Bhasha Singh’s book is a painful reminder of the daily struggles of an outcast community
Nearly 1,97,25,376 manual scavengers exist in 29 states of India according to the 2001 Census and precious little is being done to eradicate the cleaning and carrying of “night soil.” Journalist Bhasha Singh’s book is a painful reminder of the daily struggles of this outcast community. She begins her book from Kashmir where she visits Kulgam, Shopian and Kupwara in her quest to meet and document the lives of manual scavengers. In Kulgam, the Sheikh mohalla has 20 houses and a school. People speak of the day and night torture to clean toilets, especially in military camps where it’s round the clock duty. And mostly men do the job in Kulgam unlike in other parts of the country where women are stuck with manual scavenging.
The poor sanitation system in most of Kashmir increases the work for this hapless community which is rather diffident about going vocal with its problems in the light of other crucial political demands. Young men, some as young as 17, drop out of school to join their fathers in cleaning toilets. Most of them are caught between the need for daily wages, the turmoil in the State and the fear of bullets. Hovering below the demand for Azadi is the silent suffering of this community about whom not much is written or talked about and who live in filthy conditions and are stigmatized to boot. Bhasha tells the story of young Sara who agreed to get married but not before asking what the profession of the future husband was. He was mercifully a tailor. In Kupwara she meets Rafika a young mother who cleans toilets in the sub district hospital for a princely Rs.100 a month. Ironically she works for this salary in the hope that one day she will be made a permanent government servant!
From Kashmir to Karnataka, the book exposes the sordid lives of manual scavengers in 11 states and how the Supreme Court despite so much documentation did not issue any clear instructions to end it. It also exposes the spinelessness of governments at all levels which stand by and watch while men and women spend their lives embroiled in a barbaric custom, which can be put to an end quite simply.