Saturday, September 01, 2007

Heila community: Dreaming for a life with dignity

Free Press
Adhir Kumar Saxena


Living a life with dignity is one of the fundamental rights of every Indian national. Indian Constitution, UN Charter and even Human Rights Commissions have time and again reiterated commitments towards them. Human Scavenging has a blanket ban in India but the sorrowful state of affairs and indifferent state governments have left the Heila and Walmiki communities still engaged in disposal of human feces (scavenging). The act is shear slavery, as these communities work on petty amounts of Rs 20 per month, cleaning human wastes. They are `untouchables', and higher castes would not allow them in religious places, share food with them or even invite them on festivities. They clean human excreta, remove dead animals (carcass) from public places and act a vulture in keeping the ecological balance.

A hutment of 54 families from the Heila community (a sub-caste in Minority Muslims) engaged in human scavenging finds a very poor settlement at Tarana (Tehsil under Ujjain district). Yes, human scavenging really exists in this Tehsil and Zubeda (56 years) carries human waste on her head every morning. In return she get Rs 10 per house in a month. She has under her Jagiri, a total of 75 houses. Her daughter-in-law also helps her nowadays. Her daughters would not do the inhuman work but once they are married, they will also be engaged in the same scavenging (a pre condition for marriage in the community). Zubeda get stale Chapatis also some times, but then, in exchange she will not be given her wages.

Tarana Tehsil has a small Muhalla of these untouchables who will not get any support from either government agencies or other communities. Their children have to take their own utensils to school if they want mid-day meals otherwise they would not be served. They have a separate sitting place in schools and they are virtually secluded, and could not move out of the Muhalla. Mohammed Mansoor, himself from the community claims that normally it is believed that untouchability is obsolete in Muslim community, but we are not allowed to participate in Rozaftar. Upper caste Muslims do not allow us close to them and we could not enter their houses.

Forced to work, these scavengers are pressed into duties to remove dead animal bodies, serve women post delivery, but no payment is made. Untouchability is still prevalent in Bapu's country, shattering his dreams of a free India. Unfortunately, the Nagar Palika ( a government entity) itself employs scavengers for removing dead animals found in streets. Despite relentless efforts of these under privileged engaged in inhuman occupation, they are not allowed to shift to any other profession.
No other community comes to their aid and they sell their Jagiri (cluster of houses where they are engaged in human scavenging for generations together) in times of need.

Adding pain to agony, these scavengers are still gratified to their petty pay masters for giving them livelihood. These scavengers have been working in these houses for ages now and call them their Jagiri (property). This Jagiri is sold or given on lease by the owner scavenger in times of need. There is no excess to other occupations, as the upper castes do not give them jobs. These scavengers come under Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and thus government job opportunities are very limited.

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