New Delhi: Ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), a movement for elimination of manual scavenging, released their manifesto on April 4, at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. The manifesto lists the specific demands made by the manual scavengers to break the shackles of caste, patriarchy, and for the recovery, reconstruction, and reclamation of their fundamental right to live with dignity.
While releasing the manifesto, Bezwada Wilson, the national convener of SKA, said, “This is the biggest moment in our history. This is the first time we, the manual scavengers, are releasing our manifesto. We do not want a government that does not care about us. These are our demands, and we are not requesting the people in power to meet them, we are ordering them.
The manifesto reads, “We are deeply worried that Manuvadi, unscientific, irrational and fundamentalist forces are hijacking agenda of people -- untouchability, hunger, poverty, gender violence and unemployment deliberately thrown out of political discourse. This trend is posing serious threat to our constitutional values.”
It lists several demands made by the scavengers for their liberation from this dangerous occupation, for their rehabilitation, and for ensuring their rights to live with dignity, education, and health.
Deepthi Sukumar, National Convenor of SKA, said, “Even after seeing our plight, all the governments, both Centre and state, chose to remain silent, and especially the Prime Minister. As long as we are being forced into manual scavenging, to risk our lives for this dangerous occupation, just because of our castes, this country cannot be considered a democracy.”
She added, “This manifesto lists what we want, how we envision our democracy to be. We will send this to all the political parties. They can come into power only if they are ready to meet all our demands.”
The manifesto has demanded that all safai karmacharis and their dependents be issued a Right to Life – 21 (RL-21) card, which will ensure direct and free access to education, health care, dignified employment and livelihoods, and all other benefits and schemes as per the fundamental rights given to all citizens of India under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
It has also demanded that 1% of the Union budget be exclusively allocated for the welfare of manual scavengers, including their liberation and rehabilitation benefits, and a separate ministry for their release and rehabilitation headed by the Prime Minister.
The other demands listed in the manifesto include pension of Rs 6,000 per month to all safai karmachari men and women who are above 55 years of age, direct access with free admission for their children using the RL-21 card into any institution and hostels (government, aided, private and foreign institutions) of their choice from primary to the highest level of the education. Direct and free access to any hospital (government or private) of their choice by using the RL-21 card for all their medical needs including the most specialised medical intervention. It has also demanded free water and sanitation facilities for every safai karmachari household.
Usha Ramanathan, board member of SKA, said, “The political parties should know that if they want to stay in power, they have to care about our welfare, and meet our demands.