Swachchakar Dignity

A blog to give you first hand reports on the conditions of Swachchkar community, their issues and concerns. A campaign for complete abolition of scavenging practices and brigning forth the growing voices of change with in the community.

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Location: Delhi, India, India

Working as a full time human rights defender. Have made several documentries and also written books on the issues of human rights, Dalits, women and minorities. Though,I am a humanist and defend the right of an individual to be religious, However, I firmly believe that there is nothing like 'God's Word' or final truth. All God's words can be challenged. We defend the rights of dissenters. Democracy can only flourish when people respect dissent and resolve their issues through dialogue. I personally feel that religious laws cannot override secular laws of a nation and that society has to accept wide diversity across the world. However, parochialism in the name of diversity should not be supported at all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tragic Tale of the deaths of Suddhu and Jiuti Devi



In Death they got liberated from hunger and indignity


By Vidya Bhushan Rawat


Often our law makers question the motives of the civil society activists for sensationalizing things. The paradox of democracy today is that even those who claims to hail from a very humble background want to be known as leader of ‘shining India’ when come to power. This antipathy of the leaders and their anger when reports of hunger deaths are brought into limelight, and to the authorities, is not only absolutely insensitive but anti people. I write this story of a family who I knew and tried to save and yet failed. This is not a day’s death. Death was waiting for both of them for many years as they had nothing to survive on.

It is difficult to say that the man died of hunger, say the authorities. They have their own criteria and accordingly none in India died of Hunger. The fact is that nobody dies of hunger even in Ethiopia; after all, nobody can remain without something in the stomach. Now, what is eatable and what could be termed as food, need to be defined clearly. If that is defined in pure medical terms then certainly Indian authorities will have more problems to hide their inefficiency as well as insincerity. It is this insincerity of approach that I want to discuss today, as how I saw a family dying in the past five year. If that is not a hunger deaths then what could be a hunger death.

This story is of a scavenger family in Pakhanpura village of Bhanwarkol block in Ghazipur district. About three years back when I was working on a film ‘Cry for Change’ on the condition of the scavenger families in Ghazipur. In fact, some of our friends and colleagues have been working to mobilize the community against this atrocious practice, a sin against humanity. We were mobilizing people against it and interviewed those who were involved in the practice of scavenging. Mostly, women were involved hence we went to their homes at the time when they felt free to speak to us. It was difficult to catch them as in the morning they were too busy to do their work and in the afternoon they would go to the village to collect the food which was offered by the ‘big’ people. One feel sorry as why these people are big who can not construct toilets for them and have no money to pay to the workers. It is worst then any other failed programme of government of India. Atleast for the NREGS, you get some work and get paid for it. It is work without payment. You do not even pay for their work but give them alms. It is the most crude and savage practice.

About three kilometer from Mohammdabad town is this village Pakhanpura, a village of Muslims. Passing through the dirty lanes of the localities with a camera in my hand, I finally arrived in the scavenger area. Surrounded by dirty stale water, I entered in the ‘house’ of Suddhu Rawat, a person of the age of 45. After usual questioning about his work (he was working on contract in the municipality) which used to give him about Rs 1100/- per month. He never received that too on time. Most of the Nagarpalikas have been paying the salaries to sweepers almost year later. Suddhu’s bare body was showing his physical condition. One could even count the total number of bones in his chest. He was barely living a life. What do you want your children to be, I asked? ‘I would like them to study and get a job’. He was optimistic. What you are suffering from, I asked. ‘ I am not well. I have a paralytic attack as well as doctor say that I have TB’, he said. ‘ I do not have the money to go to the doctor’. His wife Jiuti Devi, 40 had gone to collect her routine food from the local people. She was involved in manual scavenging. ‘ How much she gets for her work, I asked. ‘It’s nothing. We get left over food and 5 kg of rice at the year end. Some thing on Diwali and Holi’, he said. Then why don’t you leave this work. ‘ ‘What is the alternative’, said Suddhu. I do not have regular income. My wife works in the house of ‘big people’ and they help us time to time that is how we are surviving.’

Suddhu did not have a house. Later, we came to know that after paralytic attack, he was using his younger child to do the work of municipality so that the he does not lose his monthly salary. Some of us made effort to get him a house under Indira Awas Yojana. He got funds for it but unfortunately after the second installment, it seems, he used the money to pay the medical bill to the doctor. So the so called house could not be completed. Suddhu finally died about 1 year back in the absence of food and medication.

