10000 KM yatra to liberate 1.2 million people from the caste ridden practice of manual scavenging

By TCN Staff Reporter,

Bhopal: Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (national dignity movement), a movement started in 2002 to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging is being today spread across 100 districts mainly concentrated in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra and till now liberated 11,000 Dalit women forced into inhuman profession.

Now RGA is taking out a yatra of those 11,000 liberated Dalit women mainly from Valmiki caste to educate their counterparts in other states and counsel them to quit the profession. The yatra named Maila Mukti Yatra is being flagged off from Bhopal by Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on December 1 and will march across 10,000 kilometers covering 200 districts in 18 states and will finally end in Delhi.

Flagging off the Yatra by the Liberated women and other guests

Apart from enlightening the manual scavengers, the main aim of the yatra is to push for a strong law to curb manual scavenging. The already existing law, the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 has done nothing, not even a single conviction in 19 years period.

Even Indian Railways employ manual scavengers. A new bill may be passed in the Loksabha this year to eradicate the work and it is in the consideration of standing committee. But the activists taking out yatra believe that bill like its predecessor is not strong enough to curb the centuries old menace.
According to convener of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan Asif Sheikh, the good aspect about the new bill is that it provides broad definition of manual scavenging. According to Sheikh who is in the movement to eradicate this hazard since 2000, manual scavengers clean dry toilets, human and animal wastes and nearly 1.2 million Dalits are forced to perform this filthy job.
Sheikh said that this is the most heinous part of the caste system which literally creates bonded labour and slaves. It is ‘caste slavery,’ he said. But according to Sheikh this problem is not limited to particular religion. Muslim Dalits called Halakhaur are also forced to work as manual scavengers.

Burning the Baskets during the inauguration of the Yatra

Sheikh who was also the part of the study conducted in 2000 by National Human Rights Commission ‘Study on untouchability in rural India’ said that manual scavengers face worst kind of untouchability in the society, even within the Muslim community.

He said the worst part is, “caste ridden society doesn’t allow them to leave or abandon the profession. We have seen many instances in our work where Dalit women who left this outrageous work or refused to perform it were socially boycotted and threaten by village leaders.”

But now trend seems to be changing with 11,000 women out from their homes taking a caravan to educate other Dalit women about their rights. They, however, still need recognition from the state government to accept that this inhuman practice exists in their states, and a strong law which will help them to fight for their rights.

Women at the inauguration of the Yatra

RGA convener said that during the tour of 18 states those liberated women delegation will meet the chief secretaries of respective states and urge them to recognize the existence of the filthy practice and to implement the planned law to stop it.

After covering 10,000 km, when the yatra finally reaches Delhi, the delegation of Maila Mukti yatra and Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan will meet the standing committee members to give their respective suggestions from their vast experience of work, to make productive changes in the proposed law to eradicate manual scavenging.