With an objective to help us think from the perspectives of ‘untouchables’ and question the mainstream discourse which pushes such sections of the society to the margins, The Sociology Department of Maitreyi College organized the release of the third issue of its newsletter- Sociologue: Aao Baat Karein and a talk by Professor Bezwada Wilson on 3rd November, 2016.
The event began with the arrival of Professor Wilson who was greeted by a token of appreciation followed by the release of their newsletter, Sociologue along with all the teachers of the Sociology Department. With this year’s theme as ‘Margins Speak: Disempowering the Mainstream’, the event acted as a catalyst to bring about the much needed change in the minds of the young generation and create an awareness towards the evil practices of untouchability which are still very much prevalent within our society in the most shocking and inhuman ways.
Professor Wilson, an Indian activist, one of the leading figures of the Dalit Movement and an honorable Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, was thus, invited on the stage to speak about the widespread barbaric practice of manual scavenging in the country. Having been born in a family of manual scavengers where he too, was made to “adjust” from time to time, he saw his family suffer humiliation at every step which spurred him to take action against this indignity.
He spoke of the degradable plight of the scavenging communities in India who have been “traditionally” employed into the occupation because of their low caste for manually cleaning toilets and the human excreta of others with their hands as a means of survival, for which they are paid Rs.20-30 per house. Some of these people are also hired by the Municipal Corporations for cleaning the railway tracks on platforms and paid a substantial amount from Rs.20 – 30, 000. It is here where Prof. Wilson urged the members of the society to “look at the problem from the perspective of a human being and help such communities to look beyond the wages” and stop this form of injustice immediately.
According to him, “to allow a human clean the excreta of another person is a sin worse than any other and is clearly a human rights’ violation.” Yet, he ruled out that despite a law being passed by the central government in 1993, not a single case has ever been registered by the witnesses of such acts. He thus, wants the people of this nation to “look at this problem from their own lens” and do the needful to curb this dehumanizing practice by raising their voice and standing together in unity for uplifting all the marginalized sections of the society.
However, he clearly agreed on this to be a grueling task for he faced some of the greatest difficulties in getting the bill against the abolishment of this practice passed in the Supreme Court for several years. He recalled being thrown out the office, rejected, wait-listed, ignored and refused by the authorities for having looked into the matter of scavenging. Despite countless efforts and innumerable collection of data and evidences such as photographs of lakhs of women scavengers taken repeatedly by Prof. Wilson and his team of volunteers, due to the lack of justice and concern shown by the judicial administration of the country for the untouchable community, no official and clear judgment was declared.
He also recalled visiting some families in the villages who felt gravely affected by this occupation and narrated some of the most emotional and heart wrenching instances of children witnessing their family members and loved ones suffering from diseases and losing their parents due to the immense amount of work they were forced to do. He therefore, aimed to teach all scavengers to fight back and refuse being submissive on carrying out this profession any longer, as a result of which, many women courageously threw buckets in which they earlier completed scavenging and fought back for rehabilitation.
He ended the program with his request for this issue to be acknowledged and dealt with, on an urgent basis and “submission of us, as citizens and students to join hands in the support of taking low caste members out of this occupation without being dependent on the Judiciary for any kind of justice.” He further encouraged us to “be bold, courageous and speak the truth as long as we live.”
Picture Credits: Aastha and Bayar Jain