Hindi Speaking Dalits at the receiving end in West Bengal             By V.B.Rawat      



"Kamane wala khayega, Lootne wala jayega, Naya Jamana Ayega…"


(The worker will rule, the looter will have to go, Soon there will be a new dawn)


These slogans are not just a matter of past. The rhetoric's are still visible in Bengal even today but hollowness of this slogan is visible when you watch the condition of Dalits who migrated from Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana and living in utterly miserable conditions. One wonders why the displacement and disenchantment of these people did not become an issue for any of the political outfits of Bengal. The façade of the slogan of proletariat is exposed once you visit the bustees of the Hindi speaking Dalits, share their pain and anguish as an isolated community.


While slogan like that were loud in the air, the famous Belllilius Park was ready for inauguration of biotech 'Dhobighat' on 16 th of November 2005. Local Member of Parliament from the Communist Party of India along with the Mayor of Howarh were being welcomed by the Marxist supporters. Both of them talked about the importance of this biotech Dhobighat for their 'dhobi' brethrens. I was wondering of a slogan raised by the Dhobi community in Uttar-Pradesh a few years back in which they said 'nahi chahiye dhobighat, hame chahiye rajpat' (We don't need wash platform, we need power). One has to understand why the Marxist leader opted for a Dhobighat and not for any other thing, even when there are very few dhobis located there. Yes, the brahmanical doctrine of putting one Dalit community against other is well known despite its miserable failure.


Bellilius Park is spread on a huge area which has college, shops, along with some Dalit particularly belonging to Safai communities living there. It was time when the British brought a very large number of these people from Uttar-Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Bihar and other parts of the country to clean their manual toilets as well as involved them in the municipality's work of road cleaning. Bengal does not have its own scavenging community and therefore it imported people from the Hindi heartland. It is a fact that Bengali society does not have that much of untouchability as exist in the cow belt.   Yet, the Safai communities here never got a house to live even on rent. It was a difficult condition that despite all their pain and anguish there was no place under which these people could live a life of their dignity. The British and later the Howarh Municipal Corporation allowed them to stay in old constructed isolated houses in various places including in Bellilius Park.


As new life started building, the Safai communities in Kolkata and Howarah started looking for new alternatives and vision. They started sending their children to schools for education even when the West Bengal's Upper Caste government did not give them SC certificate. The Dalits who migrated from Hindi heartland today face double victimization in Bengal. The houses and land they occupied could not give them legal entitlement and hence in new Bengal where communists are inviting not only multinationals on the one side but also Bangladeshi Bhadralok on the other. Bellilius Park fell to the conspiracy of the left front, which fool people in the name of land reform. Whose land reform are they talking about? How come such a vast number of migrants Dalits who devoted their life to the well being of Bengal remain thoroughly isolated and homeless even after 50 years of independence? Who should we blame this for? To the US imperialist forces, who the left front always chant from morning till evening on every issue they confront with? In February 2003, the state authorities came along with bulldozers and destroyed the colony where the Safai community was living. As I mentioned earlier, this Bellilus Park is a huge area occupied by the shop owners, schools and others. The Bhadraloks destroyed the schools; temples of the Valmikis, Hellas, Mehtars, Rawats and Sudarshans which they had build up during the year. The only non-destroyed structure there was a statue of Subhash Chandra Bose. Bengali Nationalism was bigger than the human loss. The communists would erect temples and get involved in Durga Puja but would not allow the Dalits to worship their own Gods.


Why were just the Safai communities targeted and not others?


It is important to understand that the Hindi speaking Safai communities were developing well. They were not interested in carrying night soil over their head. Shamefully, Howarh Municipal Corporation still has this practice. Despite numerous notifications this heinous practice of carrying Night Soil has not been prohibited fully. This work is thoroughly done by the Safai communities of the North.


To rub salt on the wound, West Bengal government does not treat the communities working on the Safai as different castes under the Scheduled Castes. According to government notification Safai is a profession and not a caste and all those who are involved in this profession should be called as Mehtars. Therefore, Helas, Rawats, Valmikis, Bhangis, Sudarshans, Dhanuks have been clubbed together as Mehtars much to the resentments of the people. Helas for that matter would not get an SC certificate by Hela name and they have to put themselves under Mehtars. By choosing a caste denomination, West Bengal's left front government has shown how bankrupt it has gone on ideas.



