Untouched brooms and tin plates!

 
Amritha Mohankumar

amritha mohankumarAll I have been hearing and watching around me is the talk of brooms. But in the midst of all this talk, I was left wondering: did I actually miss seeing those brooms or hearing their sound sweeping the ground? Or was I just so obsessed with my understanding of who would be holding a broom that it all seemed like a strange phenomenon?

The recent Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which has been so hyped up across India in the last few weeks, has just given us a glimpse of the height of caste bias of the elite and the implicit expectations that it imposes on certain caste groups who are traditionally associated with doing those 'cleaning' jobs. The visuals on mass media of the broom in an 'Unexpected' someone's hands troubles many Indians so much so that there would be many who would easily resort to lending a hand. This sympathy never troubles them in their everyday lives when a Dalit/lower caste person (an 'Expected' someone) does the job of cleaning, nor would they associate themselves with anyone seen with a broom every day.

The current cleanliness drive in our caste ridden country does not have an all encompassing vision, it does not concern itself with the harsh fact of the number of manual scavengers India keeps producing to clean human shit. Dealing with that filth and stench is not the mission of this Swachh Bharat. It presents just a superficial view, through the cleaned spectacles of Gandhi, of clean Hindu temples and neighbourhoods.

swachh bharata gandhis spectacles

 While reading through The Hindu, I went through the minutes of the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, encapsulating the vision of Gandhi and Shastri of a Clean India, a vision of those people who never were forced to do this menial job. It was launched in a Valmiki (Dalit) colony where lives a community historically 'expected' and made to perform the role of cleaning and also to receive the 'spiritual' experience of scavenging. The Prime Minister used the broom and tin plate to clean the Valmiki colony's temple, appropriating the forced use of brooms and tin plates by Dalit to clean human waste, while the 'noble' cause of scavenging was easily left out of this mission, leaving the 'spirituality' to be attained from it to the Dalit community alone.

The fundamental problem that arises from the Swachh Bharat mission is why should it become such a huge drama? The portrayal in the media of the vulgar gesture of the upper castes/classes coming down to hold brooms and sprinkle their very caste biases does not evoke the idea of this being just an innocent cleanliness drive. The caste superiority they enjoy since birth and the fact that their lives will never be confined to just cleaning jobs ensure that they can easily get away from the task of cleaning with a one day stunt. In India, people do associate cleaning/sanitation with caste, with certain Dalit castes which would always be looked down upon and allotted an 'unclean' job.

The other problem is associating cleanliness with the broom alone. The very urbanized, and far from reality, pleasurable site of cleanliness itself has created a blot on the heinous task of scavenging which has been appropriated by this mission by not covering it under their campaign.

The work forced upon Dalits has been left untouched and unspoken. The language of caste is loud here in the Clean India Mission. Dominant caste groups and the leaders have eloquently quoted Gandhi envisaging a Clean India, while implicitly enforcing the practice of manual scavenging on Dalits. What was not heard in this campaign was the struggle for liberation of Dalits from such practices by Dr. Ambedkar.

scavenging beef

The ignorance of caste based violations has been eloquently applied here, this applied ignorance of caste and its regime has resulted in the continuance of Dalit and Tribes working in menial jobs such as scavenging and in highly toxic environments. The physical violation accompanied by the stripping of dignity of Dalits forced to engage in this heinous task is not an issue in the Abhiyan. The privileged upper castes who indulge in the matter of cleanliness through the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan also take a pledge to 'Not Create Waste' and 'Not Let Others Create Waste', but do not take the pledge of 'Not Making Someone Else Clean My Waste'.

If the solution to manual scavenging were just waterborne toilets, then why is it taking so long to end manual scavenging? If it had been just a question of technology, I guess it would not take another Mangalyaan mission to create self-treating human waste processing systems which would ensure that there would be no manual scavengers getting submerged in our septic tanks in the future. But this is not the case, it's the applied ignorance of people born with privilege to sustain caste oppression and prosper. This ignorance has captivated our consciousness, ignoring the aspect that of 1.3 million manual scavengers in India, most are Dalit women. The point here is to understand, how deeply drowned we are in this shit. The shit of caste, the shit of ignorance, the shit of privilege and the shit of the religion inclined state.

~~~

 

 Amritha Mohankumar is a student of M.A. in Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action (2013-15) at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

Other Related Articles

Maharashtra government loots SC/ST Sub-Plan funds again
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
  Dalit Adivasi Adhikar Andolan Atrocity Helpline +91-20-69101111 Diwali is celebrated by giving gifts to others, but Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister, Maharashtra is setting a new trend of... Read More...
Social Smuggling: Prof. Kancha IIaiah Shepherd's mirror to society
Friday, 13 October 2017
  Raju Chalwadi Prof. Kancha IIaiah Shepherd is a renowned political scientist and an anti-caste activist. He is one of the fiercest critics of the Hindu social order and caste system in present... Read More...
Deekshabhumi: School for Commoners
Tuesday, 10 October 2017
  Mahipal Mahamatta and Adhvaidha K “Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu”, Babasaheb proclaimed in the speech delivered at Yeola in 1936. His... Read More...
Rohingyas and Origins of the Caste System
Sunday, 08 October 2017
Umar NizarHow foolish it would be to suppose that one only needs to point out this origin and this misty shroud of delusion in order to destroy the world that counts for real, so-called 'reality'. We... Read More...
For a fistful of self-respect: Organised secular and religious ideologies and emancipatory struggles
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Round Table India We are happy to announce the first of a series of conversations between participants and stakeholders in emancipatory struggles of Annihilation of Caste and Racial Inequality. ... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Ram Nath Kovind is not a Dalit, Dalit is a Spring of Political Consciousness
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
  Saidalavi P.C. The propaganda minister in Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels was so sharp in his thinking that we have come to quote his famous aphorism regarding the plausibility of a lie being... Read More...
Nilesh Khandale's short film Ambuj - Drop the pride in your caste
Saturday, 29 April 2017
Gaurav Somwanshi Nilesh Khandale’s debut short movie, ‘Ambuj’ seeks to shed light on some of the most pervasive but less talked about elements of the Indian caste society. Working as an Event... Read More...
Independence for whom?
Saturday, 26 August 2017
  Parth Shrimali On 14th August, a day before the 71st Independence Day, a Dalit man was assaulted in Sojitra village in Anand district of Gujarat for skinning a dead cow. Earlier this year, in... Read More...
What's caste? What's reservation?
Thursday, 07 September 2017
  Vinay Shende Every few days, there are news and reports that come out telling us that SC/ST/OBC students committed suicide or dropped-out from College/ University due to Caste discrimination.... Read More...
Altering the language of Justice: State violence and Legal battles
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
  Lakshmi KTP In a deepening environment of utter dissatisfactions, depression, and negativity with the present state of affairs in the country with the Hindu state and its Brahmanic rule, it is... Read More...