9TH AUGUST 2016
The Indian Christian Women’s Movement congratulates Mr. Bezwada Wilson, national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, on being named the receipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award (2016) in recognition of his tireless efforts to eradicate manual scavenging in India.
We laud his efforts to end the dehumanizing work of manual scavenging done by thousands of Dalits throughout the country. Beginning way back in 1986 when he personally got involved to experience the reality of manual scavengers, right through to the passing of ‘The Employment of Manual Scavenging and construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act,1993’ which prohibits the engagement or employment of persons for manually carrying human excreta, and further prohibits the construction or maintenance of dry latrines, and following up the enforcement of the law, even taking to task several municipal corporations and the Indian Railways for violation of the law. The 1993 law was made more stringent with harsher penalties in the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013" or "M.S. Rules 2013".
We admire his integrity and grit in sticking firmly with the cause of uplifting manual scavengers from their dehumanizing employment and rehabilitating them, spurning the offers of politicians when he sensed they tried to use him for their own ends. We note with great appreciation and joy that the majority of those liberated and rehabilitated are women.
The Safai Karmchari Andolan cofounded by Mr. Wilson as a child of manual scavengers, was initiated in 1995 together with other children of those engaged in Manual Scavenging for liberation from this degrading occupation. It has grown progressively to become a national movement spread over 25 states of India, with the national secretariat in New Delhi. They are committed to the struggle and build solidarity to reclaim the dignity, equality and human personhood of dalits, through eradicating manual scavenging. They are resolved to break the link imposed by the caste system between birth and dehumanizing occupations.
We are greatly disappointed that the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has failed to recognize the great achievement of Mr. Wilson in winning this prestigious award by failing to take steps to eradicate this evil as desired by Mr. Wilson. Notwithstanding all the legal penalties of the MS Rules 2013, we would like to point out that the practice of engaging manual scavengers to clean dry latrines continues to exist in several states of India and flies in the face of the Prime Minister's Swaach Bharat campaign - which does not even mention the responsibility of completely eradicating manual scavenging. Just before the launch of the 2014 SWC, the Supreme Court of India in March 2014, declared that there were 9.6 million dry latrines being manually emptied but the exact number of manual scavengers is disputed - official figures put it at less than 700,000 but campaigners say it is closer to 1.2 million, the biggest violator being the Indian Railways. Asking school children to sweep streets is one thing but then still using manual scavengers to do the demeaning work is another!
We hereby demand that the Swaach Bharat Campaign take on board the goal of completely eradicating manual scavenging in India, and we call upon Prime Minister Modi to initiate concrete steps to rehabilate all persons presently engaged in this obnoxious practice providing them with skills to engage in new income generating schemes. This will be the least our country can do towards achieving the democratic ideals of equality for every Indian, and in recognition of the Award received by Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Wilson we are proud of your work and assure you of our support in your relentless efforts to continue to bring liberation to all Dalit people who work in dehumanizing and dangerous conditions, and to eradicate the stigma of caste linked to degrading occupations.
Indian Christian Women’s Movement.