Disposable pads, disposable lives: Health and life of “conservancy workers”, coming from lowest Dalit sub-caste, is at risk

BinduBy Bindu Mohanty*

Worldwide disposable sanitary napkins flushed down toilets cause huge problems as they clog up sewers. Most sewerage systems, being designed before the advent of disposable napkins, are meant to carry only water and excreta. Besides the huge costs in maintenance of sewerage systems worldwide, in India the problem is exacerbated by the fact that, in contravention to existing laws, conservancy workers, with no protection whatsoever, have to go down the manholes to manually clean the blockages. Ecofemme, a manufacturer of manual scavengerreusable sanitary pads in Auroville, recently met with conservancy workers in Chennai and learnt about the devastating social impact of disposable pads.

“When you throw something away, where is away?” asks the celebrated environmental activist, Julia Butterfly Hill.(1) Indeed, where is away? “Away” conjures that mythical place, far from one’s home, where one is absolved from dealing with the ignominious impact of one’s action.

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Since 2001, Gujarat government didn’t allocate a single rupee to build statue in Dr Ambedkar’s memory: Official reply to RTI query

ambedkarApril 24 is the birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, architect of Indian constitution and the main force behind the fight against untouchability in India. Yet, as recent RTI replies to senior activist Kirit Rathod suggest, Gujarat government remains indifferent towards remembering him. A counterview.org analysis:

Information provided by the Gujarat government’s social justice and empowerment department, under the right to information (RTI) Act, as also other sources, suggests that the state government has shown high degree of indifference towards promoting ideals and values for which Dr BR Ambedkar stood. An RTI application was made by Kirit Rathod, a senior activist of the Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, seeking to find out what exactly has the Gujarat government done to build Ambedkar Bhawans in each of the 225 talukas of Gujarat, as also all the 26 districts, about which a big announcements were made way back in 2007, with an eye of the then state assembly polls in order to woo Dalit votes. The information sought included how many of the Ambedkar Bhawans were constructed between 2001 and 2014, as also the amount spent for constructing the Bhawans.

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Dalit reservation in private sector should include legal safeguards of equal opportunities and non-discrimination

dalit manifestroThe National Coalition on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC-ST PoA Act), which is the apex body of more than 500 community-based social organizations across India, following a series of consultations in the past few months, has come up with the Dalit Election Manifesto 2014 for the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Running into 28 pages, reproduced below is the portion which argues in favour of providing reservation to Dalits in private sector:

Dalits continue to be one of the poorest segments of the Indian population. Many remain confined to their traditional menial and lowly valued caste occupations even today. They form a bulk of the informal, unorganized sector workers, who subsist on low wages with poor working conditions and no social security. They also continue to face widespread exclusion and discrimination in the arena of labour and employment. Policy and legislative measures to promote equal rights and opportunities for Dalits in employment, including reservations in government employment, have not made sufficient inroads into this situation to date. They continue to be significantly underrepresented in most professional jobs and in the private sector. Read more of this post

Porbandar Dalits’ ouster from their residence: Incidents of forced migration continue amid Gujarat government indifference

A member of the Dalit family overlooking the destroyed house

A member of the Dalit family overlooking the destroyed house

By Kantilal Parmar*

Cases of forced migration of Dalits from Gujarat’s villages continue to pile up, even as indifference on the part of the Gujarat administration appears to have become even more visible.  Though an incident of forced migration of Dalits of Bhodadal village, Ranavav taluka, Porbandar district, was reported to the Gujarat police on December 18, 2013, and complaints about this were lodged to  the district collector, Porbandar, the district superintendent of police (DSP), the backward class welfare officer, the Gujarat chief minister, the director general of police, the state home minister, the state social justice and empowerment minister, and the secretary, social justice and empowerment, the 13 persons were forcibly displaced after their houses were destroyed have  not been rehabilitated.

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Treat sewage workers as manual scavengers, pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to kin of the dead since 1993: Supreme Court

manual scavengersThe Safai Karmachari Andolan believes that the Supreme Court judgment of March 29 on eradication of inhuman practice of manual scavenging is historic as it deprecated the continuance of manual scavenging in the country in blatant violation of Article 17 of the Constitution of India, by which “untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden”. The court was emphatic about the duty cast on all states and union territories “to fully implement the law and to take action against the violators”. A writeup: 

In a significant endorsement of concerns raised by the Safai Karmachari Andolan, the Supreme Court directed the government to, “Identify the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 and award compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each such death to the family members depending on them”. In its judgment by Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, the court categorically said that if the practice of manual scavenging has to be brought to a close and also to prevent future generations from the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers will need to be carried out.

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The role of Dalit women in the struggle against discriminatory practices needs better recognition in society, including among Dalits

women1In large number of villages, Dalit women have addressed the issue of discrimination in basic amenities. At many places, they have been able to resolve it without severe violence. But this history has most of the times not been written or documented, says Manjula Pradeep 

The extent of violence against Dalits has been increasing and one of the major reasons is awareness and assertion amongst them has gone up which has led to increase in the reporting of these incidents to the police authorities. But the question of state impunity and failure to protect the rights of Dalits is still a pertinent question which is being raised again and again by the civil societies and members of the Dalit movement and its supporters.

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European Union-sponsored report calls for plugging caste-based discrimination while disbursing humanitarian aid

caste“Equality in Aid – Addressing Caste Discrimination in Humanitarian Response”, a European Union (EU)  sponsored report prepared by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), and authored by Katherine Nightingale, with the support of Lee Macqueen, Prasad Chacko, Tim Gill, Tudor Silva, Samuel Marie-Fanon, Anand Bolimera Kumar and Katia Chirizzi, presents an overall picture of the effect of caste-based discrimination in humanitarian aid and why it continues to be a consistent problem in emergency programming. Excerpts:

Even prior to a natural hazard like drought, floods, typhoons or earthquakes, Dalit communities are more vulnerable and exposed to disasters. Their social exclusion means they often live outside of main villages, with less access to the amenities and information of administrative centres. In some contexts this less desirable land will be more exposed to floods or hazards and have less developed infrastructure like drains, drinking water or flood barriers. The livelihood situation of Dalits, dependent on wage labour and on dominant caste groups, is particularly vulnerable to shocks and stresses like natural hazards. Dalits are mostly landless people with little or no formal assets, working as share-croppers or manual labourers to meet immediate livelihood needs. What assets Dalits do have, such as unregistered fishing boats or nets and make-shift houses without land titles, often go unrecognised as formally owned by them, thereby hiding significant disaster losses.

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