Insensitivity towards Scavenging community in India : The Hindu must apologise
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
The Hindu has been termed as one of the most sensitive dailies in India. Despite all provocations, its editors have tried to be non provocative. On many occasions when the Delhi’s dailies went berserk, the Hindu had a wisdom to control things. And such sanity on parts of the Hindu was highly appreciable particularly during the anti Mandal imbroglio in Delhi or the Ayodhya’s shameful demolition of Babari mosque or unearthing the Bofors scandal or reporting on Bombay riots and then the blasts that ripped the city last year.
Ofcourse, during this course, Hindus reporting on many areas was questionable particularly on Nandigram and Singur violence. It was shocking but those who are the students of media understand its compulsions.
A few years back your sister publication ‘Frontline’ brought out a cover story on the horrible and shameful traditions of manual scavenging. That was definitely a praise worthy thing but unfortunately again the clean chit given to West Bengal government on manual scavenging without ever caring to speak to thousands of the people belonging to scavenging community at the Belilius Park who were mercilessly displaced. Today, nothing happened to them. They were neither rehabilitated nor got any other place to live as most of them were the people from various scavenging communities like Balmikis, Helas, Rawats from different north Indian states. Most of them were employed as sweepers at Howarh Municipal Corporation where people were still doing manual scavenging long back.
However, despite all this, it never felt that Hindu is offending the sentiments of the people though your claims that Gandhi fought for untouchable while completely ignoring the heroic struggle of Ambedkar is example how selective you can be. But, November 27th write up by Praveen Swamy on Mumbai’s horrific incidents under headline ‘ where style has trumped substance’ has unnecessarily compared the issue of scavengers with police men.
In his article Swamy shamelessly argues,’ ‘Working upwards of fourteen hours a day — not counting the typically three hours spent commuting — constable Kamble earns a basic pay of Rs. 5,200 a month. Sanitation workers employed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation are paid less — Rs. 4,440 a month — but end up taking home similar wages, because of overtime. Indeed, until the Sixth Pay Commission recently upgraded the categorisation of police work as semi-skilled from skilled, sanitation workers actually made more money. Little has been done to upgrade the police’s living standards and training.’
Swamy does not know that those who scavenge or are involved in sanitary work do not have any holidays. Even when they might get relatively better salary in Mumbai, yet there is no holidays for them and why is it that most of them come from one particular community. Swamy has forgotten about the racial nature of the sanitation work in India.It is worst then that as these workers may not get a home in a normal location, they do not drink tea at a common place and might get it in a dhaba when nobody know their identity.
Yes, today, people like Praveen Swamy might feel that the sweepers are getting over time and the policemen are getting it. Will Praveen Swamy ever visit to those untouchable women who clean shit and do not get paid up. Can you send your reporters to find out how many of the people from scavenging communities are getting two meals a day despite involved in this heinous occupation. Despite all claims and works done by not only Gandhi but various governments, manual scavenging is still prevalent and going high. In the villages it is faminised as most of the men go to the urban areas for work and women continue to do it. The reason the lowest salaries for them and mostly they are contract labors who never get their salaries on time. In Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, there are thousands of people from scavenging communities who are working on contract yet have not got their salaries for past six months. And this is a regular features yet our newspapers have no time for the same. Even when government claim that manual scavenging has been eliminated from cities ( it is a false claim and we can still get the same in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai), yet if we see the unfortunate deaths of the people from the same community in sewage pipe lines. Who are the people dying in these sewage pipe lines without any protective gears? Have you ever asked how much money they get for dying for cleaning our wastes?
We have no complain against your supporting the cause of policemen who are lowly paid but to compare their work with that of sanitation workers is utterly disgraceful. It has shown the insensitivity of the author coming from upper caste background and thinking he and his community have sole property right over patriotism. Should we think that Hindu’s editors remain highly insensitive to the issue of untouchables in the country by publishing Praveen Swamy’s article without editing?
Even when policemen are dying for the ‘country’, most of the countrymen will never have sympathy with them as long as they think themselves above the law. We can understand the threat of terrorism but we must not ignore the fact that police system is created by the government where their Jawans are just hated not by the terrorists but Aadivasis and Dalits where they become state’s main torturing agency to extract money and rob them of their resources. On the contrary, whether it was British or Indians, the scavenging work is done by same community and all efforts by politicians and governments have been far below satisfaction. In such situation, if a seasoned writer compares the work of sanitation workers as ‘free lunch’, he must be made to apologize.
Untouchability is a blot on face of India. Despite all claims of our progress, it still remains. It is hidden apartheid. Much bigger then the issue of terrorism which grows out of victim mindset. As long as the caste Hindus refuse to accept this heinous crime done on humanity, they will have to live with the biggest shame of civilization. The biggest untouchability and racial prejudice is manual scavenging and Balmikis face is daily in their work. The indignity heaped on them can not be erased by paying them a few thousand rupees. Praveen Swamy deserve condemnation from civil society. The Hindu must apologize for its publication and desist publishing such insensitive pieces in future. Let it lead a campaign against untouchability and manual scavenging for erase its serious lap in the publication of such a sinister article.