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.
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.