Manav Garima Trust (MGT), a grassroots organization in Ahmedabad working among Gujarat’s Valmiki community, has put forward a list of 18 demands to be included in the electoral manifestos of political parties fighting assembly elections in Gujarat. Signed by Parsottam Vaghela, director, MGT, text of the letter listing the demands:
In Gujarat the total population of Valmiki people in villages and cities is 11 lakh. Equally discriminated communities, which live in similar conditions, are Hadi, Nadi, Turi, Targala, Sadhu, Bawa, Senwa, Barot and Nadiya. Their population is 3 lakh. We have following demands to make in order to ensure that the Valmikis and similar other neglected communities, who have been traditionally treated as untouchables, are able to compete with other communities of Gujarat:
- The homeless Valmiki families, along with other deprived sections, should be given free houses after doing a complete total survey. Each family should be given a house in accordance with its size. Wherever possible, in villages and towns, plots of land should be given to the Valmiki families for constructing houses.
- All safai kamdars, whether working in government or private sector, should be given kits, including mask, apron, gumboot, uniform and proper cleaning equipment for their work. Women manual scavengers are made to push heavy hand carriages made of iron tin for taking filth from one place to another. They should be provided with lighter carriages.
- All safai karmdars’ families, whether in government or private sector, should be given life insurance, accident and health insurance. The life insurance amount be Rs 10 for each kamdar. Each kamdar should be able to get free treatment in government hospitals. Many of those working in gutters suffer from TB.
- The contract system for safai kamdars should be ended, whether in government or private sector, including police, primary health centres, community health centres, companies, factories, societies, hotels, etc. They should be given permanent jobs. Many of them work for just Rs 400-500 per month, 365 days a year. They are treated as temporary workers. Those who have passed class 12th should be given promotion in government or private service, as the case may be.
- There is a big problem for Valmikis and other deprived communities living in rural areas to get their bodies cremated. They are not allowed to do it on common cremation grounds by the dominant caste people. In each of the villages, where Valmikis live, they should be provided with special cremation grounds with all necessary infrastructure, including shed, wood, electrical or gas cremation facility, etc.
- Landless agricultural workers belonging to Valmiki and other deprived community should be given two acres land each after doing survey. At several places, the allocated land is uncultivable. The government should provide Rs 50,000 per year for making it cultivable. Also, there should be a survey of the Valmikis of those who were given land on paper during the land reforms days, but did not get its possession, as the dominant caste people illegally occupied it. They should be returned this land.
- The manual scavenging abolition Act of 2013 is not being implemented in Gujarat. As many as 48,000 people still work as manual scavengers, cleaning up dry latrines in rural and urban areas. This should stop forthwith. Also, Valmikis are forced to dispose of the dead animals such as dogs, cats, donkeys; not just this, if some human being dies of accident, then Valmikis alone are called for picking up the dead. This creates unprecedented health hazards for those who are forced to do the work. This should stop and those who do this work should be rehabilitated.
- Mainly Valmikis are forced to clean up pay-and-use toilets in cities, that too without any equipment. No water or other safety equipment is provided for this. This should stop.
- Currently, mainly Valmikis work as manhole workers, and none of them are given any equipment. This practice should be stopped forthwith. As many as 165 people have died in Gujarat because of asphyxiation since early 1990s on being forced to enter into gutters. There should be special training institutes, like for the fire brigade personnel, for those who are made to enter into gutters for the cleaning job.
- The children of the manual scavengers and gutter workers should be rehabilitated in every possible way, so that they do not continue doing the hereditary work.
- The police should immediately file non-bailable criminal offense against those contractors, whether of government or private, who force the gutter workers to enter into manholes.
- In government hospitals, during the post mortem of those who die in suspicious circumstances, Valmikis and other deprived sections are forced to cut and take out body parts for the doctors. Many of the bodies are found after several days, they profusely smell. The post mortem job is that of the doctors. This practice should stop immediately.
- All cities and villages should have Valmiki community halls, zonewise in cities and one amidst 10 villages. These halls could serve for not just community celebrations but also help in providing education and training to the Valmikis and other deprived communities.
- In a large number of villages, the Valmikis’ and other deprived communities’ houses do not have any power and water connections. This should be provided with forthwith. In some villages, the wells used by the Valmikis are in poor state, and are unusable for drinking water. These should be repaired.
- 12th pass Valmiki and other deprives communities’ youths should be provided with government jobs and special reservation should be provided for this. This should be done by passing an Act of the state legislature.
- Minimum wages should be increased for the Valmikis and other deprived communities, and all those who are below the poverty should be given BPL or Antyodaya cards, as the case may be.
- The debt on the Valmikis and other deprived communities valuing more than Rs 5 lakh per family should be waived, whether taken from government or private sector.
- All those families who migrate from rural areas to towns and begin living in slum areas are not provided with any housing. Those who are settled for 10 years in slums should be provided free houses on the basis of two documents. Currently, the government demands documents which are often 20 or 30 years. And those who are living in slums should be provided with necessary temporary housing facilities along with basic infrastructure facilities like water, power, toilet etc. They should not be forced out of the slums till alternative houses are given.