Paradox of A Dalits Life


All the Safai Unions in Bengal are crying against the state government for dereserving their seats. Their children do not get any reservation as they are forced to produce their forefather's certificate. ' How can I get the caste certificate of my grand father when my father has been working here for over 50 years, says, Veerendra Kumar, whose father and mother both worked in the Railways in the Sanitation post, belonged to Mehtar community. Ramesh was born in 1980 in Howarah itself and passed his examinations fairly well. He finished his B.A. by getting 56% marks and in the intermediate he scored first class with 64%. All this under severely difficult conditions as they had just one room house. Today, Veerendra is working as Sales agent in a mobile company. He cannot apply in the government jobs under the reserve category, as he has not got any SC certificate from them.


Vikas Hela could not get a government job as he has not got a certificate of the residence of Bengal. Hence he work as a wage labor. The West Bengal's Bhadralok government does not believe in caste and therefore feel no need of reservation. Comrade Asim Das Gupta was lauding his government's effort to remove poverty and provide a secular alternative. Yes, Mr Das Gupta, you gained a lot in entering India and the gates of West Bengal are still opened for Bangladeshi's. They can get any domicile easily in West Bengal but not those who happened to be Indian and came hundred years back, ask Ashok Hela.


Now the mechanization process has started in the municipality. Most of the work is not of cleaning night soil hence the Hindi speaking Dalits have been denied this right. The new positions are being filled up by the Bengalis. Mr Mewa Lal Param Das, State President of All India Scheduled Caste Yuvjan Sabha openly blamed the West Bengal government for ignoring the interest of migrant Dalits. He said that there has been fund for rebuilding houses for all those who have been displaced from Bellilius Park but the state government did not use the fund and it went back to the Center. Though Mewa Lal's organization has been working on providing new alternative to Dalits particularly women, yet he share the growing concern of the Safai communities that a majority of them would be rendered jobless in near future as the government is least bothered about them. ' That way, he says, West Bengal remain ungrateful to those who made it clean.'


Most of the displaced families (they are over 750) from Bellilius Park are living in different places like Eastern Bypass, Belgachchia Bhagad and Tetultulla. The conditions in these localities are unmentionable. Most of these areas were the nigh soil depot but now being used by the community. The people do not know when they would be shunted out of these places. When I visited the by pass area hundreds of women, children and old men surround me. They were afraid of the CPM's cadre who might play spoilsports as the new dhobighat was being inaugurated in the nearby Bellilius Park where from these hapless people were thrown away. The land they live on the track of railways. People fear that one day they can also be thrown away without giving any notice. The fear and agony comes on their face.


Pain and agony of non recognition


Kishan Balmiki lives in the outskirts of the town Howrah. Earlier he was in the Bellilius Park. His life has been a remarkable life of a revolutionary. Though he worked as a non-resident Mehtar and was involved once upon a time in the practice of carrying night soil for Howrah Municipal Corporation, Kishan blames his circumstances and friends for forcing him in to this hell. " I was into the studies. Then I embraced Marx and became part of the Naxalite movement. I talked about revolution, even when I was forced by my father to get into scavenging profession. Some time my colleagues in the movement worked for me.' Kishan developed other skills and started taking insurance and other work. It worked very much for him. He wanted to leave the work once the insurance and other part time work was providing him enough money but then the lure of 'government' job forced him to the corporation. Today, he blames not only his father but also community guides.


Kishan could get a house in a better locality because the owner does not know that he work as a Safai Karmchari in the Howrah Municipal Corporation and because his children are being educated well.


But  Laxmi Devi, a mother of four children found it difficult to rent a house. She was living in a small hut, which was later purchased by another fellow from Bihar. He developed a multi story complex and rented it out. The complex has small rooms and highly unhygienic conditions. This complex is owned by a Paswan from Bihar, a Dalit and most of the occupants in this complex belong to dalit communities from Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar and yet tragically, they all fought together to deny Laxmi Devi, a Hela, room. The matter went to local court and Laxmi Devi and her husband won the case and now they are living on the third floor of the complex. The agony of marginalisation due to scavenging work is clear on her face. Laxmi Devi's husband Mata Prashad Hela worked for Railways and is about to retire now and yet in his forty years of service he could not get a house in Railway colony.


Due to non-availability of separate houses, people shifted to 'Maila depots' (where all the nightsoil used to be thrown in the past) of Jogmaya, Julahapada, Balgachiya Bhagad and Goltalla area. These depots are also under threat in the similar way as of Bellilius Park because the builder mafia is now lobbying for good locations in the city.


So the West Bengal's Safai communities are facing two threats on their lives. One is no recognition as a Scheduled caste of West Bengal and the other is that they can be displaced any moment. Even if some people who want to go back to their birthplace are forced to stay back because the Howrah Municipal Corporation has no arrangement to send their pension by bank or post office transfer hence for a smaller amount of money one cannot expect people to travel every month from their residence to Howarah.


