This Rakhi, Manual Scavengers Want Freedom as Gift from Govt.

India

Express India
August 13, 2008

 

By DP Bhattacharya

5,000-odd women workers have decided to send rakhi to MLAs, district collectors and municipal officers hoping to get some help from them

Ahmedabad- AS the country celebrates its 62nd Independence Day on Friday, followed by Rakshabandhan on Saturday, Varsha Makwana from Viramgam in Ahmedabad district will send a rakhi to the MLA of her area, seeking ‘independence’ of a different kind.

The rakhi to be sent by Varsha, who works as a manual scavenger, will carry a message “Maathemaila mathee mukti apavo" (liberate from carrying human excreta on head).

“Hope they understand our plight and something is done after they get the rakhi,” says Varsha, whose husband Gopal Makwana died while cleaning a manhole in Viramgam last year.

Varsha is not alone seeking freedom from the abominable practice. Nearly 5,000 women from 13 districts of the state will be sending such rakhis along with a letter to the MLAs, District Collectors, municipal officers and the higher officials in the state government.

“Even today we have to clean human excreta with a broom and a piece of metal sheet,” says Sangeeta Vaghela, a manual scavenger from Jeevraj Park. “Not only the work is repulsive, but it also makes us sick,” she adds.

“We get leftover food from the houses we clean along with heaps of abuses. While everyone takes leave once in a while, even for Rakshabandhan, we’ll have to go and do our work,” says Sangeeta, adding, “I did not miss a single day even during my pregnancy”.

When asked about her plans for the Independence Day, she says: “What independence are you talking about? I have been trying to get out of this dirty job for so many years, but there is no other avenue open for us.” She further says, “With this rakhi in hand, the government may feel a sense of pity if not shame and do something for us.”

Nanu Parmar, another sanitary worker from Limbdi, says the situation is worse in villages where the Valmiki families remain under pressure to continue with the work. Not aware of the Independence Day celebrations, she says, “I’ll have to go to work as usual.”

These workers complain even as the National Commission for Safai Karmcharis had pulled up the Gujarat government in June for failing to rehabilitate the manual scavengers. According to the government, there were over 60,000 sanitary workers in the state, out of which nearly 12,000 were rehabilitated by 2007.

“Around 60 per cent of the sanitary workers are women and almost all of them are forced to work with bare hands,” says Manjula Pradeep, Executive Director, Navsarjan Trust, a pan Gujarat Dalit Organisation working on this issue for long.

She says the trust had tried to mobilise manual scavengers across 13 districts of the state to send rakhis along with a letter to everyone possible in the governance, including the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary.

From sisters, with hope

I am your sister from… village of… block of…district of Nirmal Gujarat. I have been manually cleaning the human excreta for the last… years. Every sister seeks money, clothes and other gifts from their brothers. But I, your sister, seek freedom from this inhuman work. To liberate me is your duty. On the day of Rakshabandhan, I hope you will as part of your duty, liberate me from this abominable work.

Your sister…

 

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