A dip of dignity for women scavengers

Ablution: Women scavengers from Rajasthan taking bath in the Ganges in Varanasi . DH photo

Condemned to a lowly existence of a manual scavenger, the holy dip by Choti amidst women from the upper caste was akin to salvation.

A mother of six and grand mother of eight children, Choti was part of a group of 203 women manual scavengers brought from Tonk and Alwar districts of Rajasthan, by Sulabh International, an NGO engaged in building public toilets across the country.

The women had darshan at the temple after taking bath in the holy Ganges and then dined with the Brahmins and sanskrit scholars of Kashi(the old name of Varanasi) on Monday.

“People in Tonk used to call us bhangi (those cleaning bucket toilets and who carry night soil on their heads) and detested us, no one wanted to talk to us,” Choti. Most women still believe manual scavenging  can’t be abolished completely in the near future.

“Those, whose excreta was cleaned by us, used to offer us water from a distance and used to throw chapatis so that they might not be touched by us,” said Gora Parochia, Choti’s neighbour at the Kali Paltan locality of Tonk town.

These women used to get a meagre two to five rupees from each of the houses. “We could barely earn Rs. 50 a month,”  they told Deccan Herald.Choti and Gori quit the profession in 2007. They are now engaged in activities like preparing pickles, papad and operating beauty parlours.

And when these 203 women emerged from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and chanted “har har mahadev” and raised their hands to the cameras, their happiness was palpable.

“I had never imagined that I would get an opportunity to have a bath in the Ganges, have darshan at one of the Jyotirlingas and dine with the pandits of Kashi,” said Kalpana, also from Tonk town. Similar were the feelings of Rani, Shankuntala, Kamli and Munni.

To their surprise, the Brahmins served them a lavish North Indian lunch, amidst chanting of vedic mantras and blowing of conch shells signalling the end of a miserable era.

The NGO founder, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak said: “It’s a big challenge. Those  who are engaged in scavenging must be rehabilitated and this practice must be abolished altogether.”

According to an estimate, there are still about one lakh scavengers in the country. “It is prevalent in UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and some other states,” Pathak said adding however, that no effort had been made to ascertain their exact number.

Despite its abolishment in 1993, the shameful practise of manual scavenging still prevails in the country.

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