Why should the Dalit movement take up the annihilation of manual scavenging as the most priority issue?
Two days ago, four manual scavengers died in Madhya Pradesh. Before the actual physical death of the people who are forced to work with the human excreta and other toxic wastes that precede the social death – manual scavenging.
The human beings who are forced to practice manual scavenging come from the Dalit communities.
Their lifespan is less and most of the earning members die early leaving the burden of the family on the young men or the women in the family and thus the perpetual vicious cycle of indignity and inhuman life is rotated again and again.
The Dalit movement is broad and it is wide. There are 800 odd castes among the Dalits in India. Out of these 800 odd castes, 50-60 will constitute over 80 percent of the Dalit population in India.
There are populous castes and they are dominating different parts of India, but the caste that is forced to practice “manual scavenging” has a similar history of being forced into the worst professions and humiliation. They go by different names in the different states, but the nature of the work enforced on them is similar throughout India.
People like Bezwada Wilson, Martin Makwana, Manjula Pradeep, Asif Shaikh, Manjula Pradeep, Stalin and some dedicated organizations have been working on this issue for a long time, but yet the end of the practice is not in sight.
Heart-wrenching books like Basha Singh’s ‘Unseen’ and eye opening documentaries like ‘Lesser Human’ by Stalin has been created. But yet, the issue of the “manual scavenging” has not taken the center of the Dalit movement. This is sad.
It is true that there are many issues facing the Dalit movement. The issue of how to organize the divergent Dalit movement into a synchronized movement is a big challenge.
It has to also fight the battle with Brahminism, but unless the Dalit movement picks up the issue facing the “manual scavenging” as an important issue, the movement cannot be consolidated. Unless the practice of the manual scavenging is abolished, the battle for “dignity” will not be won.
The Dalits have been discriminating their own fellow brothers and sisters and though the fault cannot be attributed to the individuals in the community because the social conditioning entrenches the caste psychology deeply into their minds.
Stop expecting anything from so-called upper castes, Dalits must take up the issue of their own brothers and sisters and demonstrate that they are the part of one single movement for liberation.
My little experience with the fellow brother and sisters from the manual scavenging communities informs me that there is a great churning is taking place in these communities.
1300+ Deaths – Stop Killing Us
The group is made up of manual scavengers and their children and they were on a macabre mission “Stop Killing Us”. They want strong measures to end manual scavenging which, besides being an inhuman relic of the past, has taken over 1327 lives in the past couple of years.
Although specifically banned by a law passed in 2003 manual scavenging continues with Census 2011 estimating that nearly 8 lakh people were involved in it. In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the government to take swift measures to end the system. [Source]
The communities are on the move and enlightened leadership is emerging in the community. The community which was fooled by the Congress, Hindu Fundamentalists, and Gandhi for decades is slowly realizing their path to emancipation.
Though the path is difficult, given the confidence and the growing number of committed individuals, the end of the practice is in sight. But in order to quicken the process, much-needed energy must be directed at ending the practice sooner.
Therefore, the battle for human dignity must address this issue of manual scavenging as the top priority issue and sooner it makes into a mass movement, the better is the future of the overall Ambedkarite movement.
Author – Mangesh Dahiwale, Human Rights Activist