On Friday,Sunil Yadav (33) was finding it tough to keep his mind occupied. As much as tried to divert his attention,his relatives and friends gathered at Lakshmi Puja a Slum Rehabilitation Authority colony in Mahalakshmi would not stop questioning him about his visit to a foreign country.
Yadav,a first generation literate from the Valmiki community and a conservancy worker with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC),was getting ready to leave for University of Witwatersrand,Johannesburg,on a three-month student exchange programme. It has been a long struggle, Yadav said on Saturday morning as he waited for his flight at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
If he had his way,he said,he would have carried all his books but his wife insisted that he carry packets of instant food and home-made pickles instead.
We did not know what to pack. He chided us for getting hassled. He just wanted his books but we are concerned about how he will manage in a foreign country, said his pregnant wife Sanjana.
Yadav,a student of the masters in globalisation and labour course at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS),worked nights and attended classes during the day for the last two years. Hoping to avail leave for studies,he wrote to BMC officials several times. When none of the officials responded,Yadav sought a reply under the RTI Act.
The BMC manual has a provision for study leave but civic authorities denied his right stating that safai karmachari is not qualified to avail the leave because what he will learn is not connected to his duties. The BMCs stand was termed casteist by the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes (NCSC).
I did not want to see another person in my family dying like my father. For generations,we have cleaned the streets of this city. I want to be the last person to have held the broom in my hand, said Yadav.
Yadavs three-month stint at University of Witwatersrand entails an in-depth understanding of labour rights in South Africa. Yadav,one of the 40,000-odd conservancy workers,mostly Dalits,has left with the hope of never returning to the job.
Babasaheb Ambedkar had said,education is the only key to Dalit progress. I want to ensure my community gives up on this caste-based profession and looks for a life of dignity, Yadav said.