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Proof That Dalit Lives Don’t Matter For The Manusmriti-Loving Modi Government

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The vision which is in power at the centre of Indian politics and shares power in more than 20 states in the country, carries a legacy of unleashing discrimination against the Dalit community whom they pragmatically and systematically hate. This vision forms the bedrock on which Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political wing Bhartiya Janata Party stand. BJP remains the single political party to have built an unimaginable scathing demonic stature of torturing our Dalit countrymen.

In the heart of Delhi, several instances of death of sewer workers have been reported. “No manual entry into any sewerage system will be permitted. No human contact with sewerage will be allowed without prescribed protective gear.” These directives are a part of an August 14, 2017 order issued by former Delhi Jal Board (DJB) CEO Keshav Chandra — following a spate of deaths of sewage cleaners in Lajpat Nagar. This order remained on paper. According to a fresh report, in the seven years, 31 sewer workers have died in Delhi alone. Out of these seven years, Modi and his government have been in power for four years. Even the government of New Delhi must be held accountable for their silence on this issue. But ideologically RSS-BJP is one such entity who is the most culpable for inaction.

Despite the ban on manual scavenging in India, over 300 cases of deaths due to manual scavenging have been reported from across the country in 2017 alone, according to a reply given by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to the Lok Sabha in December last year. What is the agenda behind this revelation? The answer lies in statistics of budget allocation in last four years of Modi government.

The neglect of the safai karmacharis (manual scavengers) began in 2014-15 when the NDA came to power. From allotment of ₹557 crores in UPA-2 regime, only about ₹47 crore was spent in 2014-15, or merely 10% of the 2014-15 budget estimate (BE) provision of ₹439.04 crore. This comes down in 2015-16 when the revised estimate (RE) was only ₹10.01 crore compared to the BE of ₹470.19 crore. The gross under-utilisation in 2015-16 was taken as the base for 2016-17 BE and mere ₹10 crore was provided. Even this has been grossly under-utilized as seen from the 2016-17 of ₹1 crore.”

The worst came up in the 2017-18 budget by reducing 10 crores to a half provision of ₹5 crore.” In the financial year 2018-2019 the budget allocation was ₹20 crore. This raise is just a populist move for sure. Union Minster for Social Justice, Thawar Chand Gehlot passed on the buck blaming state governments saying, “When we seek information, most states say there are no manual scavengers. Till July 2017, 13 states finally admitted to having 13,500 manual scavengers”. State governments are equally responsible for the loss of lives. And I just have three questions for them:

  1. If the Government of India strictly orders other state governments to act tough against the loss of sewer workers proposing mechanisation of sewer cleaning using machines, can this order be rejected?
  2. If GST can be imposed on all states mocking the federal structure of the Indian republic why this step cannot be enacted?
  3. Why can’t the step of Kerala’s Left Front Government ending manual sewer cleaning replacing it with robots, be replicated by Government of India?

A private contractor after successive incidents in Delhi last year said, “The pay is not enough to hire workers or buy safety gear: How will we hire machines? The government doesn’t conduct an audit”.  This statement clearly proves concern like increasing budget allocation to stop the death of sewer death is mere tokenism and a task undertaken on just paper and not in reality.

Constituitional Assault On Dalits

In a recent move, Modi government asserted that there was a misuse of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. So it went forward filing its review in the Supreme Court. This was aimed at diluting laws which shield the Dalit community of our country, but this was heavily criticized by each section of society. There was an uproar over Dalit rights. Bharat Bandh over this SC/ST Act brought many states to halt. From Gujarat to Bihar, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh nationwide strike with thousands of protestors expressed deep dissatisfaction against this move of Modi government.

Seeing this anger, the government went on back foot changing its tune blaming opposition parties of instigating violence nationwide and challenged the review decision of apex court but this got exposed when the Supreme questioned double standards of Government. Justice A.K. Goel, who headed the Bench comprising Justice U.U. Lalit said, “The Union itself said there was abuse.” According to NCRB data, between 2010-2016, there was 10% rise in crimes against SCs, STs. A proportion of cases that were pending trial at the end of the year rose from 78% to 91% in cases of Dalits and 83% to 90% in cases of Adivasis. There was also drop in conviction rate from 38% in 2010 to 16% in 2016 for crimes against SCs and 26% in 2010 to 8% in 2016 for crimes against STs. Roughly 10% of cases of crimes against SCs and STs under police investigation are labelled as false. Social boycott, intimidation, death threat and compromise lead to victims changing their stand, and thus factual complaints are labelled as false.

Let us not forget, the ideological foundation of Modi government is based on “Manusmriti”, and “Parasahara Smriti” which ridicule and deny any respect to Dalits in principle and practice. The recent diktat by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his MPs on spending a night with the Dalit community is a new low in Indian Politics. “Dinner-at-Dalit House Campaign” was condemned openly by BJP Dalit MPs. Dining with Dalits is not the solution to problems which they are surrounded by in their daily lives. It is a political gimmick undertaken by Prime Minister which mocks the dignity of Dalits and is aimed at the upcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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