An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Thursday, 21 October 2010

India's manual scavengers

The UK's foreign aid budget is to be ring-fenced prompting questions over why charity doesn't begin at home? Ought we to be donating to countries like India and China who are world super economies when there are needy people at home? I attended the Christian Aid event in London on tackling poverty and heard the most appalling story of how some in India make ends meet. It is as follows:

With the world's eyes on the Commonwealth Games, one Christian Aid partner has used the attention to highlight the continued but outlawed and degrading practice of manual scavenging in India - where mainly dalit women clean 'dry' latrines using nothing but a basket and broom. It's an occupation carried out by dalits (formerly untouchables) in which safai karmacharis, as manual scavengers are known, clean out human excreta from wealthy households' latrines - toilets that are not connected to the sewage system and are therefore not flushable.A manual scavenger cleaning out a latrineThis degrading practice is traditionally imposed upon certain dalit sub-caste groups, especially the women, with the result that 82% of manual scavengers are female.These women are forced to work in unthinkable conditions, humiliated and discriminated against.But another shocking scandal of this story is that this practice continues despite the fact that it was outlawed in 1993. Today, tens of thousands of manual scavengers are still cleaning out other people’s loos by hand with a small brush and basket. Why? `Because local state authorities seem to tacitly agree with the casteist ideology that assigns unclean occupations to dalits claiming that safai karmacharis are content with their work,’ says a spokesperson from Safai Karmachari Andolon (SKA), a movement supported by Christian Aid.Today, tens of thousands of manual scavengers are still cleaning out other people’s loos by hand with a small brush and basket. To coincide with the Commonwealth Games, SKA is organising a series of rallies throughout October to demand that the government enforces the 1993 law, including provision of relief and dignified livelihoods for those liberated from this inhumane practice. ‘India has invested lots of money in hosting the Commonwealth Games in Delhi,’ says Anand Kumar, Christian Aid’s India representative. `In order to meet the games deadlines it has spent millions of rupees and worked through the nights to make Delhi ready to host the events. ‘But India should also show greater commitment to eradicating the practice of manual scavenging and helping to rehabilitate manual scavengers so they can establish dignified livelihoods.’ SKA’s buses will pass through 20 states on the campaign trail before descending on New Delhi for a mass rally towards the end of October. Liberated safai karmacharis will speak at the events and ceremoniously burn the baskets they once used as manual scavengers in a bid to empower others to stop doing this degrading work. Christian Aid has supported the SKA campaign from the outset as part of its wider programme to address the root causes of poverty in India – namely discrimination and exclusion of people because of who they are: because of their caste, ethnicity, religion, gender or disability.
This is why we need to continue giving Aid to India because it is a country that has no regard for the poverty that exists on its' land. I firmly believe that we are impoverished by the poverty of others no matter where they live.

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