Understanding the issues of Sanitation workers in India

(Samaj Weekly)

– Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Safai Karmchari Diwas i.e. Sanitation workers day is celebrated all over the country on July 31st. Though this is not an official day but this mark a historical aspect of the movement by Safai Karmcharis for their rights and how the government ‘mishandle’ it. On July 29th, 1957, Safai karmcharis in Delhi had called for a strike asking the government to fulfill their demands but the government refused to listen. Instead, the municipal authorities in Delhi actually started recruiting the new persons for the jobs. This was an absolutely dictatorial and mischievous effort by the officials to break the unity of the Safai Karmcharis. Tension grew in the Panchkuiyan road area and in the police firing, a person named Bhoop Singh was killed. He was not the part of the movement but had come to his sister’s house. His death resulted in further tension in the area compelling the government to accept the demands of the Safai Karmcharis on July 31st. There was not much known about this incident except for the fact that some of the members of the community in Delhi used to remember this day as Bhoop Singh Shahadat Diwas. The Safai Karmchari Diwas, as it is known today, is actually the contribution of Ambedkarite author and scholar Bhagwan Das ji since 1964 after he formed Ambedkar Mission Society. Mr Bhagwan Dass was one of the most towering personality, an Ambedkarite who gave a new direction to this community and pave the path of the community towards Ambedkarism.

It is good to have this day celebrated and discuss the issue of the community and hence some of us decided to sit together and discuss the issue. During the time of Corona, the community is facing the big difficulty and they dont get the respect. Mr Bhaggu Lal Valmiki, an activist from Jalaun district in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, said that the time has come for the community to assert for their rights and seek reservation in other jobs of the government. It is important that our children should also get opportunity to excel in higher education, said Bhaggu Lal ji. He also said that Ms Mayawati opened the door of the Safai Karmcharis for the other communities in Uttar Pradesh when the recruitment was done for the Panchayats and as it had better salary, a large number of upper castes, OBCs and others applied for it, paid bribery and got the job. These other community persons never do the manual work and sublet their work to the Valmiki community person and just sign on the register.

Shri Ashok Agyani was of the view point that unless the community strengthen its own political clout nothing would happen. It is important that we ask our children to look for other avenues than the government jobs which are shrinking. Our political leaders have not spoken on the issue of privatisation of jobs and selling of India’a asset by the current government. It is important for us to speak up on serious issues that our community faces. Unfortunately, others will not speak for us, he said. Ashok Agyani said that we must not ignore economic issues and speak against rampant privatisation of education as well as big companies. He blamed that the Dalit leaders rarely speak against the issue of privatisations and it is time they understand that these are issues as with privatisation reservation is already being finished by the government. He also said that it is not that everything is so negative in the community and warn against attempting to create divisions against other Dalit communities. He felt that speaking for sub quota is not good as it will divide Dalit community and already government sector has diminished hence we must prepare for the private jobs too.

Shri Jai Prakash Chaudhury asked for a different quota for the community and felt that SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act must be implemented and used even with in the scheduled castes in case they practice untouchability. According to him, there is caste discrimination and untouchability with in the scheduled castes and it need to dealt strongly. He also spoke of bringing women in the movement. Without Buddhism and following the path of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, we can not move ahead, he said. It is important that women become part of our movement as without them we can not move ahead, he said.

Activist Dheeraj Kumar said that political parties have not taken the community seriously because despite its presence all over the state, they have not given it fair representation. Dheeraj said that he was part of BSP but the party has not really cared for the community and rarely bothered to give ticket to Valmiki community leaders. He also informed how various municipalities in the district Fatehpur dismissed hundreds of Safai Karmcharis from their job. The government does not have a credible data related to the population of Safai karmcharis as they say Uttar Pradesh has merely 7400 families engaged in manual scavenging which is highly contestable figure. Dheeraj also raised the issue of contract labour as well as outsourced people and asked why for one kind of work, people are getting three types of salaries. Afterall, whether it is confirmed person or contract labour or outsourced, all do 8 hours job but their jobs and other benefits differ drastically.

Mr Prem Prakash, who is fighting for the housing rights of his community in Allahabad said that the Safai Karmchari Ayog has no teeth and should be disbanded. Most of the people actually appointed in these commissions are worthless as they only satisfy their party needs and do not work for the people. He wanted a new generation leadership to emerge which has a futuristic vision of the community. He also spoke how the government promised to pay Rs fifty lakhs to all the Corona warriors but not a single Safai Karmchari got it so far despite the fact that many of them have died doing their duty on frontline.

Ms Nisha Parche spoke about the situation in Maharashtra and the absence of government facilities. The Safai Karmcharis are doing their job in the most difficult circumstances and taking the risk of their lives but the government and political leadership of the day have remained completely silence on their plight. She also said that it is also time that community women are given space in the social movement and political parties so that their issues are reflected in the programmes and agenda.

Mr Ashaq Ali Wattal also joined from Jammu but due to difficult networking conditions, he could not speak. Ashaq Ali belong to Wattal community which is the traditional Muslim community in Jammu and Kashmir engaged in sanitation work and face a lot of discrimination.

You can listen to entire conversation moderated by Vidya Bhushan Rawat on youtube at the following link

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