Even India’s outcasts spurn the manual scavengers
Bhopal, December 20, 2012: It’s degrading, dirty and outlawed, yet more than 1.3 million dalits – mostly women– are still forced by the caste system into the age-old practice of manual scavenging, leaving them social outcasts.
Manual scavenging is the removal of animal or human excreta from dry latrines and carrying it in baskets to disposal grounds elsewhere.
It often involves having to crawl into the latrines and emptying out the receptacle using the tools of the trade which are typically a broom, a tin plate and a basket. It is a thankless task which earns those who do it a few rupees a day.
During the rainy season, the contents of the basket drip onto a scavenger’s hair, face, clothes and other body parts exposing them to various kinds of infections.
The result is they are looked upon as “untouchable,” even by other dalits.
“I’m not allowed to draw water from the village well or have a bath in the village pond,” said Arati Bai, 38, who recently quit after doing the demeaning work for two decades.
She began scavenging with her mother after she was married at the age of 17.
Bai, who lives in Basiagah, a village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, told ucanews.com that her children are not allowed to sit with other children in school.
Tea shop owners deny her entry into their establishments. She has to remain outside and separate glasses are used to serve tea to her.
“I have to wash the glass afterwards unlike others who just leave their glass when they finish,” Bai said, adding that she is even barred from entering temples to offer prayers.
However, there are a growing number of voices calling for an end to the practice.
The federal government in September introduced further legislation – The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012 – in another bid to curb the practice.
The bill is yet to pass into law.
Similarly, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has also called for an end to manual scavenging.
Pressure is also coming from overseas with the European Parliament last week expressing its deep concern about the “inhuman” practice and urging the Indian government to enforce a ban on it.
Social activist Ashif Shaikh, who has been fighting to eradicate manual scavenging for years, said the practice is a flagrant violation of human rights.
He and activists from 17 NGOs are undertaking a nationwide march against it.
The march, which started on October 30, ends on December 31 and will have covered 200 districts across the country.
“This is treated as a disgraceful occupation even by those who engage them in this practice,” he told ucanews.com as the march passed through Bhopal.
The scavengers belong to the lowermost rung in society and therefore, they end up in the worst situations of vulnerability, marginalization, deprivation and oppression, Shaikh said.
According to government figures, there are 2.6 million dry toilets in the country.
Shaikh said the real number is almost certainly much more.
He said that despite the country having enacted a law prohibiting this occupation in 1993, adherence to the also outlawed caste system and lack of modern sanitation is keeping it alive.
“We want to restore the dignity of manual scavengers and put an end to this age old practice of the caste system,” Shaikh said.
New Delhi, October 1, 2012: EFI calls upon India to observe international obligations on human rights; regrets India’s negative stance at UNHRC Universal Periodic review on Communal Violence Prevention legislation, Dalit Christians, and recalling so called “Freedom of Religion Acts” by States.
Himachal Pradesh, September 16, 2012: Although universal in nature, religious liberty is not universal in practice the world over. And a law designed to prevent conversions to Christianity in India is exhibit A for the truth that, in some countries, religion is but one more aspect of life controlled by government or ruthless factions that fear no government.
And this is why legal victories restoring or broadening religious liberty are so important, particularly when those victories unburden a people who theretofore had been required to alert local magistrates before changing religions. In Evangelical Fellowship of India v/s State of Himachal Pradesh, the High Court of the State of Himachal Pradesh ruled against just such a law.
The law required those intending to change religions to provide a district magistrate with “prior notice of at least 30 days … of his intention to do so.” Failure to provide advance notice of conversion required a mandatory police investigation,
prosecution, and sanctions. And if notifying the local government magistrate of one’s new religion wasn’t invasive enough – all persons desiring to change their religion were listed in a public registry, scanned regularly by fundamentalist Hindu extremists that make it a daily routine to retaliate against, persecute, and even murder new Christian converts. And, of course, the public notice law did not apply to anyone changing their religion to Hinduism.
There is a mighty struggle occurring in India in which 300 million Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”) are suffering at the bottom rung on the Hindu caste system, enduring punishment in this life for what some Hindu faithful describe as sins committed in past lives. And millions are desperate to escape by seeking refuge in the Christian faith where all are created in God’s image and equal in the eyes of God.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allies represented Evangelical Fellowship of India are challenging the law because it was being used as a cudgel to stop – through intimidation and fear – a potential flood of conversions to Christianity.
Moreover, as all laws have symbolic importance, representing a society’s dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the law and its operation communicated that conversion from Hinduism to Christianity was disapproved.
The law clearly violated the Indian constitution, which purports to guarantee freedom of religion, and served as a license for misconduct against new Christians whose names appeared on the public registry. So it shouldn’t pass unnoticed that Christians in India and especially Christian clergy are attacked, harassed, and beaten every single day. In fact, over 100 Christian Dalits were murdered just three short years ago in the state of Orissa by fundamentalist Hindu mobs that ran amuck for months with little or no government intervention.
