Pankaj Kumar, a safai karmachari from Varanasi, died three years ago while he was cleaning a manhole connected to a sewer line. His family, including his wife Pinki, has not received any of the promised Rs 10 lakh compensation amount, and the inhuman practice of manual scavenging continues despite the ban on it.
To protest against state apathy and the prevalence of the practice, Pinki Tuesday joined the ‘Bhim Yatra’, a 125-day-long bus journey covering more than 35,000 km across 500 districts in the country’s 29 states.
The yatra, launched on International Human Rights Day to commemorate B R Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, culminated in Delhi at Ambedkar Bhavan. The yatris are family members of workers killed by hazardous fumes while they were inside manholes and sewage lines.
On Tuesday, they marched to drum beats and chants of ‘azadi’, and waved blue flags. The yatra, perhaps the first-of-its kind, started on December 10 last year from the northeast, travelled to Jammu and Kashmir, all the way to Kanyakumari from there, and finally to Delhi.
“Everywhere we went, we met people who were involved in cleaning filth and manual scavenging. They faced social discrimination, usually on caste lines. The names changed from Dalit to Mehtar or Balmikis, but the problems remained the same,” said 25-year-old Pammi, a student from Haryana.
Bezwada Wilson, the national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, said, “There have been 12 deaths in Delhi… yet no one cares. Municipal bodies across the country push poor people into manual scavenging by indirectly employing safai karmacharis on a contractual basis.”