Manual Scavenging in Uttar-Pradesh Vidya Bhushan Rawat (March . 22, 2007)

 Manual Scavenging in Uttar-Pradesh

Status of manual scavengers in Gorakhpur, Uttar-Pradesh

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The 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 conditions:

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?

Education: 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.

Profession: 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.

Health: 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?

1. Develop new localities with amenities like sanitation and water for the community.
2. Start special schools for the children of scavenger community.
3. Provide training programmes like electrician, vehicle repair, driving, beautician, and sewing centers for the youths of the community.
4. Give full scholarship to bright students of the community and provide them training for computer education.
5. Involve the Civil Society Organisations in the development and inclusion of the community in the mainstream.
6. Municipal corporations should be penalized if scavenging is prevalent in the area.
7. 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.
8. 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 marginalisation.
9. 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. g

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