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On Zero Discrimination Day, we must look at how caste based discriminations sustain in the most horrifying form of manual scavenging. 

Earlier this month, industrialist Ratan Tata shared a heart-wrenching video titled “Mera Baba Desh Chalata Hai (my father runs the country)”. The video, which has garnered millions of views and empathies, showcases a young boy reciting a poem at his school and laying bare a vile truth of Indian society – manual scavenging, and the parlous life of sanitation workers. It was released to announce Tata Trust’s new initiative ‘Mission Garima’, for the upliftment of sanitation workers and also gave the message of easing their lives through segregating waste into dry waste and wet waste. 

It is not the first time that the concerns regarding manual scavenging have been raised. Realizing manual scavenging as a direct threat to human dignity, government schemes and programmes and civil society initiatives like ‘Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan’ have been working to end manual scavenging. Legislative efforts such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act (1955) prohibits forcing anyone to practice manual scavenging and; Manual Scavengers Act (2013) seeks to reinforce this ban by prohibiting manual scavenging in all forms and ensures the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. 

But the ‘stink’ of manual scavenging lingers on, with caste, untouchability and stigma further intensifying its stench. 

Historically, caste was the basis for social and economic organization and is hereditary in nature. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar termed “Caste as a notion and a state of mind” and thus discriminations based on the caste system were shunned and every Indian citizen was guaranteed liberty and equality. Yet after years of India being a republic, there is some Gangabai, Kailash, Rekha or Vineet*, who are still suffering the pangs of being a Dalit and are obliged to undertake the ‘polluted’ work of manual scavenging – the worst surviving symbol of untouchability.

In India, between 2017 and late 2018, one sanitation worker died every five days, making manual scavenging one of the most hazardous jobs, along with being unlawful and inhuman. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India estimated that there are 9.6 million dry latrines that are still being cleaned manually by people belonging to the Scheduled Castes. The figure excludes cleaning of septic tanks and open defecation from roads and other areas. Poverty, low wages, limited access to education and land resources, social exclusion and poor health due to direct contact with obnoxious fumes and harmful bacteria, perpetuate their already impoverished situation. Some manual scavengers believe their treatment to be sanctioned by Gods and think of manually cleaning toilets as their ‘jagir (estate)’ or something they are entitled to. This kind of assumption of subjugation and exploit is unnerving and not at all acceptable in a democratic setup. Even when some manual scavengers succeed in escaping this atrocity despite threats and backlash, they still experience the sharp scrutiny of people around them who view them as ‘filthy’. The panchayats, local schools and criminal justice system act as biased entities and play a role in further deepening these divides.

Gandhi since 1901 had talked about the indignified nature of manual scavenging that shames us as humans, who allow it to happen. Much stride has been made since then but still it goes on in many parts of the country, especially in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Without sanitation workers, the proper functioning of entire cities can be hampered. Thus, concerted efforts need to be made to guarantee the respect and appreciation our sanitation workers deserve. Vigorous state intervention, in the form of offering rehabilitation and alternative livelihoods, mechanizations, stringent laws and their effective implementation, funding for safety gear and other necessities is required. All these should be supplemented with a transformation of attitudes towards the sanitation workers through awareness programmes in which private bodies like the Tata Group, NGOs etc. can play a part. The element of caste based discrimination that is deeply entrenched into the concept of sanitation and related work must be disjointed from them. Individuals must also segregate their waste, as one should be responsible for one’s waste themselves. 

Dr. Ambedkar quoted, “Indifferentism is the worst kind of disease that can affect people.” We, as humans cannot be indifferent about such a potent issue that affects millions of people and endangers the individuality and dignity of a citizen. Manual scavenging is a dirty truth of our society which feeds on a person’s worth and right to live. Many dangers threaten the existence of our nation, but it is only when we come together as equal and unified, do we stand a chance to maintain the sanctity of our benevolent motherland.

*- Names used do not connote any person living or dead. 

Image Credits: Shaikh Azizur Rahman for The Guardian 


Ipshika Ghosh

[email protected]


Read on to know how this indoctrinated system of privilege makes us blind towards the condition of those who come under the reserved categories. 

On entering your University of Delhi (DU) college, you will find people who belong to the reserved categories. Before you pass a quick, seemingly harmless judgement, here are several things you must consider.

  • Equality vs Equity:

Reservation and equality are talked about simultaneously. While reservation is not synonymous to equality, it becomes imperative to know that the reserved and the unreserved categories do not have the same pedestal to start from. High-handed statements about reservation having been there for seven decades, and that there is no discrimination in the ‘India of today’ will instantly evaporate on reading a newspaper, with headlines screaming of caste-based discrimination and violence. 

We must also understand that caste-based and economic discrimination are not very different from each other. In a society where we have certain jobs like manual scavenging, cleaning toilets, etc. ascribed to a particular section of society, we must not take education away from them because it is the only tool that they have to dream of an upward social mobility. 

  • They get it easier:

People who have access to convents and DPSs, with world-class education, and people who don’t even have funds for a decent basic education, write the same board exams, and are marked irrespective of their social background. For that student to score above 75%, with the limited amount of resources is, if anything, more difficult than their privileged counterparts. 

22.5 per cent of the total numbers of seats is reserved in DU for candidates belonging to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (15 per cent for Scheduled Caste and 7.5 per cent for Scheduled Tribes, interchangeable, if necessary), as per DU’s website. And although the numbers vary in different surveys, the amount of SC and ST inhabitants in the country is over 25%. Therefore, to say that every reservation candidate will get into DU is a rather poorly researched argument. 

