The National Maila Mukti Yatra, undertaken by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (RGA), reached Mumbai on Monday after travelling through 10 States, giving a nationwide call for total eradication of manual scavenging practice from India.
The Yatra began from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh has covered several States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It will culminate on January 31 in New Delhi.
“We planned this yatra to expose government’s false claims of eradication of manual scavenging. It is still prevalent in our country and nearly 14 lakh people, all Dalits, are involved in it. A country which claims to be on the path of prosperity and is manufacturing missiles for war, should be ashamed of this practice of manual scavenging,” said Ashif Sheikh, one of the organisers of yatra, at the press conference held in Mumbai. He said that, it is not the problem of a particular community but the practice of manual scavenging is shameful for entire country.
He blamed the politicians for not addressing the issue seriously, since the affected class does not form a big vote bank. “We went to Soniaji’s constituency and even in Sushmaji’s too. In spite of being their constituencies, nothing has been changed. The manual scavenging is still prevalent. Uttar Pradesh had a Dalit chief minister for five years, but she could not stop manual scavenging,” he said.
Even Maharashtra faces the similar problem. According to the 2011 census, there are 2,14,475 dry latrines exist in the State. “Those dry latrines are cleaned by Dalits,” said Mr. Sheikh. He added that, in Gujarat where Mahatma Gandhi initiated ‘Bhangi Mukti Andolan’ in 1901, the practice is still on and in spite of development of the State, it hasn’t stopped. The yatra will enter Gujarat on Tuesday.
A number of Dalit and Muslim women, who have left the work of manual scavenging work were present have accompanied the yatra.
“What we were doing for generation, made us untouchable. There was no honour and respect. I made it sure that no one from my family get in to this disgusting work. We work as a labourer in fields or on construction site and earn money. But we will never go back to scavenging,” said Chhoti Bai of Rajsthan.
For Lali Bai of Madhya Pradesh, breaking away from the ‘business of generation’ was a biggest challenge. “My husband asked me to leave our home after I decided not to do the work. I was living separately for three years, until I came back. Later, people from upper caste tried to harm my honour by calling me names. I was threatened with social boycott and my house was even torched,” she said. “But I told them, I will never ever take up this profession. Do what you want to do,” she said.