In March 2007, I visited Laar town and met many persons from the scavenger community. Many of the sweepers who came and narrated their plight had not got their salaries since the appointment in the Nagar Palika. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then chief minister was on a spree to announce various schemes and one of them was 'jobs' 'reserved' of sweepers for the Valmikis or scavenger community. In the eastern Uttar-Pradesh, they do not use the term Balmikis/Valmiks for the sweeper. Instead there are people from the communities of Rawats, Bansfors, Helas, Mehtars who are engaged in scavenging work. Many of the women narrated their plight and how they wish to get out of the scavenging hell.
A report was submitted to National Human Rights Commission and after which the commission, it seems, issued notices to the state government. We realized that after it the municipal authorities approached the Sweepers and those who were engaged in scavenging to leave their work otherwise face severe consequences in the form of dismissal or jail. It was like the victims themselves were being victimized for the century old exploitation they faced without any dilution.
Pain of contract workers
That time too, all those working on contract had not got their salaries for seven months. Those who joined the municipality in the hope it would ultimately relieve them from indignity of manual scavenging later felt betrayed, for they not only lost their earlier work but now had no chance to go another work.
To find out what was the latest happening there, I visited Laar last month to find out the condition of the people and their depressing condition. As being reported here that manual scavenging is still going despite the denial by Nagar Palika. In fact, we have not only recorded the entire event in video but also got affidavit from the families and large part of text is being produced here. It is unfortunate that all the government's measures to eliminate scavenging are half hearted and lack sincerity and conviction. That time too our investigations revealed how the Swachchakar Vimukti programme has failed and gone in the hand of middlemen. The officers have got a new tool to exploit people.
It is unfortunate that the Safai Karmcharis had to resort to strike for their legitimate right just a few days ago, which ended after administration's highhandedness and duplicity. The administration played its dubious role. One month salary was paid last month but ultimately till date it has now been informed that over 8 months salary is still due and the Nagar Palika has done very little to repair the damage. Instead, the Safai Karmcharis were threatened and we are informed Rs 500/- was given to each of the karmcharis to keep away from striking further. A small penny therefore divided the community, which has lost all hope.
What will happen to a community, which does not get its legitimate amount even when that is much below the 'normal limit' of decency? Why are the safai karmcharis at the receiving end at each nagar palikas. When the work on contract was publicized by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, in many municipalities we received complaint or even appreciation that even the backward and upper castes were applying for sweeper's job. It has now been revealed that all these OBCs or Upper castes, working in municipalities in the name of sweeper do not really mix up with the sweeper community and some of them are benami sweepers. When the sweeper community does not get paid up salary for over 7 months, it reverse back to scavenging, a profession that government and nagar-palikas claims to have vanished. In Laar and other towns and villages of India, it is still prevalent and we have not only recorded evidence but also people on affidavit claiming they are engaged in the work.
Back to scavenging
In the Laar town the Mehtar community is still carrying the nightsoil. Around 10 women are still involved in the work. The national Scavenger Liberation Scheme has failed because of malfunctioning and corruption in the scheme, which never reach the poor. These 10 women are doing the manual scavenging work in nearly 110 houses.
As you may be aware of the fact that Social Development Foundation had earlier also given a report regarding Laar but so far we do not know what action has been taken. We have been given the impression by the scavenger community that after the report was send by NHRC, the Nagar Palika official went to the locality and threatened those who were allegedly involved in the scavenging work.
Rehabilitation of scavenger should be the utmost priority of the government but elimination of scavenging cannot be done by half hearted publicity measures, which the authorities are involved in. It will require lot of commitment and sincerity on part of bureaucracy and the officers. Unfortunately, that seems to be lacking in most of the towns in Uttar-Pradesh. If removal of scavenging is forcefully prohibited without providing an amicable and dignified solution, then we are afraid the situation would go out of control.
