By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
It was early morning and our beautiful residence at the heart of Kumbha was engulfed in absolute fog yet most of us could finis our routine work in the morning because the facilities at the place. There were beautiful cottages which attracted every one and it was an experience for life time. Enough water was flowing and no dearth of taps, toilets in one ‘Pandal’. The stay of Humanise Yatra in the Kumbha was made possible through a friend as it was a Pandal owned by a nationalized Bank. Some social action groups had placed their banner in the Pandal.
The fog was slowing disappearing as the sun was about to peep and those who make the Kumbha clean and live able were on the street. I saw two women, a child and a man with their brooms in our ‘campuses. They came close to our vehicle parked inside and saw something written against Untouchability and caste discrimination. I could realize this and went to him. ‘I am Manoj and hail from Kaushambi. I am working here with all my family members, my wife, brother, sister etc. for the past three months. There are over 7000 daily wage Safai Karmcharis in the Kumbha. They have got no rights to leave, medical and any other compensation which is reserved for the other employees. The working hours are much more than that for an ordinary employee. They get Rs 156 per day for this work. We had a strike several days back but our demands are not met by the administration’, he said.
Suman, sister of Manoj is an absolute illiterate and has come along with him. ‘Why have you come to clean here? Didn’t you get any other job? Manoj and Suman are children of a landless parents who suffered deep because the origin of their birth. Even the MNREGA work is not available to us, he says as it has never come to us for stated 120 days in a year. Kumbha fair has offered them opportunity to earn some money and hence they came here. The painful thing is that Manoj’s bhabhi is also working as a sanitation worker along with her small child. The duty starts at early morning 4 am and end up 11 mornings for the first shift. In the second shift too they are supposed to work after 2 pm till 5 pm.
Suddenly Manoj and his family members come and want to shake hand with us. Each of the Humanize India Team members shakes hand with them. It is surprising for me as why has this happened but then we further probe Manoj about the condition of Safai Karmcharis and Doms. Slowly, he opens up and starts narrating the plight. ‘Sir, we face daily humiliation here. People keep aside from us and do not want to get touched to us when we visit their cottages to clean’, he says. And when he is out with us and raising slogan, he says, ‘Sir, you see, I came to touch you and shake hand with each one of you because Tiwariji wanted me to do so. He wanted to know whether we are fake activists or real’. I say, do you know that a majority of youngsters that you are witnessing here belong to your community. He is shocked beyond belief that his community girls are playing lead role. Too petty, for us to respond to such small questions which are realities in India and has shook it. When he was going out, Tiwari again said something to him perhaps fearing that we are trying to ‘instigate them’. But the caste forces are always there to thwart the movements which are a challenge to their dominance and power.
We decide to move towards the Balmiki camp near Sector 10 to see the situation there. The tents are smaller and no water facility. There is no toilet as they have to go out. Perhaps, it was felt that these people do not need toilets and can very much go in general toilets. The conditions of the families are disturbing to say the least. It can bring tear to your eyes. Most of the people are coming from different regions of the state. There is no electricity in the camp as if these people do not deserve it. How is it that just in front of the camp, we see again beautiful cottages meant for others but not here? Is the caste system working in Kumbha. Yes, it is a fact that most of the Safai Karmcharis hail from Balmiki, Dom and other most marginalized Dalit communities.
We speak to the families and see their living conditions. They are horrible and inhuman to say the least and are an understatement. It is chilly winter and the nights are chiller on the Ganges. There are children and old people. In small huts, we find, 10 people living. No toilets and without electricity, it is clear that India discriminate and officially practice untouchability. It is shameful that on the one side, our government, its media are talking high about the Kumbha and our spiritual culture and at the same time, at the same Kumbha, we have the horrible conditions of the Dalits who are denied basic human rights of living with dignity and honor.
Our horrors have not ended with one visit. Just moving inside the tents, we find left over food being dried up in the sun. They are left over Chapatis, rice etc. For one moment, I feel as if this is meant for the animals but then realize that there are no animals here. All these people living in the camps come from different districts of Uttar-Pradesh. Many of them are old and are doing this work in utter misery. Others complained that they are not getting their dues on time and hence it is possible that this is kept to eat after grinding the dried product. I do not probe further as India stand exposed and its constitution for the powerful people. Many people might have heard the stories about the hunger issue but here we were seeing the hunger amidst plenty. We are told that the Pandals are serving food to their ‘followers’ yet it is clear that the Balmikis and Doms cannot even have that. The camps for Balmikis and Doms are at the end without out any basic amenities. The doms take care of the ghats at the Ganga and are untouchables even today. The Balmikis have to keep the Kumbha clean without seeking relief for their issues.
As we moved to another Balmiki Basti in the Kumbha, I encounter a woman from Meerut and again she narrates the same issue of how administration has not done enough for their living condition. People here are from Sonbhdra, Deoria, Kaushambi, Banda, Bijnaur etc. Here the condition inside the camp is worse than the previous one. There is no tap water and inside the camps we see filth around. They are too close to catch fire and women are cooking in open with children roaming around aimlessly. The filth has shown how India wants its untouchables to live.
In the Kumbha there are banner about India, about Hinduism and how it is endangered. There are congregation and Samagams of Saints and ‘scholars’. There is campaign for ‘saving the girl child’. There is campaign to save ‘Ganga’ but there is no movement not even a mention of untouchability and caste discrimination even when it is being practiced daily and we have seen the situation how there is no dearth of money for religious dogmas. There are immediate medical attention for the ‘devotees’ but no hospital, no health insurance for those who make our cities clean and are taking care of Kumbha and its cleanliness daily. The talks of ‘sarve bhavantu sukhinah’ are farcical as it does not really include the untouchables.
Millions of people are bathing in the Ganges and washing their ‘sins’. Right from politicians to ‘spiritual leaders’, film stars, business tycoons, all have bathed and washed their dirty linen in Ganges. It is a dying river as it cannot tolerate the dirt of our mind and body. India’s sin will never wash with such hypocrisies when its own people suffer in humiliation. India remains a racist social order where caste discrimination and untouchability persist at every nook and corner of our society including its religious congregations. Kumbha fair is nothing but strengthening the age old caste system and hegemony of those in power. It is tragic that the political parties themselves have not taken the issue seriously. We are discussing everything under the son except untouchability. The country is still waiting stringent laws against untouchability and manual scavenging as the Parliament has not yet given it a serious thought. Practicing Untouchability must be made crime against Humanity and punishment must be high for the same. The people need to change their mindset and attitude only then we would be able to call Indian a country of civilized people.