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Uncertain Future of Swatch Bharat’ Heroes
2/21/2020 12:03:52 AM

Avinash Azad

The caste system across India has isolated Dalit communities, from the mainstream of life. Being socially segregated for centuries, they are obliged to live a helpless life and that too without menial facilities. They have been suffering due to the rigid caste system in Indian Society. Their life is marked with disgrace, humiliation, dishonor, suppression, and discrimination. For centuries, they have undergone harrowing and traumatic experiences. Their needs and demands have been insignificant as they are not considered an important segment of our so-called society. They were meant to live and serve the people of the higher castes and die for them as well. But with the passage of time, there had been people in the Dalit community who realized the trauma and sufferings of the members of their community and they decided to give voice to their sufferings and pain, through education and leadership.
Prominent Dalit writers like Mulk Raj Anand, Mahasweta Devi, Namdeo Dhasal, Basudev Sunani, Bama, Sharankumar Limbale, Lakshman Gaekwad, Sivakami, poonami, Om Prakash Valmiki, Sushila Takhbore and others voiced their sufferings through writing. Journalists like Bhasha Singh roamed across India and highlighted the truth about India’s Manual Scavengers by writing a book named Unseen. Activists like Bezwada Wilson call attention to their sufferings and started a movement to end this inhuman work.
But the story of Safai Karamharis (Sanitation workers) Valmikis, Chura, Masssalis, Christians in Jammu division and the Shaikh, Vattal and Mochi communities in Kashmir valley of Jammu and Kashmir is a bit different from the other Dalit communities. While working on these two communities from quite a long time, I realized that their suffering is being used by the mainstream political leaders for their own purpose only.
The mainstream political parties have been highlighting a discriminatory character of section 35A of the Indian Constitution against these Valmiki and Christians people till its abrogation on August 5, 2019 but when these so-called hurdles have been ‘erased’ there seems to have no voice coming for their welfare from mainstream leadership. The quite simple reason for this seems to be clear agenda of leadership for using their discrimination and humiliation to serve their larger power interests.
What is the more saddening thing, is, the lack of leadership which emerges from amongst themselves who have a clear understanding of needs and demands of its own people. But there is no such significant leader whose voice can represent this isolated and marginalized section of society and also is being able to be heard by the administration.
Their important issues as living has never been come up on the agenda of leaders. For example, the Safai Karamcharis of Rajouri town who are mostly comprised of Muslims, a majority population of erstwhile J&K State, has been struggling to get a hold on 2-3 marla (545-850 Square feet), the land which was given to them by the district administration in the wake of a strike for their rights in the 1980s.
Now, they fear about the future of their expanded families because they have no other land to construct their homes. The family of 10-12 people are helpless to live in breathless narrow houses. But now they have been continuously served notices to vacate the land as it is claimed, that land on which they have made their houses belongs to the state.
They also have been making demands to regularise their land but leadership has voluntarily ignored it. In Samba town, the Safai Karramcharis who mostly comes from the Christian community had similarly housed on Aquaf land decade back but now they are also getting eviction notices from Auqaf Board. Apparently, being a micro and scattered community, they do not satisfy the vote bank of any political party, the leadership did not take their demands and rights into consideration.
Education is the other significant area where these marginalized communities are lagging behind. There is a negligible number of people who are qualified enough to break through the shackles of this menial job run by the caste structure. Although, it is, time and again claimed by the political leaders that education is of vital importance for the country, as it is a powerful tool to build knowledge-based society of the 21st Century but there seems to be no stress and focus been given to the education of these largely neglected communities as compared to the mainstream. The people who tried to get education left it in an early stage because they suffered discrimination from their teachers and fellow students. Thus, they were indirectly forced by the social structure to leave education deliberately overlooking their rights. But leadership, whether it is mainstream or one from amongst themselves, did not ever pay any attention toward this grim issue.
Their own leadership continued to make demands for those who were employed as Safai Karamcharis but ignored the very important weapon which could have helped them to get out of this job. The most common demands of their leadership have been the Re-organisation of all cadres, DPC of all cadres, making permanent of casual employees, filling vacant posts of Safai Karamcharis, transfer of salary in account before10th of every month and others mostly related to their job regularisation. But their education was pushed to the backstage.
The author is a Jammu-based journalist and media fellow with National Foundation of India.
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