Today is Human Rights Day. A day that the United Nations proclaimed in 1950 as a day to bring to everyone’s attention around the world of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and how these rights applied to each and every single one of them. What I truly loved, and found inspiring (at least to me), was this year’s theme: Human Rights 365. In celebration of that every day should be Human Rights Day, I am going to share for the next year a new Human Rights issue post for the. My first post I am going to bring to attention to that of the issue of manual scavenging in India. (I am also sharing this as my first topic, since tomorrow I will be presenting about it in my Human Rights course).
India’s Caste System consists of four hierarchically ranked “varnas.” The highest ranking Caste consists of the Brahmins (Priests), followed by the Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaisyas (skilled traitors and merchants), and finally Sudras (unskilled workers). However, at the very bottom are the Dalits, the “Pariahs”, the “Harijans,” the “Untouchables.” A group of people considered so low they aren’t usually counted as part of the 4 Part Caste System.
Manual scavenging is the cleaning of human waste by those considered low-caste, and as s an “Untouchable,” one’s occupation consists of scavenging for these human feces or dead animal carcasses. By scavenge I don’t mean collect said carcasses and feces to keep. No. These people must endure the suffering of being “unclean” and “polluted” as they have been labeled as by the other Castes. Everyday, the men and women of this Caste are forced to clean the dry toilets, sewers, septic tanks, and gutters of India’s roads and upper-caste members.
In 1947 India gained it’s independence from Britain, and in 1950 had its own Constitution. Under this Constitution, the Caste System was banned. Unfortunately, though the government has technically banned such a system from being practiced, the local village councils (panchayats)and police forces do not enforce such a law. Discrimination is still very much persistent. In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act made it illegal to parade, those of Untouchable Caste standing, around naked, as well as to force them to eat human feces, take away their land, and so forth. When this was passed, the violence against the Dalits escalated, and then escalated further when the Grassroots Human Rights Movement among the Dalits began to grow.
In total, there are about 160 million Dalits, whom of which also make up of about 90% of Indian’s poor and 95% of the illiterate (I would like to double check these numbers for that of 2014, yet due to the lack of proper recording via the Indian government, etc new numbers haven’t been found yet). Back in 2000, India’s National Crime Records Bureau recorded 25,455 crimes committed against Dalits. Every 2 HOURS a Dalit was assaulted, 3 women raped a day, 2 Dalits murdered, and 2 homes torched.
As I mentioned above, numbers may very well be off and further reasoning for this may also be due to the next problem in the equation: the Police. The Caste System is still largely supported by the police, village councils, & government officials. Due to this, “the Untouchables” are unable to report the crimes committed against them. They live in fear of reprisal, having to pay bribes to the police, intimidation by said police, or that these officers, officials, and councils will do nothing at all.
Though both the men and women have to clean up the human waste, it is the women who truly have the most pressure pushed onto them. The men’s pay is not always reliable, thus the women much be counted on to bring home their methods of payment – food leftovers, grain (if it’s harvest season), old and worn clothes, and even ensuring that the livestock have the chance to graze.
These people are unable to leave their Caste, nor are they allowed the same rights as the other Castes. They do not share the same right to water (unable to use the same wells), their right to education is also inhibited upon (their children are beaten by teachers or they are forced to clean the school’s toilets, & many of their children drop out of school all together), they are also not allowed to enter the temples for worship, and even their health is at a great risk (tuberculosis, anemia, jaundice, diarrhea, and carbon monoxide poisoning are just a few of the examples).
This is a very information filled topic and I’ve included my resources below that one may look at. It is not possible to sum up the awful way of life these people are forced to live because a “system” tells them to live this way. I’ve also included a video link below:
Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/25/india-caste-forced-clean-human-waste
Human Rigths Watch Report “Cleaning Human Waste.” https://www.hrw.org/reports/2014/08/25/cleaning-human-waste-0