Shyam Kumar Dhanuk, Secretary of  78 block Congress Minorities   Committee fear the same thing. Hundreds of families of the Dhanuk Samaj are living in KMC labour quarter on Mayur Bhaj Road, South Kolkata in utterly miserable conditions. The houses, they alleged, can come down any moment. It is dangerous to be there. " We have submitted many petitions to the Government it does not act. Perhaps it is waiting for people to die so that they could get rid of us."   It is shameful on part of West Bengal establishment to force people to sign in Bangla particularly when it is difficult for Hindi speaking people to do so.


Wonderful Voices


Despite all adversity, the Safai community in West Bengal is doing wonder. Perhaps that is the reason why the Bengal society is unable to digest their progress. This year one new young boy from Hela community made it to Indian Idol. Another fellow from Jogmaya bastee Raj kumar is a play back singer and has sung in numerous programmes. He gave his play back to a Bengali movie and also trying for the Bombay Hindi films. He has got one film so far. Not only he has sung Bhajans but also brought out a cassette on Baba Saheb Ambedkar. It is wonderful to see artists, and poets in the community. Gurucharan Hela Kamal is over 75. He is spreading Ambedkarism among the community by his writings and poetry. In all the community is involved in a lot of activists, and intellectuals who are guiding it in this hour of crisis. Bhullan Masterji is leading the Dalit Mukti Morcha in Howarh and can recite number of great poetries of Sahir and Shailendra to prove his points.


But the most astonishing story is of Mrs Kewla Devi. It is a story of grit and achievement in her own sense. Kewla Devi married in 1950 and came to Howrah that time to be with her husband. Her husband was in the sanitation department of Railways, which was not enough for running their family two sons and a daughter. She too decided to work as a domestic sweeper. She started carrying night soil. It was a difficult decision for Kewala was one of the most beautiful woman in the locality and people did not like her doing this work. Later she got a job in the health department of Railways as a sweeper. But the lady doctor from Punjab compelled her not do the cleaning work. Even the community men opposed her sitting on the chair with the doctor. Kewala Devi when remember her old days, never forget to thank her doctor who gave her a dignity and fought with every one in the railways. She was made an assistant in the nursing. But Kewala worked harder. This time Bhullan Masterji informed her to learn typing. In the difficult circumstances of running family and doing work, Kewala learnt typing and passed the test in the Indian Railways. She was selected and today after years of working in Railways she is head clerk in the Howarh division.


She wants her community men to allow their women to leave this heinous practice of scavenging. ' We should not do this job even if we are hungry, she says. We cannot we opt for other profession, she says. Our children are not less than any other community children. They can write, read and work harder. Her grand children are working fine with their education. Kewala Devi now want to commit her time for the community after her retirement after two years. Kewla's son is an artist and has made numerous sketches and has a vision of developing an art college for students of his community despite his poor educational background.



Main issues of the Hindi speaking Dalits in Bengal


  1. No Rehabilitation of those evicted from Bellilius Park while the petty businessmen are making money from the park.
  2. No issuance of Scheduled Caste Certificate for the Hindi speaking Dalits hence no reservation for them in the government services.
  3. On retirement no arrangement has been made by the municipalities to send the pension to their residence outside Bengal
  4. Hindi speaking people are forced to sign in Bengali language
  5. Hindi speaking Dalits have not got scholarships and all benefits, which their counterparts are getting elsewhere.
  6. All the communities involved in the Safai profession are clubbed under 'Mehtar'. The government calls Mehtar as a profession and not as a caste. Helas, Bhangis, Rawats, Sudarshans, Dhanuks are clubbed together as Mehtars which they all object.
  7. Unlike other places those involved in Safai work are called Mehtar officially in Bengal which is a derogatory word.
  8. The Safai post are being offered to CPM's cadre as the issue of carrying night soil is getting over. Night Soil work is totally and one hundred percent done by the Hindi speaking Dalits.
  9. There is a clear lack of commitment and sincerity on part of government of West Bengal towards the welfare of the Hindi speaking Dalits.



Conclusion:  The condition of Safai communities in Bengal is terrible. They have achieved a lot in these adverse circumstances.   They want justice and if the government and authorities fail to fulfill their promises, these peace loving people can come to the street to protest against the conspiracy to keep them isolated and shunt them out. Government of West Bengal needs to show its commitment to social justice. A secular Bengal without social justice is unwanted. Peace will remain fragile there if the communities continue to be marginalized. Human Rights Activists outside Bengal should focus on the plight of the Hindi speaking Dalits in West Bengal and try to resolve the most difficult crisis of their life. West Bengal need a regular mechanism to monitor the violation of the rights of Dalits particularly those from outside Bengal.