A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi washed the feet of five sanitation workers at Prayagraj, hundreds of sanitation workers gathered on Parliament Street under the banner of the Aadi Dharm Samaaj to slam his government’s failure to take concrete steps to end manual scavenging and better the lives of sanitation workers.
“What is the point of washing feet when his government has failed to stop those feet from entering sewers? When it has failed to give even one paisa in compensation to those who have died in the sewers?” asked Darshan Rattan Ravan, the leader of the group.
He was also scathing about Mr. Modi’s earlier justification of manual scavenging as a “spiritual experience” for the Valmiki community. “If people can attain moksha for entering the sewers, why go on a pilgrimage? This is the way to misguide illiterate people,” he added.
The Aadi Dharma Samaaj calls itself a spiritual, cultural and educational movement. People at the Jantar Mantar protest venue waved blue flags and wore bead necklaces hung with Valmiki medallions. Their focus is to rehabilitate the safai karamchari community through training for alternative professions, fighting drug addiction and illiteracy, and promoting education, especially for the girl child.
Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, who addressed the protesters, laid out their demands to political parties. “All manifestos for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls must include the promise to implement the Supreme Court’s orders and the anti-manual scavenging laws, to end all human entry into sewers within one year, to regularise all sanitation jobs by ending contract work in the sector within five years and to develop a national consensus on sub quotas for the castes engaged in such work,” said Mr. Yadav.
Mr. Ravan drew a parallel between soldiers and sanitation workers. “When the Pulwama attack happens, it draws attention because soldiers died. Why is there not the same kind of attention when our people die in the sewers every day? They are also frontline workers, in dangerous places,” he said. “Like there is a budget for Sainik schools to educate the children of soldiers, there should be a budget to educate the children of safai karamchari as well.”