Status of manual scavengers in Laar, Deoria Vidya Bhushan Rawat (April . 18, 2007)

Status of manual scavengers in Laar, Deoria

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

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 media.

 Upper castes as Benami Sweepers

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'.

Rehabilitation: Work 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 far away.

 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 XIIth.

 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.

 Government's lies 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.g

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