The victory of Evangelical Fellowship of India was one step in a long and on-going struggle to win genuine religious freedom in India. The case will now go to the Indian Supreme Court where extreme pressure will be brought to bear by extremist Hindu organizations, doing everything in their power, to curtail the lowest Hindu caste from fleeing a life of religiously sanctioned poverty and degradation.
Every victory like this swings the pendulum closer to where all civilized people should want to be – a place where religious liberty is not only universal in nature, but in practice as well.
New Delhi: Asserting that “in spite of my constitutional position, I have been denied fair opportunity to defend myself and my reputation by the Judges Inquiry Committee”, Sikkim High Court Chief Justice P D Dinakaran, who is facing probe on charges of corruption and misconduct, today resigned from his post.
In a two-page resignation letter to Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia, a copy of which is in the possession of The Indian Express, C J Dinakaran has also said that he had the “sneaking suspicion that my misfortune was because of circumstances of my birth in the socially oppressed and underprivileged section of the society”.
Sources in the apex court said his resignation would be forwarded to the President through the Union Law Ministry for acceptance. Dinakaran’s lawyer Amit Anand Tiwari confirmed the development.
The controversial CJ, who had almost made it to the Supreme Court after being cleared by the collegium, has also said that he was resigning “in order to maintain the dignity of the office” and “to prove that I do not have any lust for the office, position and the power and to prove that I do not want to adopt any dilatory tactics”.
On March 16, a three-member committee of jurists comprising Supreme Court Judge Aftab Alam, Karnataka High Court CJ J S Khehar and eminent jurist P P Rao had issued a chargesheet levelling 16 charges of corruption and irregularities against Dinakaran. Later, based on Dinakaran’s appeal, Rao was replaced by jurist Mohan Gopal in the panel.
The charges against Dinakaran include possession of wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income, illegal encroachment on public property and land belonging to Dalits and acquiring agricultural holdings beyond ceiling.
Attempts by him to get the panel scrapped have proved futile, with a SC Bench refusing to quash any of the charges against him.
In his resignation letter, Dinakaran accused “vested interests” of unfairly targetting him. “On account of my firm views on social justice, strong and independent judiciary and that politics should not be permitted into the judiciary, nor the judiciary should enter political thickets, I could not accommodate undesirable politically motivated requests/ demands while upholding my oath of office to render justice without fear or favour in the course of administration of justice, I have been very calculatively targeted at the instance of the vested interests,” his letter says.
He has also questioned why Rao, a constitutional expert, had been in the committee earlier, pointing out that he had to move the SC to get him removed. “When this committee was constituted, it contained a person who was biased against me. At the earliest opportunity given to me, i.e after receiving the statutory notice, to raise my objection/ to file my statement, I knocked all the doors to see that this biased person is removed from the committee. But to no avail. Orders were passed by the Judge’s Inquiry Committee, consisting of this biased person, behind my back on Sunday. The committee recorded the evidence behind my back. It appointed a lawyer to assist, but in fact to prosecute me on behalf of the committee. The said lawyer collected evidence for fourteen (14) months, compiled 6,300 pages of documents, but I was asked to give a reply within 15 days. It is difficult to comprehend as to how 6,300 pages could be read and answered within such a short period of time,” his letter says.
Saying he had no faith in the panel, Dinakaran says, “..It is also obvious that hearing before the committee is just an empty formality. Hence, I have lost confidence of getting fair hearing and justice even before the reconstituted committee. In above factual background I am unable to repose any faith and confidence in the committee and in the procedure being adopted by them. I am, therefore, of the firm view that there would not be any gainful purpose in appearing before the committee in spite of my innocence.”
Big turnout blocks capital’s streets as 10,000 march against injustice
A rally by Christians and Muslims demanding statutory benefits for their dalit members blocked traffic today in the main streets of the capital.
More than 10,000 people, including bishops, priests and nuns from across the country braved intense heat to march five kilometers to the Indian parliament.
The march capped a four-day protest that began on Monday with a fast organized by several Christian groups, and ended at Jantar Mantar, a venue designated for public protests in New Delhi.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who attended the rally, has urged the government to grant scheduled caste status to dalit Christians and Muslims.
The prelate, who heads the Catholic Church in India, said excluding them from reservations is “blatant discrimination” and in violation of the Indian constitution, which guarantees equality.
Cardinal Gracias also asked the government to follow its own commission’s recommendation to grand Scheduled Caste status to dalit Christians and Muslims.
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as the Ranganath Misra Commission, said in a 2007 report that denying the quota right to Christian and Muslim dalits violated justice. The government tabled the report in parliament in 2009.
The National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, a joint program of the Catholic Bishops’ Council of India and the National Council of Churches in India, organized the hunger strike and rally.
Organizers have previously said Christians and Muslims of scheduled caste origin should get the educational and employment benefits given to their counterparts in other religions.
- b.k. minj (text)