The municipality officials not only threatened the husbands of the women involved in scavenging but also did not give them any other opportunity of survival with dignity. No action is normally taken against the municipalities who have failed with the compliance. Women are not being given any job opportunity by the Nagar Palikas resulting in their returning to old profession. Further, none of those who are working with the municipality have got any salary for the past seven months. We are still amused as why the authorities find it difficult to pay to those who keep their cities clean. It is said that the government is providing an alternative to scavenging in the form of providing employment to those who are involved in scavenging. Yet, as our report suggest, women have got no employment as well as those who got appointment on contract basis have not got any salary for the past seven month. The result is that their wives have started returning to their traditional occupation. The condition of the scavenger community is a matter of grave concern but our governments and civil society organizations have failed to respond to the issue. They are virtually suffering in indignity and humiliation. On the one hand the municipal officials threaten them with dire consequences, on the other side, there is no way they will get a job. It is a usual phenomena in Uttar-Pradesh that the Safai-Karmcharis never get their salary on time. Normally it takes six months to get their salaries. Government expects them to be rehabilitated. Their children do not get opportunity to sit with upper caste students. The women folks later resort to manual scavenging because it help them get not only a peanut for their survival but mainly they are able to get loans for local people for running their families.
According to report appeared in local newspaper Dainik Jagaran that 46 people were charged under this. For the financial year 2006-2007 about Rs 58 lakh came to the municipality but only Rs 9 lakh were used. No one knows about other Rs 49 lakh. More than 110 houses have still dry latrines. In January, it was reported that FIR was lodged against 17 persons. In March 2006, DUDA has lodged FIR against 29 persons (Dainik Jagaran, Gorakhpur, September 8 th, 2007).
Work without payment
In his affidavit Krishna s/o Vishwnath said that he was given appointment on contract by the Laar Nagarpalika. But more than 7 months have passed and yet they have got no salary. Whenever she tried to contact the chairman of the Nagar Panchayat, he has been thrown away and is being threatened of being dismissal from the job. It is very difficult to run the family on credit. In the absence of no salary for the past seven months, his family and children are suffering in indignity, hunger and depression.
Sadabriksha has three children who do not go to school. For seven months of work, he was unable to get any salary. They go early morning at six and return at 10. Again for the day shift they go at 2.00 pm and return at 6 pm.
Gita, wife of Dilip has on record mentioned that she is still doing the manual scavenging work in more than 10 houses of Laar town. Mr Bakhsi in the Nagar Panchayat is forcing us to leave this work and got her signed at a blank paper. She was promised work under contract in Nagar Palika but never got it. However, her husband is a sweeper on contract in the Nagar-Palika and have got no salary for the past seven months. How do the government expect them to get rid of this vicious circle when they are not interested. Now, Gita claims that the municipality is threatening her husband with dire consequences if she does not leave her work.
Basanti wife of Krishna charged the municipality of threatening her to leave the manual scavenging work. ' I was promised work on contract but till date, I have got nothing. My husband was given work on contract and now it is over 7 month that we are without any money. I cannot open a shop and start selling things. One we do not have the money and second no body would buy any product from us. When people keep away distances from us how are they going to accept us other than sweeping and cleaning. But we are ready to any other work if alternative is given. Though I have left the work but what is the option. How do my children go to school in the absence of any income, she said.
Kanhaiya is a sweeper on contract at the Nagar Palika but because of non-payment of salaries his condition is worsening. He is a student of 12 th standard but unfortunately he got no work. He is married and unable to run his family. Now, even the shopkeepers do not give us things on credit.
Subhawati wife of Ram Pyare is engaged in the manual scavenging work in nearly 15 houses in Laar. She charge municipal corporations officer Mr Bakhsi for taking her signature in plain paper under the pretext that she would get work. So far she has got nothing. Instead she is being threatened that her husband would be dismissed. 'My husband is working in the municipality on contract yet nothing has been paid to him in the past seven months. Now the government says that you leave manual scavenging but what is it giving to us for our survival', she said.
Gaura Devi wife of Bechu works in 10-15 houses. She gets rupees 10 per months for her work, which cannot survive her along with her three children. Unfortunately, because of the economy of indebtedness has an important role in the community's inability to get out of the profession. Nowhere the municipalities are known to be paying salaries to sweepers on time. Most of the time they get their salaries after six to seven months. Therefore the women folks have to resort to manual scavenging as they remain in the good books of the upper castes and can extract some cash credit in the time of emergency.
