We, the safaikaramcharis, have launched a country wide yatra – The Bhim Yatra, a journey of pain and anguish, to tell the country and the government to ‘STOP KILLING US’ in dry latrines, sewers and septic tanks. The Bhim Yatra will criss-cross across the country for 125 days in 500 districts in 30 states from 10th December 2015 and end in Delhi on 13th April 2016, on the eve of the 125th birth centenary of our great leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Our honourable parliamentarians are “celebrating” while millions of us across the country are being forced into manual scavenging and sewer holes to die. We have been denied the right to dignity in both life and death.
Why, The Bhim Yatra ?
Since 1982 we have been raising our voice against this violence and discrimination. We organised, mobilised and campaigned against this atrocity and for the demolition of the dry latrines, the visible structures of the inhuman caste system and its link with this dehumanising occupation.
In 1993 the parliament passed the “The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act 1993, with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000. This law was never implemented and no convictions were made during the 20 years it was in force. The government made many false promises to eliminate this heinous practice. Nothing happened. We consistently exposed the lies and hypocrisy of the government surveys and schemes. In 2000 when the government counted only 679,000 manual scavengers, we came out with 1.3 million in randomly selected states and districts. The Prime Minister and chief ministers made token statements of setting deadlines. 1995, then 2000, then 2003, then 2005, then 2010, and then 2012… Nothing changed!
In 2003 we filed the Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court. There was an ironical pattern in the government responses. First, a total denial of existence of manual scavenging, next partial admission when we produced photographic evidence and finally, faking compliance by dubiously destroying only those places, presented in our evidence.
In 2007, with the solidarity and support of civil society groups and public leaders, we launched the Action 2010 campaign to end manual scavenging by December 2010. Nothing moved. So we started out on the historical bus yatra in October 2010. This Samajik Parivartan Yatra which was the first of its kind, journeyed the entire country. Many Women and men came out from manual scavenging and led the Yatra which ended in Delhi with a mammoth public meeting. The women in the Yatra took the stage and their powerful speeches shook the nation.
Apart from these social actions, we submitted memorandums to the President, Prime minister, ministries, statutory bodies and National Advisory Council. The memorandums demanded for the implementation of the 1993 Act and a rehabilitation package. The NAC passed a resolution on 23 October 2010 to end manual scavenging by 31st March 2012. After the Yatra, the then Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment invited us for a discussion. We met him on 30th December 2010 and submitted the nationwide data that we collected during the yatra. Following this meeting, the Ministry of Social justice and Empowerment convened the national consultation on 24th and 25th January 2011 which resulted in the setting up of four task forces - to review the act, conduct a national survey, revise the rehabilitation package and sanitation solutions. The President of India in her speech to the parliament at the start of the budget session, in March 2012 announced the draft for a new bill for prohibition of manual scavenging. The Government of India passed the new ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’ in September 2013 and issued Government notification in December 2013.
Further, after 12 long years, the Supreme Court passed the Judgment order on 27th March, 2014 on the writ petition (civil) no. 583 of 2003, Safai Karamchari Andolan & Ors Versus Union of India & Ors., directing all the State Governments and the Union Territories to (i)fully implement and take appropriate action for non-implementation as well as violation of the provisions contained in the 2013 Act, (ii) to prevent deaths in sewer holes and septic tanks and make the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks a crime even in emergency situations and (iii) to give compensation of Rs.10 lakhs to families of all persons who have died in manholes and septic tanks since 1993. But even one year after, many deaths have occurred in sewer holes across the country. Safai Karamchari Andolan has reported 1327 sewer and septic tank deaths. Less than 3 percent have received compensation.
The government is absolutely negligent in implementing the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and the Supreme Court order. When deaths occur, FIRs are never filed. Only after heavy pressure and agitation, FIRs are filed, as death due to negligence and never under the Manual Scavenging Prohibition Act and SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. This blatant violation of the constitution is taking away the lives of the safaikaramcharis in sewers and septic tanks. It is extremely disturbing that these deaths which are increasing day by day seems to be intentional.
The parliament held a discussion on "commitment to the constitution" to mark the 125 birth centenary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar when they have utterly failed in protecting the constitutional rights of the manual scavengers. They are just empty rhetoric devoid of all meaning and purpose. It is a scandal and shame that such events are held within the sanctity of the parliament.
The Bhim Yatra is a journey of intolerance of the violence, discrimination and violation of our constitutional and fundamental rights. This journey is to expose the hypocrisy in the speeches and actions of the leaders and the shame of manual scavenging still rampant in the 21st century. The Bhim Yatra will simultaneously spread Ambedkar’s ideas of social justice, liberty, equality and fraternity while proclaiming his war cry ‘educate, organise and agitate’.
The Bhim Yatra was launched from Vishva Yuvak Kendra, Delhi on 10th December, 2015 and started from Dibrugarh, Assam on 11th December, 2015. The journey will move continuously for 125 days from one state to another, covering 30 states and 500 districts and will end on April 13th 2016 in Delhi. Please be part of this yatra.
“ Ours is a battle not for wealth; nor for power, ours is a battle for freedom; for reclamation of human personality.” Dr.B.R.Ambedkar