Disgusting to Decent: Changing Life of a Scavenger

G.N. Jha, works for the Asian Age

Man is the most valuable creation of God. He has understanding, emotions and feelings. He has words to express his views. And then there is a whole lexicon. Vision is there to look and leap forward. But then, why is it that we fail to understand human values and to get the same translated into action? Usage of words like untouchable is rampant even in this scientific world. Isn’t it the greatest hurdle in our way to progress? Indeed, it merits immediate attention.

We are social beings. We have been listening to this right from our childhood days. It takes all sorts to make this society. There could be a variation in the ideological level of people. Even intellectually some of us may lag while others are forward. There is no harm in it. Nor is it unexpected. But in a society divided along caste and religious lines where is this tolerance to accommodate this variation? In our society there is a woman like Rani Athwal and a host of families who despite being humans do not live like one. They are untouchables.

Rani Athwal got married off at a tender age of 14. (Not a big issue there!) But the man she left her parents to live with turned out to be a duffer. He was used to boozing at the cost of his family. Rani was there to feed and fend for herself and her whole family. Writing was clear on the wall. With motherhood came more responsibility. Husband’s income hardly met her bare needs. So she dared to cross the threshold. Call it her compulsion. But the job she was handed was downright disgusting. She was to clean nightsoil.

Resigned to fate Rani started carrying nightsoil on her head. But it was not a cakewalk either. A storm was brewing within. In fact, she never knew much of higher and lower caste in her mayka (parents’ house) as she was just of a tender age there. Now that she could feel, she had more pinch. Just to improve her lot once she strayed into the high portals of a temple but she was denied entry. Rani got torn apart from within. And when she asked why all this, pat came the reply, “You carry nightsoil on your head. We won’t allow the temple to be desecrated by your touch.” Only Rani, for that matter people like her, could feel the pinch. But she was not the one to take things lying down. And she shot back. “If cleaning others’ dirt is a pious deed how come are we treated as dirt? Dirty are those who make society like themselves.” “Enough,” said the pot-bellied priest and slapped Rani like no one else had. All her questions lumped inside her throat.

Her reasoning gave up before the brute force. She had accepted her lot that was in fact a blot on the face of this society. Life hurtled along. With sagging confidence and resigned to fate, Rani’s life kept groping in the dark. But not that only those see better days who bow down before God. Nor is the worship done with all pomp and show heard by the One above all. There are people who get justice while they need it the most. Rani too had one saviour in the form of Sulabh International Founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, who became a messiah for her. Committed to improve the living condition of society as a whole Dr. Pathak gave shelter to women like Rani in Sulabh’s Nai Disha centre where women like her are weaving dreams on a very realistic platform. They are learning so many trades there. Literacy too, is given due importance. They have their share of earth and the sky. They have the money power. Despite lacking in bookish knowledge they are knowledgeable. They know where this society is heading to. The same society has given them their due respect. No doubt, Dr. Pathak has done what Gandhiji thought for a decent life that otherwise was disgusting to say the least.