His wife Jiuti Devi’s condition was not good. One will have to be not only sensitive but realistic to see the situation of the community. How the people involved in scavenging and cleaning the narrow lanes and sewerage pipes develop different diseases including gastroenteritis. This apart, they normally have breathing problems and develop skin diseases also. Since there is no medication for them, they develop psychological problems also. The day meal depend on the alms of the local lords who are not even lords but at least they feel great over lording a community who is still enslaved to an old racist tradition. A tradition which degraded humanity and human lives in India and its ‘wonderful’ villages which still reverberate India’s notorious caste system.

Jiuti Devi was still running the family with three children. In all she and Suddhu had six children. The elderly two namely Jitendra, 21 and Dharmendra, 19 had migrated to Mumbai in search of better profession. The other three Virendra, 17, Neha, 13 and Surendra 10 were with her. Since Suddhu was not even a permanent employee of Nagarpalika, there was not much money left for the children after his death. Jiuti Devi continued with her work of cleaning latrines every day in nearly 15 families. She would go early morning at around 6 am without having anything. Breakfast is a luxury. Leaving her younger children at home. The single 20 X 20 ft long thatched hut was not enough to have separate cooking. Moreover, there was virtually nothing at home to cook. The family was totally devoid of any support. Moreover, with Suddhu’s illness, the family even used the Indira Awas money.

Jiuti’s life became a hell. She was already ailing and now she had to survive for the family. The two elder children who migrated to Mumbai just never thought of asking their mother about her condition. She always complained but the thing is that even those two children in Mumbai, what would they earn? Who knows in what conditions they might be living there. With more rhetorical and insensitive political class in Mumbai getting nasty, it is the poor who is paying a price of her honesty. Nagarpalika never thought of giving her a job. She was not in a position to even ask for it. She might have gone several times but as usual women ‘sacrifice’ for their husbands. It is actually the Nagarpalika which sacrifice women for their husbands.

It was in July 2007 that her condition started deteriorating, about six month later from her husband’s death. She went to the municipality even when her condition was not stable. My friend Raj Kapur Rawat, who hails from the community, went along with her to the municipality to her get the dues of her husband. She was suffering from breathlessness. She has gas problem and lack of blood. After the death of her husband, when the family’s condition worsened, she kept on working. But human body has limitations. Working on a ‘tired’ body resulted in severe ailment of Jiuti Devi.

In such a time, she decided to transfer her ‘work’ to her ‘sister in law’ Runia Devi under the condition that the food received from the 15 families would be given to her and her children. Runia Devi agreed to this. Unfortunately, Runia Devi could not fulfill her promise to Jiuti Devi and stopped providing them the day’s meal. Hence the condition of the family deteriorated further. The children had no food to eat.

On August 15th, 2007, I was in Mohammdabad, to meet some of the family members of the scavenger community we work with. Jiuti Devi was expected to visit us as we were helping her in her treatment. Amidst our meeting, I got a call from friends that Jiuti Devi has passed away. It was a great shock to me. Now her two children who were minor became orphan with this sudden death.

Jiuti Devi’s death, as well as that of Suddhu in early 40s, indicates the problems of the scavenger community. This hell’s work is predominant in Uttar-Pradesh which claims to be having all kind of government in the past 15 years. Social Justice, Socialisits, Ambedkarite, Hindutvavadi and what not but the scavenging and its crude practice is still common. Most atrocious thing is that the authorities are not ready to accept that this practice is there and that people suffer from malnutrition. One does not know whether this government has any specific agenda for the liberation of the scavenging community. Community’s elder sit silently and wait for some miracles while community continuously suffer from humiliation and indignity.

Though these two younger children are being taken care of some relatives of Jiuti and Siddhu in Ghazipur, these are the stories of hunger that we come across directly working. Some time even minor help from us does not do justice. It is shocking. It is shameful that our eyes do not catch how people are surviving here in India. How a civilization has degraded people and do not even allow them to fetch and how the successive governments after independence have shamelessly failed in providing honor, dignity and certainty to the lives of millions of scavengers in the country. How long will people suffer. This is one story of a case where a family died of hunger. There are many. We fear people feel it is repetition. But then what is the alternative. What can we do for such people? I do not want to end this in a question mark since some of us are still trying to look beyond. Definitely, a people’s response would be welcome. This is not an isolated incident. There are hundreds of cases. The need is to be sensitive and act. In the end, death liberated both Suddhu and Jiuti from hunger and indignity.




