevant sanitation and hygiene practices from young age. All schools
must have toilet facilities and under the scheme of education for girls,
separate toilets for girls are to be provided. Due regard is also given
to needs of women. A TSC project originates from a district, which conducts
a base-line survey of existing sanitation facilities in the district
and draws up a Project Implementation Plan and forwards the same, through
the State Govt. and takes the approval of to Government of India. A
TSC project runs for a duration of 4 years. The main physical components
sanctioned in the projects include construction of individual household
latrines, toilets for schools, community sanitary complexes, toilets
for Balwadis Anganwadis, Rural Sanitary Marts and Production Centers.
One only hope if the government
of India had accepted in its report presented to Human Rights Council
in Geneva the miserable failure in eliminating manual scavenging in
the country. Government cannot fool people with imposed data and high
figures about its work for the rehabilitation of the sweeper community.
Time has come for all of us to scrutinize government's programmes and
action to eliminate manual scavenging and take the officials of the
department to task. India's 9% growth rate or shining India is absolutely
farcical if this large community remains outside the ambit of global
change. It is time for change. How long India will allow people to carry
this burden over their soldiers. It is time for emergency measures to
deal with it. We will follow up this article with a report of those
involved in manual scavenging as well as those who are trapped in the
sanitary mart scheme in Laar, in the hope that government will do the
needful to rehabilitate the manual scavengers.
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