Swacch Bharat protagonists must remember: Gandhiji began his campaign by cleaning community latrine at Tolstoy Farm

gandhiBy Subhash Gatade*

It is cleaning season in India. Country’s prime minister has gone to town with a broom. He started the campaign to clean India by sweeping a Dalit neighbourhood of erstwhile untouchables, seemingly breaking many caste barriers. There are very few public defenders of caste system nowadays. After the affirmative action for lower castes in educational institutions and government jobs has begun to show some results, upper caste men and women, whose ancestors only three generations ago fought tooth and nail to not yield even an inch of their caste privileges, now cry and organise under the slogan of equality. Are we witnessing the spectacle of caste being swept away into the dustbin of history?

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Redefine Dalit identity based on principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, index vulnerability across social groups

caste1Reproduced below are minutes of a meeting on Annihilation of Caste in Ahmedabad on September  12-13, 2014, where participants* — senior academics, activists, scholars and scribes — expressed concern over dilution of Dalit identity because of overt stress on entitlement-based policies. The meeting advocated for alternative strategy based on vulnerability index, in which manual scavengers, especially women, are the chief focus of attention:

The one and half day meeting on moving from caste based discrimination to annihilation of caste, taking cue from the famous treatise of Dr BR Ambedkar, began with a note of concern that Dalit identity is getting diluted because of overt concentration of entitlements based on reservation to those who have been identified officially as scheduled castes (SCs). While not denying the importance of reservation as a means to empower certain sections of Dalits who are above than other Dalit sub-castes, the meeting believed that there is a need to go beyond reservation, violence and discrimination, towards an approach that takes into account the aim of complete demolition of the caste system, as it exists in India as also in other South Asian countries. A well-planned strategy should be worked out by identifying important factors that keep the caste system alive, keeping in mind both short-term and long-term goals.

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Gandhiji feared volcano may erupt, 4 crore untouchables could destroy Hindustan, and Ambedkar had the will to sacrifice

gandhi mahadev desai

Mahadevbhai Desai with Gandhiji

Controversy surrounding Gandhiji’s views on Varnashram Dharma continue following well-known writer Arundhati Roy’s Mahatma Ayyankali lecture at Kerala University, Trivandrum, on July 17, 2014, where she, for the second time, sharply criticized the Father of Nation for “favouring” the “most brutal social hierarchy in the world known as caste system.” Soon after Roy’s lecture was made public, social activist Nandini Oza in her blog quoted from Gandhiji’s aide Mahadevbhai Desai’s dairy to say how the Mahatma favoured removal untouchability even as maintaining the caste hierarchy (click HERE to read). Oza, in her second post in her blog, has now dug out more quotations from Desai’s diary. We reproduce: Read more of this post

Govt failure to provide individual support to leave manual scavenging will undermine efforts to promote modern sanitation

human rights watchSummary of the Human Rights Watch study, “Cleaning Human Waste: Manual Scavenging, Caste, and Discrimination in India”, based on spot interviews in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh:

The practice of manually cleaning excrement from private and public dry toilets and open drains persists in several parts of South Asia. Across much of India, consistent with centuries-old feudal and caste-based custom, women from communities that traditionally worked as “manual scavengers,” still collect human waste on a daily basis, load it into cane baskets or metal troughs, and carry it away on their heads for disposal at the outskirts of the settlement. India’s central government since independence in 1947 has adopted legislative and policy efforts to end manual scavenging. In recent years these include commitments to modernize sanitation so there is no further need for manual disposal of feces, and prohibitions on engaging anyone to do this work.

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Authorities’ subdued response to demand to end manual scavenging in Dudhrej, a small town in Surendranagar district, Gujarat

Evidence of manual scavenging in Dudhrej

Evidence of manual scavenging in Dudhrej

By Natubhai Parmar*

Dudhrej municipality in Surendranagar district of Gujarat is in news for quite some time following strong protests by contract workers against the despicable practice of manual scavenging. Organized under the Safai Kamdar Hakk Rakshak Samiti, which is supported by Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, on August 14, 2014 they took out a rally in Surendraganar against the way the municipal authorities treat them while on work, and are forced to manually clean up human excreta despite the law banning it. Following the rally, the Samiti submitted a list of demands to the district collector, which included end to the contract system and implementation of the law that prohibits manual scavenging. The Samiti received a reply from the chief officer, municipality, to the memorandum. Following is the Samiti’s reaction to the municipal authorities’ reply: Read more of this post

High time SC subplan guidelines are legislated to ensure due share of financial resources reach the schedule castes

dalit budget2By Mahender Jethmalani*

The Scheduled Castes (SCs) are one of the most vulnerable groups and are seen as low castes in the social strata, since the Hindu social order is a caste hierarchical order. Historically, the SCs have been denied access and right to productive resources like land, forests, capital and other community resources. Further, the prevalence of caste based discrimination and the practice of untouchability against the SCs hinder their access to basic minimum facilities like education, health care, drinking water etc, thus weakening their socio-economic prosperity over the period.

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Gandhiji believed in removal of untouchability within the caste system, but was a believer in the caste system itself


Gandhiji interacting with Dalits in his ashram

By Nandini Oza*

Delivering her Mahatma Ayyankali memorial lecture at the Kerala University on July 17, among other things, Arundhati Roy spoke about Gandhiji and his views on  Varnashram  (caste system), and based on this, she asked a few uncomfortable questions (click HERE to read). Many people have also asked me what my stand on the subject is. Though I cannot claim to be a scholar on Gandhian thoughts and work, I can say that I have read Gandhiji’s own writings as well as the writings of his close aides and secretaries like Mahadevbhai Desai, Indulal Yagnik (all in Gujarati). I have come across a few references in Mahadevbhai Desai’s diary which make the views of Gandhiji regarding Varnashram Dharma/the caste system clear. From some of these writings, I can say that there is no ambiguity in Gandhiji’s belief in the Varnashram Dharma (caste system). Gandhiji believed in removal of untouchability within the caste system, but was a believer in the caste system itself.

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