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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SDF-UPLA Lucknow Convention Report




Report of the three days Convention of Social Development Foundation and Uttar-Pradesh Land Alliance at the Chhedi Lal Dharmshala, Lucknow 21st-23rd January 2008


Introduction


SDF & UPLA have been organizing their annual conventions every year since 2004. The first meeting to start Uttar-Pradesh Land Alliance was organized in Ghazipur, followed by Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar, Chauri Chaura, and Kushingagar. This was the fifth convention where the organizations working on the issue of land and livelihood came and discussed their issues. For the first time after the inception of the UPLA, the convention was organized in Lucknow to enable people from other states to join the meet and share their experiences with us.

About 300 participants from over 150 organisations, community based organizations, individuals, joined the discussions for the two days. The participation ranged from states like Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatishgarh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, and Goa. The Uttar-Pradesh’s participation covered almost all the regions of the state. A rainbow coalition of communities was visible in the meet. It is rare that people from different communities came forward and discussed the issue confronting them. Moreover, the social movements are ultimately witnessing a change, as women as set to take over the change. Its going to be women’s leadership in future leading the social movements.

The programme began with Mr Ram Chandra Prasad and Mr Raj Kapoor Rawat,
Coordinators of UPLA as well as Social Development Foundation, made their
Presentations for the last one-year programmes and activities undertaken by the organizations.

Exposing the miracles


The first session was devoted to ‘Miracle Exposure’. SDF is a secular humanist organization and it understands that superstitions are imposed on the exploited communities in the garb of cultural practices. These outdated practices become source of exploitation and particularly women bear brunt of it. To keep in mind, as most of SDF-UPLA member, member organizations comes from Dalit-tribal background, it was important to educate them on the issue. Apart from this, a very large chunk of our members hail from Muslim community, which has faced the traumas of the fundamentalist threat from outside as well as from with in the community. Hence the issue of ‘ Secularisation of civil society’ was an important agenda item to discuss. A large number of fundamentalist mindset have now started shifting the agenda of the civil society and hence it is important to question this intrusion in the civil society agendas by hate mongers.

Prof Narendra Nayak, President of Federation of Indian Rationalist Association, had kept the participants spell bound with his expose of the miracles. Prof Nayak remain a favorite of the participants since he had his first direct interaction some three months back in Kushingar where a large number of SDF-UPLA partners participated in his training workshops. For nearly three hours, despite his bad throat, Prof Nayak explained the ways of the quacks that exploit the rural people in the name of Gods and miracles. The reason for his instant hit programmes are the socio-cultural environ around us where people particularly rural poor particularly women face the worst of such practice routinely. We cannot really keep away from the incident of terming women as Dayan, whore or under the influence of evil spirit.

Idea of UPLA

Secularisation of Civil Society was an important discussion point initiated by Vidya Bhushan Rawat. He pointed out how the radical right were also participating in civil society actions and silently pushing their agendas. Women and children become their victim. In Uttar-Pradesh and other north Indian states, the condition is grim as old parochial people have started trusts and societies and are using ‘civil liberties’ and NGOs for their own nefarious purposes. In the name of NGOs people are on the land grab. They are acquiring huge track of land for false purposes. This has to stop. UPLA will oppose any such land grab by the so-called civil society organisations. VB Rawat also outlined the aim of UPLA and why we have a stated position on certain issues. UPLA has its constituency from the Dalits who were denied human rights for long in the name of traditions. These cultural values were completely alien to the Dalits and were instrumental in their subjugation and their justification. Therefore UPLA’s official stand is against imposing a culture of value and tradition on unwanted communities. Secondly, UPLA cannot keep quiet on the growing target on its member constituents because of their religion and caste. The current situation is quite depressing as far as the civil society is concern and is a challenge to meet. Some time, the civil society networks glorify the past and communal identities become powerful to lord over the individual identity. Identity works to certain extent but also keep people subjugated to certain thoughts that outlived their utility. When communities like Mushahars, Bansfors, Scavengers work with us, we can not ask them to stick to their traditional occupations. They will have to look for new. That those professions which were unclean became their entrypoint to a hell where they are still trapped in.