  • It is time reservations should end: 

“Discrimination is already illegal in India. In fact, so is murder. Yet court after court is acquitting self-confessed brutal mass murderers of Dalits,” Vidyut, Founder of the website Aam Janta, writes. People feel reservations are divisive, and they are. But they are the effect, and not the cause. People should take it upon themselves to end discrimination, and the need of reservation will end, thereof. 

  • The fault in our systems: 

 “If the general category students think they are losing out of seats then their fight should be for more colleges and universities,” says Niharika Dabral, an outgoing student of the Varsity. Rather than ending caste-based reservations, management quotas that reek of nepotism and networking is the real fault that exists in our system. 

For a central educational institution like DU, it becomes a moral responsibility to make sure it has seats reserved for the underprivileged to safeguard their rights because they do not have the kind of money to pay the tuition for privately-funded institutions, let alone give donations to get admitted – as is not uncommon. 

All being said, reservation isn’t the medicine that the society is meant to ingest to cure it of caste-based discrimination. Rather, it is a protective measure that is here to stay till the psychological cleansing has been done, and people recognise each other for what they are – humans. 

Feature Image Credits: Aam Janta

Maumil Mehraj

[email protected] 

Known as one of the largest student elections in the country, but the question remains; are they representative of all the students who cast their vote, or is it just a game of political dominance with a handful of players participating each time?

Beginning from a sociological point of view, it is imperative to state that the caste system forms the foundation of Hinduism. Its ubiquity can be guaranteed from the simple fact that its absence from any of the aspects of life will lead to the collapse of the religion as a whole. In recent years, it has successfully made its way into student politics.
Be it the power of a temple in the state of Uttar Pradesh, or the presence of students belonging to aspiring minority communities in bulk in the University of Delhi (DU); caste as an entity has struck at every rung of the political system.

With the nearing Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) election day , parties are leaving no stone unturned to establish their presence in every DU student’s life by featuring life size posters boasting of the names of the contesting candidates . However, if observed carefully, one can conclude (like I have), that almost all the candidates belong to either the same community or different communities within the same region; predominantly the Jats, the Gujjars and the Yadavs. Hence, caste becomes an overarching term bringing region into its fold as well; in this case, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

This practice becomes evident through the composition of major student wings such as the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the NSUI (National Students’ Union of India) of the ‘INC (ndian National Congress) . When I consider the range of DUSU elections all over the country, I do not find any candidate from down South, the East, or the North-East. The northern region remains centripetal not just for the monetary and muscle factors, but also for the empathy factor that works in the undercurrent.

Taking into account the statistics of elections conducted in the last couple of years, it has been observed that the candidates elected for the post of president have belonged to either of the communities. For example, Amit Tanwar, the outgoing President from ABVP belongs to the Jat community. There were others such as Arun Hooda and Ajay Chhikara from NSUI, and Mohit Nagar from ABVP.

Apart from the ABVP and NSUI, who usually grab the ballots’ limelight; minor parties such as INSO (Indian National Students Organization) and CYSS (Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti), the student wing of the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) too invest in candidates from these communities so as to gain impetus. AISA (All India Students Association), the student wing of CPI (ML) (the Communist Party of India’-(Marxist Leninst) ) mostly banks on female candidates for its premier posts.

With another round of elections coming up this year, while nothing can be ascertained until the declaration of results, some things form the norm! But, for more, we will have to wait for the big day!

Feature Image Credits: Indian Express

Shrija Ganguly
[email protected]

“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.”


This is what Rohith Vemula, PhD scholar in Hyderabad Central University wrote in his last letter after which he took his own life. His fault was that he was Dalit, a Dalit who dared to stand up for himself. Systematically, culturally, economically and socially oppressed since his birth which he refers to as his ‘fatal accident’

Education has been denied to Dalits from as long as time permits us to remember. India’s recovery from colonialism paralleled Dalits, adivasis and backward castes reclaiming their human dignity and social prestige. Decades later, the Brahmin-Savarna forces still plunder and pillage their dignity outrightly and with pride.

When Smriti Irani says the incident is not a matter of lower caste vs upper caste she remarkably forgets to what extent basic human rights are refused to lower caste people, especially Dalits. If it’s not driving a scholar to suicide then it’s banning Dalit unions, beating a lower caste student for going to school, to the point where Dalits are not even allowed entry in religious places, a grim reminder that we have not taken a step towards progress.


Why do we continue to vilify and degrade lower caste people whilst believing without moral apprehension that they do not even deserve reservation? Who is to say that caste has been a historical, now removed concept? It is ahistorical, demeaning and a blatant lie to say that caste does not matter anymore, even in the most liberal areas in the country.

If caste does not matter then why is manual scavenging still practiced along the lengths and breadths of the country, overwhelmingly by Dalits? Does it matter when a former Prime Minister is exposed as accomplice in Dalit massacres? Does it matter when nearly all marriages in the country are within the caste? If caste does not matter, then why are we all aware from a young age, what caste and creed we belong to?

From a skewed, near-sighted urban lens, of course caste matters. It matters when a Dalit student scores a few marks lesser than you, and gets into a good institution. However, no one bats an eyelid when Dalit students die asking for their rights. Very obvious and visible oppression is overlooked, seen disguised as victim complexes, “pseudo-secular” wreckage and what not.

How much has India failed its religious and caste minorities? Inspite of the depressing history of caste oppression, our curriculum barely touches upon caste. We are taught the Varna system in past tense, as if the whole country is not still practicing and perpetuating it by choice. We are taught how Ambedkar made our constitution, and how untouchability was made a criminal offence. When were we taught that Ambedkar called for annihilation of caste, and not uniting castes which organizations like RSS wholeheartedly believe in? The same RSS that Rohith refused to align with.


“May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.”


Rest in power, Rohith.


Kartikeya Bhatotia

[email protected]