Former conservancy workers ecstatic about mingling with seers

Breaking the shackles of tradition, around 100 women — formerly engaged in manual scavenging — on Thursday took a dip in the holy Sangam and later joined seers in performing rituals at the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela.

The women, from Rajasthan’s Alwar and Tonk districts, walked in procession to the Sangam with around 150 priests and seers, before dining with them at an akhara.

Rama Devi, 60, who was liberated in 2008 after having been engaged in manual scavenging for around 50 years, said she had a feeling of salvation after receiving blessings from the seers. “Our minds were forced to believe that God made us like this, do this work [manual scavenging]. We are hopeful that things will change. It’s like we have got mukti after this. We never thought this was possible.”

The youngest of the lot, 19-year-old Tulsi, was overjoyed after a dip. “Not even in my dreams had I imagined that we would get an opportunity like this one day. I would often look at all boys and girls going to school and wonder why I was not doing the same. But this was something we never expected.”

Tulsi travelled to Allahabad from Tonk with her mother Sampat, who hopes to get her daughter married, but in an area where manual scavenging is not practised. “I was so much in awe at the way the priests behaved with us and respected us,” said Sampat, who now stitches clothes for a living.

Sulabh International, a social service organisation that rehabilitates manual scavengers, facilitated the event in organisation with Swami Anand Giri of Bagambari Gaddi.

After providing these women with educational and vocational training, this was an effort to bring them back into mainstream society, said Sulabh founder Bindeshwar Pathak. “The Sangam, as an epitome of equality, is where all castes and people can come together to break the chains of a tradition that has lasted ages,” he said.

Swami Anand Giri expressed the hope that the occasion would send a message to society for ending all forms of untouchability. Seers Mahamandaleshwar Gahanand Maharaj of Anandi Akhara, Maharaj Gajanand Maharaj and Jagdishwarji of Niranjani Akhara were present.

Later in the day, the women visited the various akharas and performed rituals at the Bade Hanuman Temple, located under Akbar’s Fort.