Jan Sahas:Meet The Man Who Has Gifted New Life To Over 31 Thousand Manual Scavengers

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Even in this age of rapid urbanisation and technological advancement, the heinous practice of manual scavenging exists in extensive parts of rural India. What is worse is that the people associated with this shockingly degrading profession are treated as social outcasts and are often denied their fundamental human rights. Though the Manual Scavenging Act of 2013 has abolished this derogatory practice by law, many Dalit women are still subjected to carry out manual scavenging. “It is a matter of national shame as long as even one manual scavenger exists in India”, says Mr Ashif Shaikh, founder of the Jan Sahas Organisation, who has been working tirelessly for over 16 years towards liberating the manual scavengers and other bonded labourers.

Jan Sahas
Rescued bonded labourers

So far, his organisation has successfully rehabilitated around 31 thousand manual scavengers and bonded labourers and protected them from socio-economic discrimination. Having worked in 200 districts across 18 Indian states, Jan Sahas has also brought the victims into the mainstream of the society – ensuring their financial independence as well.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Jan Sahas, how it all began

Mr Ashif Shaikh believes that being born in a Dalit Muslim family; he faced marginalisation in every step of life. This nourished his determination to fight caste-based atrocities. As a student, he started the Sahasi Ekta Group to encourage the involvement of the student community in social development and societal problem-solving. This later paved the way for the foundation of Jan Sahas in 2000.

Achieving the first milestone

In 2001, Mr Shaikh initiated the “National Campaign for Dignity Program to end forced labour” –  based on a conducted study to identify various forms of untouchability and discrimination towards the Dalit community. During the survey, he found that the women engaged in manual scavenging practice were directly exposed to human excreta and sewage. Tolerating an extremely unpleasant stench, they collected the waste by their bare hands and carried it in cane baskets to the dump yards. In the scorching summer heat or pouring rains, the waste leaked on their faces and bodies. The work itself was inhuman; moreover, the women endured discrimination and violence as well.

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Their families are supposed to be engaged in this work generation after generation. They are prohibited from entering local temples, shops and all other public places. The children are treated as untouchables and do not have access to basic education. “The manual scavengers are untouchables within the untouchables”, Mr Shaikh adds, “Caste is not a practice, but a mindset. The Dalit people, who are mistreated by the upper castes, are meting out a similar treatment towards the manual scavengers.”

Jan Sahas
Village gatherings held by liberated victims

Jan Sahas initiated their work from Bhaurasa in Madhya Pradesh, where in one year they convinced 26 women to give up manual scavenging. The children played a huge role by narrating their experiences of harassment and convincing their mothers against it.

“The women burned their baskets as a symbol to boycott the ill practice”, recalls Mr Shaikh.

The NCDP campaign: following Babasaheb Ambedkar’s footsteps

The core strategy of Jan Sahas has been community empowerment, as devised once by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the pioneer in the fight against caste and casteism. The first group of liberated women were trained to be community leaders who travelled to adjacent villages creating awareness among other forced labourers. They were treated as role models by the next group of villagers. Today, the group has grown into an active organisation that is doing remarkable work towards abolishing social discrimination and gender disparity.

Their working methods are unique. For example, when a group of volunteers comprising liberated victims reach a village, they invite every villager for a gathering. Sharing snacks and listening to the caste-challenging ideas, the community is made to realise their plight in bondage. They can free themselves from this inhuman norm only when they understand that they are victims of social evil.

In 2013, Jan Sahas embarked on a cross-country march covering 230 districts, led by former manual scavengers. They mobilised other non-profit entities to follow a similar model to bring an end to the menace of manual scavenging.

Another milestone of success came through the “barefoot paralegals”. About 65% of the former victims emerging from the very bottom have been meticulously trained to become advocates who communicate with the other victims and represent them to ensure justice. As a matter of fact, due to efforts of the “barefoot paralegals”, the rate of conviction in sexual crimes against Dalit women have risen from 2% to 38% within a few years.

Jan Sahas
Providing alternate employment opportunities

Jan Sahas also ties up with Government schemes or private sector organisations to teach the children, to train the victims in skill development programs and also educate them about their rights and privileges. The Dalits today are a subject of political agenda by different parties, especially due to the controversy on the reservation system. Mr Shaikh ensures that his movement strictly focuses on their socio-economic well-being and does not get entangled in the political power struggle.

The challenges they overcame

Mr Shaikh reported the major challenges they had to deal with. First was the gender discrimination within the lower caste community. Women were mostly forced to engage in the manual scavenging work, and they also had to face sexual violence. Jan Sahas has successfully rehabilitated many survivors of rape and gender-based violence.

Another hurdle was the denial by the State or Central Government regarding the existence of manual scavengers – which sometimes delayed their campaigns.

Mr Ashif Shaikh’s message

“We need to clarify our basic understanding of equality”, Mr Ashif Shaikh insists. He feels that the rest of the society ignores the problem of caste discrimination considering that this issue concerns only the Dalit community. “Everybody needs to value the fundamental rights to equality as depicted in the Indian Constitution”, he adds. When the entire society joins hand in hand and takes up a firm stance against such practices, only then we can dream of a better India.

For more information on the Jan Sahas organisation and their development programmes, visit their website: http://jansahasindia.org.

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

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Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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