From the ignominy of collecting human excreta by hand and carrying the buckets on their heads, Usha represents the thousands of women liberated by Sulabh
THE sun is all set to sneak through the sky. Just around 170 kms from the capital city Delhi, lies the small historical city of Alwar which has not yet seen the first rays of daybreak. But one can discern the weariness before finally getting up. Usha, Nanda, Laxmi, Shakuntala, Lalita – you are also in deep sleep but alas, you have to get up quite early before daybreak and rush to work, leaving your children and husbands behind while they are still sleeping, with your scuttle and your broom as a manual scavenger – negating, negotiating and braving the attacks of stray dogs and grunting pigs, and go on to clean the human excreta with bare hands and disposing it off later.
Yes, Usha, remember the moment when you were conferred as the President of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation by the United Nations Trusteeship Council. At that point of time you were overwhelmed with joy, but your pain overshadowed your joy when you recall those days when your job made you feel so dirty, you were called an untouchable and an outcaste, you lost your identity and your own self, it was just like your shadow following you.
This also finds mention in the ‘Narad Sanhita’ where on the basis of civilisation and culture, they have have been classified into 15 castes, and people like you have been placed on the lowest rung and termed as ‘pariah’, or a social outcaste. Before passing through the public places, you had to announce your arrival by tying a gong (bell) round your neck so that people can get away from your sight on hearing the sound. In case there was no bell , a broom was tied on the body. Slippers were not permitted to be worn, you were prohibited from taking rides in horse chariots. You were supposed to carry the uncovered scuttles(taslas) filled with human excreta & urine on your heads and one could imagine the pathetic sight if it rained , with the human excreta and urine overflowing your head and shoulders.
When you returned, Alwar was awake, resounding to the ringing of temple bells. However, the need of the belly has kept awake the inhabitants of Hazuri Gate area, not knowing whether they will be able to get at least two square meals a day. The wages you get are not enough to run your livelihood. as every new day has a new meaning and many unanswered questions.
You kept on cursing your stars, your creator and what not, until that day when you were elevated to a new level which you have never dared to dream of. By the efforts of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, the renowned Indian Sociologist who is the father founder of Sulabh International, many dalit women like Usha were freed from their dehumanizing act . To provide them education and employment, ‘Nai Disha’ a training center was opened in the Lajpat Nagar area of Alwar on 28th Apr 2003, followed by another one in the Tonk city of Rajasthan.
SULABH: STATUE OF LIBERTY
The workers of Sulabh had to toil hard to convince your family members to send women like you to Nai Disha. As you were the sole bread earner of your family since your teens, your family had taken you for granted and literally compelled you to engage yourself in this inhumane act of cleaning the human excreta and disposing it, for which you used to get a paltry amount of Rs 250/- to 300/- per month. Now with the inception of Nai Disha women like you are earning Rs 1,500/- initially, and thereafter Rs 1,800/-, with dignity. You would agree with me, Usha, that with the concerted efforts of Sulabh and Dr Pathak, your lives have been renewed and elevated to a higher level.
You had been the puppets at the hands of your destiny, but now you and your friends with your tidy and strong hands are earning your livelihood in peace at Nai Disha by making poppadoms (papads), which spreads an enigmatic smile on the faces of your friends . All those people who till yesterday used to be afraid of even your shadow and of your touch are now eating the popadums, pickles, spices and other eatables made with those very hands.
Today you are happy because of Nai Disha which has given you status, respect, peace and liberty which will be instrumental in bringing about a social transformation. Dr Pathak’s efforts have not only made you literate but also imparted training in stitching, embroidery, beauty parlour as well as ramp walk besides endowing with the necessary skills and the tricks of the trade to sell these products in the market as well. Many of the prime hotels and restaurants are your clients. Your friends have also set up beauty parlours during your exhibitions which have drawn large crowds.
It was in the year 2008, that you were invited by the United Nations. You along with your 35 co-workers under the leadership of Dr Pathak, undertook a journey by air for 15 hours and reached United Nations HQ, New York where different models from different places flaunted the dresses designed by you and walked on the ramp. You also looked stunning and charismatic during the ceremony when the year 2008 was declared as the ‘International Year of Sanitation’.
You had also visited the ‘Statue of Liberty’ to declare your freedom from the centuries’ old dehumanising act and have broken the chains of an age old tradition of an improper practice with a movement called ‘Sulabh’ and proudly proclaimed to the world that you are no longer an ‘untouchables’.
On your return, when you along with Dr Pathak had called on the then Hon’ble President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, she remarked with pride that ‘This honour is not for you alone but to all the women like you, for our country India and for Mahatma Gandhi’. She also said in her address that ‘Mahatma Gandhi must be watching all this from heaven with tears in his eyes’.
Recently you and your co-workers along with Dr Pathak and high caste people and priests have entered the Jagannath temple, the entry to which was prohibited for people like you till now. All of you worshipped for hours together and had lunch with these people in whose houses you used to clean the human excreta and were treated as outcastes. It has been the culmination of the earth and the sky into the horizon where in a split second, you have put an end to an abhorent age old tradition and practice thus emerging victorious by overturning the pages of history which in itself is a saga of confidence and self esteem.
Usha, you were recently invited as a guest to a high profile wedding of a rich Brahmin family. You were honoured and held in high esteem and they had also accepted your gift with respect. What a transformation, Usha! This really was a new ray of hope and a dawn of a new beginning of a social revolution, whose seeds were sown
Be it receiving the award of ‘Safaigiri” from the hands of the hon’ble Prime Minister at a grand function in New Delhi, or welcoming the erstwhile Chief Justice, TS Thakur at the Sulabh Complex, or meeting the eminent spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the ‘Art of Living’ or explaining about your movement before BJP National President Amit Shah speaks volumes of your confidence and oratory skills.
ALL DOORS OPEN
Occasions like offering prayers at the Vishwanath temple or taking a dip in the Ganga or your priorities of eating with the pundits of Kashi are worth recalling. You became a witness and an icon of this social movement and went on to pay your respects and homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Gandhi Ashram , Durban, South Africa. You have been to many countries with Dr Pathak like France, America and the list is endless. You boldly expressed your thoughts and proved your mettle in the capacity of the President of Sulabh International.
Usha, do you know the meaning of your name? It means ‘Dawn’. But your life has been a story of a never-ending night which has not seen the rays of the dawn.
Was it that easy to come out of this existence? Fearlessly wandering and challenging the light before dawn and braving the intentions as tall as the Himalayas with some new words, new definitions you struggled and have come a long way off.
You have shed off the yoke of your past and have hung it on the hammock never to return again to the dreaded weary room. You owe your allegiance and respect to Dr Pathak for his assurance and help.
Keep on spreading the light like the wax of a candle which keeps on melting in spite of all the complexities. Never let your morale down and keep on courageously proclaiming your message fearlessly be it Delhi or New York, ‘Thanks to Sulabh’, ‘Thanks to Dr Pathak’, whatever light has come your way, keeping your past as a witness and watching your present, welcome a new dawn with a ray of hope. Hail the Princess of Alwar for making the world a better place to live in.
© 2016 Sulabh Swachh Bharat. All Right Reserved