Hindi Speaking Dalits
at the receiving end in West Bengal
"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)
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
Main issues of the Hindi speaking Dalits in Bengal
- No Rehabilitation of
those evicted from Bellilius Park
while the petty businessmen are making money from the park.
- No issuance of
Scheduled Caste Certificate for the Hindi speaking Dalits
hence no reservation for them in the government services.
- On retirement no
arrangement has been made by the municipalities to send the pension to
their residence outside Bengal
- Hindi speaking people
are forced to sign in Bengali language
- Hindi speaking Dalits have not got scholarships and all benefits,
which their counterparts are getting elsewhere.
- 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.
- Unlike other places
those involved in Safai work are called Mehtar officially in Bengal
which is a derogatory word.
- 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.
- 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.