Vidyawati w/o Harinder is also engaged in six to seven homes. She has the same argument that when the government does not provide them anything, how can they leave the work. Nagar Palika has promised them work but so far nothing has materialized.
Sushila Devi w/o Ramchander said that she was called by the municipality for a job but later denied me a job because my son got a job in the municipality. It is difficult to run the family and in the absence of salaried paid for over seven months. Now, we are in difficult condition as our children are virtually starving. Who will think of sending them to schools? I will have to resort to manual scavenging again to get food on credit to run my family says, Sushila.
Lilawati Devi has no work. Her husband Om Prakash is also jobless. They have four children and all starving at the moment. Municipal officials asked us to leave this work but provided no alternative. What do we do? After all, we have to work for our livelihood and we do not get anything else.
Kamala Devi wife of Basant was doing work previously but after the municipality promised them work, she left manual scavenging. I was asked to sign on a blank paper and informed that my job has been confirmed. When she went to the municipality she was told to get out. She has big family of 10 people to support and her husband has no work at the moment.
Rajan Kumar is working in the municipality on contract and is depressed at the moment as he can not go to any other job in the absence of non payment of salaries for past seven Months.
Shambhunath is a permanent sweeper in Nagarpalika, working for over 25 years. At the moment he is getting Rs 7000/- per month. He says on the discrimination against his community that he never got promotion in the municipality as a Safai Nayak. Till date not a single person from the Balmiki community has been appointed as supervisor. The other community people who never get involved in sweeping and cleaning are appointed as supervisor. We all clean dirty lanes, Nalis, sever etc but without any mask, globe or shoes. Whenever we tried to ask question regarding our safety, we have been threatened away.
According to Basant, there are number of Safai Karmacharis who can be termed as 'benami'. Many people from upper caste Muslims and backward communities have been appointed in the sweepers job on contract but they never come along with us to clean and sweep the street. They normally do office work and later many of them got promoted as supervisors.
Conclusion: The aim of this write up is to bring to the notice the persistently denigrating conditions of the swachchakar community in various parts of Uttar-Pradesh. We will continue to bring out reports on prevailing situation and where has our governance failed. We would warn the authorities not to go on exploiting our report and torturing the people who are in the profession. Aim is that the authorities should introspect and provide decent employment to people from this community. There should be income generation programme for the community and special school targeted to help the community's new young children. Most importantly municipalities must be penalized for not being able to rehabilitate the community and holding up their salaries for so many months . Special focus should be given to women, as it is they are one hundred percent involved in scavenging. Swachchakar Vimukti Yojana needs to be channalised through Non Governmental Organisations and not through the government officials. All the scavenger women should be provided alternative and decent employment. The Swachchakar community needs special treatment. May be government can fix a quota for the educated youth of Swachchakar community in the jobs other than sweeping and scavenging. That would be the first step from the government side to delink the community from its traditional occupation, a burden it still is carrying on its vast soldiers. It is time we wake up and bring dignity to our work and fellow workers and stop this greatest sin of our time.
The Swachchakar community needs to be liberated from this living hell at the moment. Their locality has no water supply. Dirt everywhere and in the absence any proper sewage system, they throw the human excreta in the stale water. I was amazed to find the same women after doing their work washed their hand in the same water they threw the garbage. It needs to be seen how this community is surviving in filth. It reflect of our betrayal to the community that even fifty years after independence we have not been able to modernize our life style and most importantly our thoughts remain completely out of date and racist in nature. That a community is made to clean your dirt and this thing is still happening in India is a shame which we all have ourselves to blame, most importantly the political class for whom they become a 'vote bank'. It is time we get out of this mindset, involve ourselves in the national mission of liberation of manual scavengers and the first thing could be penalizing the officials and Nagar Palikas if they do not rehabilitate the community and exploit them.
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
(P.S: Copies of affidavits of some of the swachchakars from Laar town are being send to National Human Rights Commission, National Scheduled Caste Commission as well as Chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh, along with our previous report and list of people.)