- Subhash Gatade
Rarely does Jantar-Mantar, the place in the heart of Delhi, gets ‘enlivened’ with people who share very similar type of tragedy - one should say man made tragedy. The culmination of 125 day Bhim Yatra - led by Safai Karmchari Aandolan - which had started from Dibrugarh in the North East on 10 th December and had traversed around 500 districts and 30 states, proved to be one such occasion. (13 th April 2016)
The big public meeting organised at Jantar Mantar, attended by hundreds of safai karmcharis from different parts of the country and many individuals, activists who are sympathetic to their cause, was just another way to celebrate Dr Ambedkar’s 125 th birth anniversary, a day earlier. Special focus of the Yatra was on deaths in sewers and septic tanks and the key slogan was ‘Stop Killing us in Dry Latrines, Sewers and Septic tanks’. In fact, most of the people who were sitting on the podium belonged to such families only, who had lost their near-dear ones in cleaning sewer or septic tanks
Sunayana ( age 9 years) who lives with her grandparents these days in Lucknow, had lost her father in similar ‘accident’ and her mother also died due to shock within few days of her father’s death. There was Rahul ( aged 13 years) from Tamil Nadu who had lost his father merely a week back and was inconsolable on stage also. Pinki ( aged 35 year) from Varanasi, a mother of two kids was one of the most articulate among those who had gathered there. She had lost her husband three years back and was emphatic that ‘we are not here for compensation.’ We are part of this caravan now and ‘want that nobody should face similar tragedies hereafter.’ Kartar ( Delhi) still could recount how his son was called by his contractor when a fellow worker had already died cleaning the sewer. According to him the contractor rather forced him to descend into the sewer and take out fellow workers body and in the process his son also inhaled poisonous gases and died on the spot.
Everybody had a heartrending story to tell. Many like Santosh just could not even utter a word as it was no narrating an experience but ‘reliving’ the whole episode and its aftermath.
A query rather resonated all these presentations: How long their sons/husbands will have to die cleaning other people’s waste and excreta in a country which boasts of sending satellites into space. How does one explain allotment of thousands of crores of Rs for drainage and sewerage work, so much money being spent on laying/relaying pipes and drains that are designed to kill? Is it because ours is a society where Varna mind-set still dominates, and that’s why a human friendly system of garbage and sewage management has still not been conceived as planners rely on ‘expendable dalit labour’.