Ofcourse, as the modernization and science can not remain unquestioned as one friend Ram Bhuvan question about the mechanized farming and inorganic products. When UPLA support modernization ‘ will it support’ contract farming and mechanized farming he asked. ‘ Yes, the question is very important and delicate. You have to choose between tradition and modernity. Our stand is that not everything is bad in tradition. There is ample knowledge among our communities. That knowledge need to be documented. In fact UPLA will take lead in doing so. Secondly, UPLA is not an organization ingrained in some tainted vision of ideology. It look ahead and learn a lesson from history. It reflect in diversity. Despite not believing in caste, we still try to bring various caste identities. Between the human rights of a peasant or ideology, we will definitely be with the rights side of a community. That is why UPLA is always with the struggling masses and so many people, beyond our expectations here, are a tribute to the work of UPLA activists.

Since, it is still in the nascent stage, that is why this ideological discussions are taking place. These discussions here are meant to upgrade us as well as you about the latest happening in civil society. A civil society is first a civil society and later working on a particular issue. Hence we should adhere to basic ideas of human liberty, rule of law, non violence, respect for the marginalized, physically challenged, women and minorities and provide them space and opportunities in our forum. That is one reason why we have so much of discussion on various issues but all of them ultimately revolve around land and livelihood.

Mission Land Literacy


An important part of the first day’s programme was the book ‘ Bhumi Shaksharata ki aur’ compiled by Vidya Bhushan Rawat. The book contains short narratives regarding land movements in India, its current issues, administrative problems, and practical tools for the grassroots activists to know about the measurement of land etc. It has human rights treaties and issue of SEZ and other challenges that today’s land rights movement have. This apart, the book, had provided information regarding reports writing and institutions for their remedies.

The book was released by five girls from Mohammdabad, Ghazipur where SDF is successfully running a women’s development programme including change in mindset and providing alternative module to the scavenger girls. Deep Mala, who is now volunteering with SDF, apart from her education said that the book would definitely be a milestone for activists as they would learn from it about their right and fight more competently for the land rights?

Afterwards, other activists shared their opinion about the book. Munni Begum said that it is a great work, which will help women like her to learn their rights so that they can fight with more confidence and get the justice. Suman Singh also praised the work. Mr Ram Chandra Prasad mentioned that the book could be good tool to spread land literacy movement all over the state.

Ms Sujatha from Hyderabad said that the book land literacy will be a milestone for every activist at the grassroot. She expressed her desire to develop a similar manual in Telugu, for the Andhra Pradesh activists.

After the release the girls from Mohammadabad danced and sang a humanist song penned by SDF’s coordinator Raj Kapoor Rawat.

Hunger and Starvation:

The issue of hunger and starvation has rocked Uttar-Pradesh. The authorities and the government might not agree that there are hunger deaths but if living conditions and the governance is any criteria then we seem to have failed. In fact, recently Commissioners to the Supreme Court of India have given report on the existing farm crisis in Bundelkhand region. In fact, most of the persons dying and starving of hunger are those who have lost access to their livelihood. Whether it is fishermen or Mushahars, Bansfors ( bamboo workers) or scavengers ( who clean shit), all of them are facing worst crisis of their lives. Forest communities in Uttar-Pradesh have rarely been recognized. The Tharus in the Tarai and Kols in Bundelkhand have virtually no access to forest produce and are victimized by the forest department officials. Mushahars used to depend on forest but if they venture today, they are caught and arrested.

The so-called anti poverty programmes are miserably failed. The condition of NREGA is worthy of mentioning here. It would be asking for too much if individuals got employment for even 30 days under this scheme. Wrong entries, card held up with the Sarpanches, women being denied equal wages and work with machines are some of the ‘hallmark’ of the NREGA programme in Uttar-Pradesh.

When such conditions are prevalent in Uttar-Pradesh, MCK Food for Hungary Foundation joined hand with SDF and UPLA and adopted a village in Malwabar Mushahar Bastee and is supporting the mid day meal programme for the school children. Though, the school if still informal and it need an overhauling of the society particularly in the village to bring the habit of study among the students as well as their parents. It also shows that mere talk of rights will not work. Rights have to be preceded with charity so that rural poor is not fed with an artificial dose of ideologies to sidetrack his issues.

