Ashaq Ali Wattal hails from a community which has the sole 'right' to clean the toilets in Jammu and Kashmir. Hailing from Doda, Wattal moans at the continuous negligence by the state government and its authorities towards the community of manual scavengers in Jammu and Kashmir. His father was a manual scavenger working with municipality but now has left the work and does bamboo work. Ashaq has passed 10th standard and does electric work in his town. He was in Delhi to speak about his people and the discrimination they face in their daily life. According to Wattal, nobody wants to keep relations with us though there is no discrimination in the mosque during the Namaz. Despite, living in a Muslim dominated Kashmir it is strange that those who talk about nondiscrimination in Islam never ever thought that this issue needs immediate attention. Why has there been no movement among the Muslims to fight for the rights of the Muslim Dalits. A continuous denial will not work in this regard.
Wattal says that his father used to work part time in the municipality and could not get rs 1,000/- a month when he retired from his job. He says his maternal aunt Misha Begum worked with a government hospital for over 40 years and her daily routine is from early morning till afternoon yet at the moment she gets just Rs 700/- per month. The problem with most of the Wattals is that they are forced to this work as there is no other opportunity available for them. The payments are below the norm at the maximum for part time work as sweeper you still get Rs 200/- per month in the government as well as about Rs 300-Rs 500/- per month in private.
It is strange that the Jammu and Kashmir government has no policy for these people. After much persuasion they are placed among the Scheduled Caste category and in the sixth place yet when the question of reservation comes, they never get any opportunity in the government. And therefore despite a huge population of about several lakhs, it would be a rare site to see Wattal community person outside their traditional occupation.
Ashaq has three sons and he is determined to educate them. In fact two of them are in the University. The fight for social justice and dignity continues. Shahid Hussain had difficult time. He used to work as sweeper but never accepted his defeat. He passed his 10th standard and got a job in a Nationalized Bank. With his determination he completed his graduation and is now working as an office assistant in the bank. For him, it was difficult but he was able to get it. There is no reservation for us he says, the pain reflects in his eyes as he narrates the story of struggle of his family.
According to a report submitted to the Supreme Court by Safai Karmchari Andolan, there are 7.94 lakhs open latrines in the country and apart from Uttar-Pradesh and Tamilnadu, Jammu & Kashmir is one of the biggest violators in this regard where 1,78,330 households needs manual scavenging but the latest figures from J& K government suggest that out of total 1,60,804 Households in the rural areas over 1,49,492 depend on manual scavenging which shows the status of 'development' in Kashmir. Out of total 5,17,168 urban households, 17,768 houses are depended on manual scavenging.
According to reports, Shopian, Kupwara, Bandipur, Srinagar, Kulgaum, Anantnag, Ganderbal and Pulwama have very large number of dry latrines which need manual scavengers to clean them. And as Ashaq Wattal says, all of them who are engaged in the manual scavenging task are Muslims. This exposes the hypocrisy of those so called Jehadis who talk so much about fighting against others and place an 'Islamic state' but never really bothered about the conditions of the Muslims Dalits. Why has such a large population not got any legal right from the government of India?
It is sad that the elimination of manual scavenging practices bill has not yet come in the parliament. The political parties can get consensus on everything which they want to get through but when the question of dignity of the manual scavenging communities comes, they remain suspect as they never cared for that. Today, if the bill is passed and makes the rehabilitation part of the process including alternative job reservation for them, how are the Muslim manual scavengers going to be benefitted from that. Secondly, whether the act would be implemented in Kashmir or not as it is always a problem that all central acts have to be separately developed in Kashmir. What will the J & K government propose to eliminate this crime against humanity? Will it rehabilitate the people and provide them alternative employment? Most importantly, what do the 'thekedars' of Islam say on this issue? All those who suggest we have a better alternative in religion must answer these questions.
Dalits remained Dalits in most of the religions though unlike brahmanical system, the other religions opened a little window for them in terms of their worshipping pattern. They can go to mosque without being discriminated but the same is not true about Christian Dalits who face discrimination from the upper caste Christians even in the churches. If the Centre is making a law against elimination of manual scavenging practices or even if a law is enacted for reservation in Promotion, the Muslim and Christian dalits would not be able to get any benefit of the reservation. It violates the basic principle of equality without any religious prejudices therefore it is important that benefits of reservation or rehabilitation must incorporate all the Dalits in diverse communities. The issue of Dalit identity and their discrimination became the tool for religious propagandists too who wish to fight it on the basis of their 'religious' beliefs and provide 'liberation' theology for it.
The fact is the brahmanical practices of discrimination have penetrated deeply into the other religions and beliefs also and made them more ruthless in their attitude towards the Dalits. The conditions of Dalit in the Muslim dominated areas remain a matter of great shame and concern today as the movements for their 'azadi' has not reached inside the closed quarters where the Islamic zealots are ready to fight for everything in the name of their identity but have found little time to wage a war against untouchability and caste system inside their four walls even when arguments were pushed forward by many people who felt that religious conversion is the best bet to escape caste discrimination.
The manual scavenging communities must be rehabilitated without being discriminated on the basis of their religious identities as they do not merely exists in Jammu and Kashmir but elsewhere also including Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh , Karnataka , Punjab, Haryana and Tamilnadu too. It is also important that the fight for the Pasmanda Muslims and their rights must begin at home too. It is easier to suggest that there is liberation of Dalits in religion but at the end if we investigate their socio-cultural conditions, it is open secret that caste virus continues there too and the discrimination level remain the same. Just being proud because your religion allowed them in Mosque and churches will not be sufficed for their survival and dignity. War against untouchability transcends nation, state, caste and religious boundaries. It is time we all join hands against this crime against humanity to eliminate it completely from the planet. Jammu and Kashmir government must come clean on it and take the issue of untouchabiity and manual scavenging on a wider scale so that all of them are rehabilitated. It is important that to eliminate manual scavenging the government must provide the eligible youths employment in the non-sanitary work and rehabilitate them completely. Why have the Jehadis of Islam kept quiet on these issues even when it is a routine to see the Wattals in Kashmir work? They are always worried about Islam in danger; let them raise a Jehad against untouchability and manual scavenging in Kashmir. We will be with them in their fight for dignity of Manual scavengers in Jammu and Kashmir. We cannot leave our Kashmiri friends isolated and hence will definitely join their struggle for dignity and self-respect.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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