Jan 6, 2009

Lifestyle - A 'fine dining' experience for former scavengers

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) There was a time when their families were looked down upon - their presence considered impure. But all past anguish was forgotten, as 44 scavenger families dined here Monday afternoon along with their former employers who would once not tolerate them in the same room.

Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and over a dozen students from the University of Illinois (where he teaches Gandhian philosophy) attended the event that was organised by NGO Sulabh International Social Service Organisation.

'It was a moment of joy and pride for hundreds of liberated scavenger families of Alwar in Rajasthan when their earlier masters of ancient caste hierarchy dined with them,' said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh.

'This is an attempt to realise one of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, to restore human rights and dignity to people engaged in manual cleaning of human excreta and carrying it as head load,' Pathak added.

Five years ago, all the 44 women from Alwar's scavenging community were engaged in the traditional practice of cleaning dry latrines.

Each one of them is now an active member of a group to motivate her scavenger brethren to resign the lives of drudgery and humiliation.

They were aided in turning a new leaf by a vocational training centre, Nai Disha, an initiative of the Sulabh Sanitation movement in the Alwar.

To relieve them from the nauseating practice, two technologies were developed by Sulabh - of which one is for individual households and the other for toilets at public places.

After touring the Sulabh Gram campus where the event was being held, Rajmohan Gandhi said: 'My students were first amused to see the Taj Mahal here, now they are amazed to see the Sulabh technology.'

The scavengers along with their families were fascinated by the sheer size of the event attended by around 500 people, including 185 members of the families in whose houses they cleaned toilets.

'We feel honoured,' said a group of the women earlier engaged in scavenging.

These women now prepare eatables, like papads, noodles, pickles, which are bought locally by the people.

'After relieving them from the demeaning practice, we have imparted to them education and vocational training, to enable them become self-employed,' Pathak said.

While some women have earlier travelled to New York for a special UN session programme, many were visiting the capital for the first time and were fascinated by its sights an sounds.

Recently, these community members were allowed to enter a temple in Alwar where they performed Puja and shared food with Pandits and upper caste people, much to their happiness and pride.

No comments: