S R Sankaran, who died recently, transformed the lives of countless people. As a civil servant he worked for the poor, bonded labourers and dalits, and as mentor to the Safai Karmachari Andolan he saw the number of women manually cleaning excreta decline from 13 lakh to 3 lakh
At a public hearing in August 2009 at the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, balmiki children testified that they were being singled out in government schools and forced to clean classrooms and bathrooms. If such blatant discrimination can occur in an institution that is supposed to educate and nurture children, how far have we really come?
Politicians love the poor, who make powerful votebanks. Not so India’s 18 million street children, who do not have the vote. The many laws and conventions that cover them have little meaning. Only a few NGOs are battling for streetkids, with some like RLHP in Mysore reporting great success in educating and rehabilitating them
Twelve dalit girls are baking bread and cakes at a Mysore café. Elsewhere in Mysore sex workers and transgenders are running their own restaurant. At La Boulangerie in Chennai, dalit youth are baking French delicacies and supplying them to 5-star hotels. These ‘tasty’ experiments are about breaking the vicious circle of oppression and making a political statement
Street vendors are good for providing local colour in Incredible India tourist campaigns, but 10 million of them are without any rights and treated as a nuisance. Yet, this vast body of people provides invaluable services in cities and adds to a city’s earnings instead of being a drain on it. Instead of evicting them, their activities should be regularised
In most developed countries, manhole workers are provided bunny suits and respiratory apparatus. In Hong Kong, a sewer worker needs to have 15 licences in order to enter a manhole. In India, conservancy workers – mostly from the balmiki subcaste of dalits -- go in almost naked. The mortality rate amongst them is appallingly high
Watching 12-year-old Rangamma pound rocks with a 2-kg hammer in a stone quarry, the statistics on child labour leap to life, says Mari Marcel Thekaekara. Anti-Slavery International estimates that roughly 1 million children do extremely dangerous work in India’s stone quarries
There are still thousands of people in India cleaning dry latrines with their bare hands, including 7 km from the capital. But there are many signs of change too: on August 15, the Safai Karmachari Andolan plans to declare Andhra Pradesh the first manual scavenging-free state in India, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara, starting a new column on social inequities and the people who are fighting for social justice