MCK Food for Hungary Foundation is developing a ‘Zero Hunger Act’ proposal on behalf of the civil society. UPLA-SDF team has been supporting them in this initiative. Two of their representatives, Ms Baby Rani and Gufran, made two separate presentations related to this. A wide discussion was held on the issue. Both the participants from MCKS Food for Hungary Foundation informed the members and participants of UPLA that further consultation need on this important issue. It was decided that national regional consultation would be organized to understand the entire issue and find out new ideas before submitting it to the government, as it would be difficult for participants to give input to an issue that they have not thought so far.

Environmental Challenges & the livelihood of marginalised

As mentioned a number of time that the local distilleries as well as sugar mills have played havoc with the livelihood of both the farmers and fishermen. Mr Ramashraya Nishad, General Secretary of Uttar-Pradesh Machchua Mallah Sangh, said that his community if worst affected from the river pollution. The chemical affluent being flown into various rivers of Poorvanchal (eastern UP) has virtually decimated river, lake and Taals and therefore jeopardizing livelihood of thousands of fishermen. Nishad has launched a war against the polluting companies under UPLA and his organization in the region. There was a time, when the fishermen would get a handsome catch over night but now not only they do not get anything, but also face severe health problems. The water they drink is completely polluted.
Fishermen are migrating to big cities in search of job. Being untrained labour they work as non-skilled labour at the very low rate. The families of fishermen are facing severe hardship. Pollution Control Board has done very little for the cause of the fishermen as Ramashray has time and again written to many in the Ministry, but of no avail.


Rajendra Sahni, from Tal Ratoy Machchua Mallah Samiti, Maryadpur, Mau narrated his experiences. Several years back, with the support of SDF under International Land Coalition’s CEF programme, the fishermen of the area worked hard and developed a Taal, which had virtually become defunct. It was one of the biggest initiatives of our time in independent India as hundreds of fishermen worked on redeveloping the lake. The farmers also joined hand and the result was that over 500 acres of land which was inundated in water for years, was recovered. Today, many of those who had no access to their land for the past fifty years, are tilling the land. This was a great mobilization. Not only the farmers got benefited from it but also the fishermen. But since, it is not just issue of development. The powerful forces in the village, which create differences between different communities, were active again. While farmers and fishermen joined hand, the feudal forces used all tricks to destabilize this unity. Politics is the backbone of the village. Politicization is good but over politicization for narrow personal gains is dangerous aspect of the Indian village system, which is divided on caste line, and every caste is a village and nation.

Today, the Uttar-Pradesh government is trying to divide the community and eyeing on this lake to develop it for ‘tourism’ purposes. SDF had predicted this thing long back that if the fishermen and farmers do not unite, the government wills sale the wonderful water of Ghaghra. Rajinder Sahni is a worried man but he is determined. All the organization with active support of SDF and UPLA plan to launch a Cycle March in the area to mobilize people against this so-called water tourism. The campaign for environmental sustainability has already been raised in the area.

Mr Suresh Yadav, leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union and a solid supporter of UPLA and SDF in the Mau region lambasted on the policies of the government which were anti farmer. Yadav said that the sugar mills have destroyed the farmers in the region. They do not pay the farmers due rates. Farmers have lost their crops to sugarcane, as sugarcane growers cannot really shift to another crop easily. The farmer is over burdened particularly when he feel that the government would provide him money from the sugar mills. While to send the cane to the mills the farmers have to procure everything in cash from the market but the sugar mills never pay him back the cash. Their own money is given to them years after and for that too, the farmers have wage a fierce battle. The sugar mills are enjoying the fruits of the work of the farmers. On the one side, they get huge credit from the farmers and on the other side; their rich chemical affluent is destroying our environment, our land and water. It is the biggest threat.

Mr Yadav also talked about the failed land reform in Uttar-Pradesh. The so-called Gandhian methods failed the people. Vinoba’s Bhoodan was a clever ploy to stop people from capturing land. Where is Bhoodan lad now? Those who ‘donated’ their land have ‘got’ it back through various acts of omissions and commissions. The family of many donors approached the court and got the stay. So, Bhudan was one of the biggest lies of our time.

