I have always been fascinated with words and how you can put them together to convey your thoughts, evoke emotion, paint a landscape, tickle the funny bone – the list is long. So when, as a schoolgirl, I had to learn by heart the preamble to the Indian Constitution – written by our forefathers who deliberated over it for 166 days before it came into force – I was really moved. The promise that it held made me proud.
We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were big words for me then so had to look them up and discuss with my parents to try and fully grasp their implication. Now, these words haunt me, surrounded as we are by example after example of everything that they stand for being violated by ‘we, the people’.
But let’s steel ourselves against these aberrations for now. There is one age-old one, a deeply abhorrent practice that has been forced upon citizens of India pre and post the adoption of the Constitution 68 years ago – and by and large we don’t seem to care.
This publication, YKA, has devoted many column inches to manual scavenging – the job of cleaning human waste from other people’s unflushable toilets – and have also run a campaign: #InDeepShit. There is a law too: The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
But still, a million citizens of India, 90% of them women, are forcibly engaged in this filthy employment that certainly does not secure to them either Justice, Liberty, Equality or Fraternity.
Imagine that in the 21st century India there are young brides who inherit the job of cleaning the village toilets from their mothers-in-law. One such, who has now been freed from this modern-day slavery with the help of the NGO Jan Sahas, says: “We removed it, latrine after latrine with our bare hands. Then we carried the full basket on our heads or hips outside the village, where we disposed of it. I will never forget the smell or the insults by people when they passed us or when we went to buy something from a shop.”
Thankfully there are non-profits like Jan Sahas, Safai Karamchari Andolan and others who are working to put an end to this nauseating “profession”. But without the will of ‘We, the people of India’ it will not happen fast enough.
Jan Sahasise currently running a fundraising campaign on SmallChange.ngo to free 50 women of the 300-odd they have identified in the Hardoi district of UP, who are trapped in these circumstances. Bring back the value of the words used in the preamble of the Indian Constitution by showing your support.