Bidding Misery Goodbye

By Pravda Rathore, associated with a Delhi-based media group

“I used to live at Sawai Madhopur (Rajasthan) which was my paternal home. Our major source of income was groundnut farming. In winters we sold the groundnuts and my mother used to run the house with whatever money we got in return. When I was 14 years old, I got married and came to Alwar (Rajasthan),” says Guddi.

“Marriage brought me in a different world altogether. I got to know of things about which we had been kept in the dark earlier. I found out that my husband was dependent on his mother financially. After some time, I realized that my husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, all worked as scavengers. They went to people’s houses, disposed of their refuse and got money in return. They would do this from 8 in the morning to 12 noon every day.

“It was deeply shocking for me. When my sister-in-law asked me to work with them as a scavenger, I refused. I told her that I had never done such work earlier and would not do it now. I requested her not to force me to do that work. After a couple of days my sister-in-law started scheming with her mother and asked her not to give me any food till the time I agreed to work with them. My mother-in-law told me that they had been doing this work for the past seven generations and I could not refuse to do it.

“When I informed my family about this my brother immediately came to my house and strongly protested. My brother clearly told them that Guddi (my name) would not do it  although their family had been doing it for seven generations, nobody in his family had ever been a scavenger. My mother-in-law asked my brother to take me with him if I would not do this work. She even said that they would come to lament my death, if I did  not follow them. She asked me to decide it then and there. What could I say in that situation? Even my husband did not intercede on my behalf. He said he was sorry for making my life miserable. In the circumstances my brother could not help me in any way. He said that the custom did not allow him to take me back after marriage no matter what the situation was. And then my brother left me to my fate.

“Every day was a torture for me.  I died a new death daily.  I could see my dark future and could do nothing about it. There was nobody to take care of me or to help me out of the situation. It was a curse for me to work as a scavenger but that was my lot. Finally I gave up and started working with my in-laws. Initially I faced a lot of problems like vertigo, vomiting and headache. The job was nauseating. I had to clean not only human excreta but also animal faeces and remove their carcasses from roads. I used to cry a lot but nobody paid any heed to my suffering. In fact they shouted at me to be more efficient. Ultimately, I became habituated to doing this disgusting job.

“I was an illiterate but my mother had never asked me to do any dirty work or to clean any dirty place. I had learnt things about family life in my mother’s house. When I started earning and got pregnant too, immediately my mother-in-law separated me from my husband. Our financial condition was also not good then. But I realized that it was up to me to make ends meet. I used to ask for food and clothes from people and invariably they would give me contemptuous look. They used to treat us like Scheduled Castes and often misbehaved with us. If we asked them for water in summer months they would not let us even touch a glass and poured water in our cupped hands from a distance.

“One day while coming back from my work I saw a huge crowd in front of the Hazoori Gate where I live. I reached there and asked somebody why all the people were standing there. Someone told me that a gentleman had come from Delhi and was giving jobs. I threw my broom and ran in his direction. He was talking to people and on enquiry I found out that he was Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. The same person who had changed the lives of many others came as a messiah for me too. And ever since then my life has changed altogether.  I work in the Nai Disha centre and now earn enough to make ends meet.”