It was generally suggested that Poorvanchal provide an important entry point for the civil society to intervene on the issue of livelihood and sustainable development. It is a rare opportunity, that the issue of environmental degradation has been directly challenged by the victimized communities and they understand its implications. In fact, Mr. Suresh Yadav, Ramashray Sahni and Rajinder Sahni are planning a anti-environmental campaign with protest marches, sittings at the block headquarters in their respective districts of Mau and Deoria in the coming days. This massive mobilization of fishermen and farmers will ultimately pave way for their coming together and joining hand on various related issues and is a very positive sign. Both SDF and UPLA have pledged their support for the farmers and fishermen’s struggle for sustainable environment and clean water.

Challenges before the Dalit Bahujan Women

This was one of the most fascinating sessions chaired by Ms Surepally Sujatha and the voices of women that came to be heard during this period grabbed the attention of every one. This also showed the great organizational and ideological clarity among women. That they are ready to take on any fundamentalist onslaught. Those sharing the dais with Sujatha were women from the very field, the scavenger women, who had never had the opportunity to speak on a microphone. There were others who are developing as new leaders of the UPLA movement. There was Suman Singh from Kanpur, Deep Mala, from Ghazipur, Urmila from Chitrakoot. Apart from this, many others spoke like Munni Begum, from Pratapgarh, Prem Lata Maurya from Mau.


Beginning her inaugural statement, Sujatha Surepally who has been actively involved in the Dalit Women’s movement in Andhra Pradesh and fought for the rights of tribal women too, said that women’s struggle against patriarchy is a must before we start any other process. She said that women had inherent power in her to face the challenges and her work is not recognized. Women should not just succumb to pulls and pressures but also question and challenge. She has a right to enjoy her life in her own way.

Two scavenger women from Mohammadabad, Ghazipur spoke of their anguish and wished to leave the work they have been forced into. ‘ WE are not interested in doing this dirty work but we do not have any alternative. We have no economic resources to stand on our feet, no land, and no other social security in a village, which is totally dominated by the caste Hindus.

Deep Mala, who is a student of 11th standard and has been associated with the youth wing of SDF, spoke highly of the community initiative taken by SDF in Mohammdabad. ‘ I would not have been here and speak in front of you had SDF not supported me for the past 5 years. I owe it to the organization for taking care of my education and giving me opportunity to excel and speak in front of people like you. I know how difficult it is for the person hailing from a community whose tradition has been scavenging but then she wonder why we do not take a strong stand against it. In her own case, her father, who was jobless, rejected his parents demand to allow his wife to do the ‘cleaning job’. He was so determined that he left his parents house after the marriage and shifted to his mother in laws place and told them that his wife would not in any way be involved in scavenging work. Today, Lal Bahadur’s daughter Deep Mala is growing in front of all of us and giving a new direction and sense of achievement to our work among the community. Deepmala the younger face of the community want more emphasis in education and economic development. She felt that cultural changes are also important for us so that this baggage of the past is eliminated.

Suman Singh spoke about the problems of the women farmers and how they have to face problems. She said it is the women who are working on the field and do not get legitimate acknowledgement for the same. Women are not given priority in the NREGA, Indira Awas Yojana and all other scheme, which are totally dominated by men. It is important that we focus on the work of women and organize them.

Prem Lata Maurya was equally vociferous on the issue of male chauvinism with in the organsiations. Women find it difficult as there is virtually no encouragement and solidarity by the male colleagues. It is important that women be encouraged and given task and support by the male friends.

The session’s most thought provoking statement came from Urmila, from Chitrakoot. Narrating her own struggle and growing patriarchical values even among the ‘civil society’, she hit them hard. The loud voice with emotion actually rattled the audiences and all those who witness her speak realize that women’s day has finally arrived in Uttar-Pradesh. Gone are the days when you would find submissive women working in civil society and adhering the patriarchical values. Now, the things are changing fast and women’s are deciding about their choices and preferences. She was very unhappy with some of the male members attitude’s towards women. ‘Even the social sector men have not got rid of the tainted vision and attitude that they have towards women’, she lambasted. The challenges before the Dalit women are double as she has to fight not only the caste forces outside her community but also the patriarchy with in the community. The identity politics does not allow the issues of women to be highlighted for the fear of changing power equations. Urmila said that a fight for women’s right can not happen unless we take a strong stand the patriacarchical forces, demand women’s right over property and land. Women’s struggle has to be inclusive and not in isolation as many of us might feel. It is not just economic battle but battle of mind, culture and society, she said.

