- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Navayana Publishers (16 August 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 8189059068
- ISBN-13: 978-8189059064
- Package Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.8 x 1 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,79,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh Paperback – 16 Aug 2011
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However, this is the state of things in India in the 21st century. The dominant ruling people of Indian society, with its entrenched caste system, would rather engage in forcing people of the lowest Dalit ("untouchable") castes to engage in degrading occupations, than institute modern sanitation methods that would include flush toilets.
However this book isn't just a litany of people being sorely exploited and being made miserable. It's the story of resistance against degradation and oppression. Mainly, it's the story of an organization, begun by Bezwada Wilson, who was born into a scavenger family in India. Having been appalled that his parents had scavenged as a living for decades, he was -- and still is -- determined to end the degrading process of manual scavenging. Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) is a United Nations NGO (non-government organization) dedicated to wiping out manual scavenging once and for all. Most of the officers and activists in this group come from scavenger families and many of them have themselves been scavengers.
What is disturbing is that the Indian government passed a law outlawing the practice of manual scavenging in the early 1990s -- so manual scavengers aren't supposed to exist. However, this law has proved to only exist on paper and is rarely enforced; thus low-caste Dalits, even those with education, are still to this day forced to engage in this practice. There is an account in this book of a man with an advanced college degree who has to work as a scavenger; because of rampant discrimination on the basis of his caste, he has been unable to find work in any other profession.
One of the most uplifting chapters I found in the book is the account of how the SKA organized groups to go into villages in the state of Andhra Pradesh and demolish dry latrines so that they would be replaced with modern flush facilities. In one community, a man struck the first blow in demolishing the latrine that he and his family had scavenged for over 30 years. He was shortly fired from his position with the local municipal sanitation department and soon after, joined with the SKA to help his fellow suffering scavengers escape from their degradation. In all, over 2000 dry latrines were destroyed in this campaign.
Unfortunately, too many more dry latrines, cleaned out by manual scavengers, still exist in the 21st century. Bezwada Wilson and other activists and social reformers are continuing to to wage battle against the intense caste prejudice and internalized oppression -- where scavengers believe that this occupation is all that they deserve in life; these activists, including those in the SKA, have strived to lead the scavengers into learning other professons.
The author of this book, Gita Ramaswamy, is not from a Dalit family; she was born in a higher caste in India. However, she is a social activist who has been appalled by the lack of humanity shown toward other human beings who happen to belong to Dalit castes. Her book is well-researched and gripping. To find out more about this little-known but extreme form of oppresion, read this book. Then get involved in helping to abolish this oppression.