Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Whose Dirt Is It Anyway?

One of the most shameful aspects of Indian society is that a substantial number of people still have to do manual scavenging of human faeces from dry latrines. This is an age old custom and hundreds of thousands of Dalit men and women still have to manually clean the faeces from dry latrines and carry it on their heads to dump it away from the habitations. The Government of India enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 but till date there has not been a single conviction under this statute even though manual scavenging is still rampant in the country. What is more disconcerting is that the Government of India itself is a violator of the law through the Indian Railways. The passenger trains of the railways have open latrines through which the faeces, urine and water are released onto the tracks below. While this is not so much of a problem between stations it does become a serious one in stations where the tracks are laid in between cemented aprons and platforms. Even today the Indian Railways employ Dalits as manual scavengers to clean this dirt. 
The Safai Karmachari Andolan (SFA) or Janitors Campaign which has been conducting a concerted campaign for over two decades to rid this country of this inhuman scourge filed a public interest litigation a decade ago in the Supreme Court alleging that the Railways with its 170,000 open discharge toilets was the biggest violator of the Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act. The Railways employs a huge army of Dalits, who are mostly contract labourers, to clean the dirt from the stations manually. The Supreme Court Judges initially refused to believe that this was true as the Railways denied this fact totally. The  SFA had to submit photographic evidence from across the country to convince the judges that the situation was indeed as bad as alleged.
The Railways have nevertheless continued to dilly dally citing the huge cost of taking remedial measures which basically means adding tanks to trains to contain the sewage generated and then dispose them in sewage treatment plants built at stations. There is a suggestion for using bio digester toilets which will then release partially treated black water at the bigger stations to be emptied there for further treatment. Alternatively a septic tank can be put below the toilets with an aerator pump pushing air into the tank run by a gear system attached to the wheels. This aerated digestion will substantially treat the black water and it can then be emptied out into tanks at the stations for further solar and chemical treatment to make it fit for washing of the trains and for flushing the toilets. To decrease the sewage load there can be an automatic system that whenever the train is running at or above a certain speed the toilets will open outside and below that speed they will empty into the tank. In this way the problems of dirt on the stations, manual scavenging and supply of water for washing trains and flushing toilets can be simultaneously solved. That the railways is not doing this just shows how obstinate the Government system is in its unjust character. The Government is also steadfastly refusing to hold a census to have an authoritative estimate of the number of manual scavengers and dry latrines despite several representations for this from the SFA. Manual Scavengers in fact are the backbone of the sewage system in cities also. Whenever, the sewers get blocked, which is pretty often, they have to descend into them to clean them. Every year some manual scavengers die due to inhaling the toxic gases that are generated in the sewers while trying to clean them. A man cleaning a sewer as in the picture below is a common sight in most cities.

Finally the pressure from the Supreme Court has forced the Central Government to promise to enact a new law that will put the onus on the Indian Railways to install toilets and cleaning systems that do not use manual scavenging but that too is waiting to be tabled in Parliament.
The Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (RGA) or the National Dignity Campaign is another organisation that has been campaigning for over a decade to end manual scavenging and have also taken steps to provide rehabilitation to freed manual scavengers. The RGA launched a Rashtriya Maila Mukti Yatra or National Freedom from Dirt March recently from November 30th 2012.  The photo of the final rally of the march being taken out in Delhi on 31st January 2013 is given below.

The Maila Mukti Yatra according to its organisers traveled 10000 Kilometres covering 18 states and 200 districts in two months. Thousands of liberated women participated in the Yatra and mobilised 50,000 manual scavengers to stop the practice. More than 3000 Manual Scavengers were liberated during the Yatra. The Yatra culminated at New Delhi on 31st January 2013. Thousands of liberated manual scavengers expressed their commitment to eradicate this practice from the country. Three Ministries of the Government of India participated in the programme and expressed their commitment for passing a new legislation to end this practice and announced several provisions for rehabilitation. Different Commissions and representatives of the United Nations  also assured  that they would work for eradication of the practice of manual scavenging. Importantly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights supported the Yatra. A “Delhi Deceleration for Eradication of Inhuman Slavery of manual scavenging from the Nation” was also adopted by the participants which chalks out a programme of action to achieve a manual scavenging free India.

The problem arises because people are not prepared to take care of their own dirt. Treating and recycling dirt in a decentralised manner is the best option and there are enough simple technologies to do this as mentioned earlier in the case of the Indian Railways. However, since there are a set of indigent people who have no other alternative but to do this work the rest of society cavalierly decides to offload their dirt onto the heads of these people.

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