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Giving Up Manual Scavenging To Live A Life Of Dignity And Respect

Giving Up Manual Scavenging To Live A Life Of Dignity And Respect
Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh: Manual scavenging, one of the most dehumanising occupations of India that survives till data as a symbol of untouchability, despite the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 that makes this practice a criminal offence.  Even today in India, over 12,000 people have been identified who still manually handle, clean and dispose human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. 82% of them are in Uttar Pradesh, instances of the practice can be found in other states as well. Like Bhagwanta Bai, a resident of village Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, who was forced into becoming a manual scavenger by her own family.

My parents married me off at a very early age. When I came to live with my husband, my mother-in-law forced me into the family profession of manual scavenging. I had never done it before this.

Unable to break-free from her family's pressure, she unwillingly compiled. "For days, I would not eat because I felt dirty and nauseous. But in time, I got used to it" she said.

An occupation stinking of discrimination the practice occurs under the umbrella of India's primitive yet strongly prevalent caste system. Given the unhygienic conditions under which manual scavengers are forced to work it caused deaths of many helpless souls. It is in this light of that the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013 was enacted but it still awaits strict enforcement as the age-old social prejudice still keeps the practice alive.

"I felt demeaned," said Bhagwanta Bai. "We were considered untouchables. We weren't even allowed in temples." For her the real hit came when her young children began facing the brunt of their parent's profession. "Our children were not allowed to drink water from public taps. Their teachers caned them unnecessarily. They were even deprived of their mid-day meals in school," she said. While other children received their full meals in school, her children would only be served a roti. They fought their hunger with water.

Jan Sahas, an NGO working towards liberating and rehabilitating poor villagers in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, have rescued many women who faced social retaliation and boycott. When Jan Sahas joined hands with Usha International, they made the Usha Silai School accessible for these women. Deepak Gehlot, Programme Coordinator, Jan Sahas NGO said,

We are fighting for equality and dignity for manual scavengers. They should not be looked down upon and treated as untouchables instead they should be given equal rights and respect.

Breaking the shackles of manual scavenging, Usha Silai School enrolled Bhagwanta Bai for a 7-day training for sewing and embroidery. The initiative that trains women to not just sew but also to start teaching and earn a livelihood from it, has helped women in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

"I was in the training programme for seven days, and nobody treated me differently" she said. "Life has slowly changed since then." said Sugan Bai, Bhagwanta Bai's mother in-law.

I was a manual scavenger for many years. My mother-in-law was one too. She would say that this is our traditional profession. I told my daughter-in-law that I would run the house for a week while she goes for the Usha training.

After completing the training, Bhagwanta Bai started her own tailoring service. Now she receives orders from even those who had shunned her family in the village. "They don't treat me as they did before. They sit with me and talk about work" she said. Today, Sugan feels proud of her daughter in-law's empowerment and the legacy she is building for the future generation of their family.

"I was not forced to be a manual scavenger. But my husband was and he faced brutal discrimination because of it," said Deepa, Bhagwanta Bai's daughter in-law. Since, she doesn't want her children to grow up and follow their father's footsteps, she too is considering to start a small business of her own.

Living in the same village is Anusuya, whose parents, too, are manual scavengers. Fearing her destiny has the same in store for her, she rebelled. "After marriage, when my in-laws asked me to become a manual scavenger, I refused" she said. "When they forced me, I went back to my parents."

Refusing to join her husband's profession and carry the muck of toilets on her head, she was abandoned by her in-laws, forcing her children to live with her. Luckily for her, her husband joined her decision and quit the profession, too. "When I quit manual scavenging, my wife supported me so much. I am so grateful to her" said Raju, Anusuya's husband.

When she was approached by Udaan, an NGO working to resolve issues related to women and young girls, their health and society status, she took up their offer to enroll herself for Usha Silai School's training. "With the help of my wife's silai business we are able to provide a better future to our children" said Anusuya's husband.
 
Today, both Bhagwanta Bai and Anusuya have paved the way for other women still living as manual scavengers to choose a new way of life. They have risen out the shadows of their past and made a life that stands as a shining example of what can be achieved if hard work is backed by a strong will.

 

Also Read: Fear And Pain Of Nithari Case Is Still Present In The Minds Of The People Here: Rubina Begum

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Do you want to be a part of the huge change that Usha Silai School is bringing about in the lives of millions of rural women? With just a simple click of a button, you can now contribute towards the opening of an Usha Silai School or support various other aspects of the school.

About the Initiative

About the Initiative

Kushalta Ke Kadam, an initiative by NDTV and USHA, aims at empowering women from rural India and encourages them to become entrepreneurs by taking up sewing and training others in their respective communities. Since 2011 Usha Silai Campaign has trained more than 3.95 lakh rural women within five years, with 17,000 Silai schools, spanning over 9272 Indian villages in India.

 

Kushalta Ke Kadam in Season 4 has returned with new goals and vision. The new season will witness the establishment of the new cluster in Kashmir, apart from the existing four clusters setup last year. The women from volatile Kashmir will work with well-known fashion designer Rohit Bal and get an unique opportunity to learn from him and make clothes for him. The work done by the Silai School women will be presented at Lakme Fashion week 2019.

 

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In Pics

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching
Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Rebari girls grow up learning traditional embroidery, which along with their new found sewing skills developed at Usha Silai Schools, is helping them earn a living.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School has empowered many rural women to support their family and send their children to school.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The Usha Silai School, established in a small nondescript village that goes by the name of Kottai, is helping empower people from varied communities.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The all-inclusive Usha Silai School Programme covers the entire nation from hamlets tucked between hills to villages cast by the sea.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Vegetables farmers from the Mizoram hills earn very little given the topography of the area. Usha Silai Schools have played an important part in this region by skilling women to financially contribute towards their households.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School learner Lucy has trained seven other women in her community, helping them to become financially independent.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Women like Kaviben from the nomadic Rebari community are finally laying down their roots as they begin to gain financial independence and thereby stability through Usha Silai School.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, located in the Gujarat's Bhuj village, is enabling rural women to earn as much as Rs. 2,500-4,000 each month.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, in association with a Gujarat based NGO called Kala Raksha, is trying to bring about a Silai revolution in Bhuj.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Besides training other women from their community, many Usha Silai School learners have become entrepreneurs in their own right.

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With sewing becoming easily accessible and lucrative, the silai schools are also helping revive traditional motifs and designs.

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