As Urmila finished her remarkable speech, she got a standing ovation from all the women particularly the girl students from Hyderabad. It was thought provoking and equally inspiring presentation.


Issue of Muslims


Uttar-Pradesh has a substantial Muslim populace. Uttar-Pradesh had in past some of the most influential Muslim leaders of the country. It has some of the oldest Muslim lineages, sufi shrines, Mosques, Imambaras which reflect the rich cultural heritage that Islam has brought to India. During the freedom struggle the Muslim fought with Hindus in liberating India and the combined cultural heritage and mutual understanding of the traditions of each other had been the hallmark of Muslim rule in India.

After the independence, Uttar-Pradesh was dogged in a number of communal disturbances. A large number of Muslim dominated towns like Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh, Kanpur, Lucknow were the target of the communal agenda.

Uttar-Pradesh became hotbed for communal and caste politics and at the end of the day Muslims became further isolated in the entire scheme of things. Their marginalisastion was systematic and nobody was interested in saying that they too had a problem. Once you raise the issue of backwardness of Muslims, it is easier for the communal and sectarian forces to term you as ‘appeasing’ the Muslims. The condition of the poor and women remain a matter of grave concern among the Muslim community. The drop out rate is high and the civil society organizations have rarely reached them. Unfortunately, there have been little efforts to develop civil society organizations in the community. Most of the civil society work is the religious-charitable and therefore on contenscious issues like education, health and empowerment, not much have been achieved. We do not find women’s Self Help Groups among Muslims. A very limited number of people or activists understand the predicament of Muslims. Without understanding the socio-cultural environment of the community, we try to become judgmental on each issue they face. The activists do not go there with a feeling of working with them but more with a loud mouth to preach them. It is here that a number of young Muslim minds joined hand and decided to start a network named as ‘Rehnuma’, which means leader.

Starting with her strong viewpoint, Mohammad Nasim Ansari, from Tarun Chetna Sansthan, Pratapgarh said that time has come to focus on the poverty and educational issues of the Muslim community. The community is legging behind and the developmental programmes are not reaching the community. No attempt is being made to involve the community in the social sector and it is a matter of grave concern, said Ansari. He cited Sachar Commission’s report to point out the growing isolation of Muslims. Time has come when the community and Community Based Organisations should take charge of it and do something. Nasim bhai said the Mirco finance is a must to provide support to Muslim organizations in the rural sector.

Naqvi Bhai of the Sadbhavana mission was more categorical about the community’s issue. Today, being Muslim is a crime. Your identity is the baggage you have to carry all the time. You do not get houses on rent, nor even at the hotels once the owner comes to know that you are a Muslim. He said that the community must focus on women’s development, health and education. Land Right campaign for Muslim women is essential if we want to mainstream our work, he said. He blamed the Muslim political leadership for betraying the aspirations of the community. He also said that nothing specific has been done as a civil society among the Muslims. He wanted that even SHGs among the Muslim women are very rare and his organization is now trying to venture into the micro finance. Unfortunately, things move very slowly for the Muslims and support does not come from the donor agencies. In many areas, the condition of Muslims remain a matter of concern and they are legging far behind from other marginalized communities like the Dalits and OBCs.

Munni Begum wanted that the first and foremost priority should be to provide education to the Muslims. She further emphasized that girls education was a must for the Muslims. ‘ How can we gain from reservation, if there are not enough people’, she opined. She also spoke against those men who keep their women inside their houses. Today, she said, if I am here, it is because of our own grit and determination.

Ms Azma Aziz mentioned that need of the hour is to look inward also. She said that as a Muslims, we face many problems which are related to terrorism and extremism but not all Muslims are like that. The danger of stereotyping has made the community more conservative. ‘ We need to come out at our own. Our parents must support us. She thanked her father for her bringing that despite from a Nawab family, she was still not wearing a Burqa.

Ms Sehroj Fatima, from Chitrakoot opined that Muslim women have to come out from the purdah system. We can not allow our women to sit at home and remain uneducated. Education was the key. The organizations must support Muslim women in their endeavour to progress.

Mr Aftab Alam, Behraich, talked about Muslims problems in general and wanted all the organizations to join hand. He also spoke about the Islamic banking.