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Bezwada Wilson
The Dalit Voice

He cleaned up the system

By Bezwada Wilson

After completing school in Karnataka’s Kolar district in 1986, Bezwada Wilson decided to briefly teach children in his sweepers’ colony. He found that there was a high drop-out rate among the students. Why did you dropout? “Our parents are alcoholic, they don’t want to send us to school.” He asked the parents: “Why do you drink day and night and not spend on your children’s education?” “We drink because our work is such.” “What is your work?” “Cleaning toilets.” “But why does it make you drink?” “Our working conditions are bad.”

   
The Marxists just wanted to use them strew human excreta outside the houses of those who didn’t join the strikes
Wilson wanted to go see the working conditions, but they won’t let him. He followed them on the sly and found them picking up human excreta from dry latrines and putting them in buckets. One karmachari’s bucket fell into a pit of human excreta and he put his hands in there to pick up the bucket. Wilson pushed him back: “what are you doing? Let me do my job,” came the reply. “That day I cried for the first time,” says Bezwada. Wilson told his retired parents about it. “This is what your parents did all their lives,” they told him. That day, his life changed, and so it did for the lakhs of manual scavengers all over India. The people in his colony were employed by Bharat Gold Mines Public Ltd. Kolar had India’s first labour union for the scavengers, but the Marxists just wanted to use them to have a bucket of human excreta strewn outside the house of those who didn’t join the strikes. The excreta then had to be cleared by them later.

They did not want him to make this an issue, as they did this secretly, calling themselves sweepers. Bezwada got someone to write a letter to the Bharat Mines officials on the issue but they denied having any dry latrines. He sent the pictures to them along with the prime minister and dalit mps too. In 1993, because of international pressure, India had outlawed manual scavenging, but here was proof that it still existed. The Centre got the Bharat Mines to demolish them. The scavengers were taken into other jobs.

Wilson then moved to Andhra, where he found that municipal corporations had employed 8,340 karmacharis in 16,380 community latrines in the state. Lobbying with dalit mlas, Bezwada got the government to demolish most of them, but many still exist. Bezwada’s Safai Karamchari Andolan went on a 45-day-long yatra in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, demolishing the dry latrines, which the state government said, didn’t exist. At the Nizamabad court complex, the court intervened when they were demolishing the toilet. They stopped only after getting it in writing about the dry latrine and then copy of the letter was sent to the Supreme Court (sc) as part of the pil. The sc had it demolished in 24 hours.

The sc has asked every municipality in the country to file a report about the status of manual scavengers under them. So what’s new? They are all denying it. “The struggle against the lies of the caste system is long,” says Bezwada Wilson, “but Ambedkar’s ideology will liberate us.”

Shivam Vij

Oct 07 , 2006
 

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