Social activist Ruth Manorama said while the #Metoo movement is breaking the culture of silence, it should be inclusive to include Dalit women. “The women in the movement are speaking out and it is necessary that the culture of silence be broken, but it should be holistic. Dalit women have suffered for many centuries at the hands of dominant caste men and spoken about it too, but nobody heard them. The hope is that when Dalit women speak about this suffering, the women in this movement will support us too,” Manorama said.
Speaking at an event at The Asiatic Society of Mumbai on the status of human rights in India, organised by Majlis and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Manorama said that emancipation of women cannot happen without speaking of other systemic issues in society like caste.
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National convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson, also spoke at the event, saying that the movement is not just a “women’s movement” but is about inequality in society. “Those speaking out are not talking about sexuality. It is about power in an unequal society. The demand is for an equal society as per the rights given in the Constitution for all citizens,” Wilson said. He added that these same rights in the Constitution should also be given to those men and women being made to work as manual scavengers, though it is banned in law. “Human rights violation have become a state culture. One cannot sit and say we are all equal while someone is cleaning your sewers and losing their lives. After over 70 years of Independence, if Dalits are still employed as manual scavengers, it is not an equal society. We are not saying Dalits should not do it and someone else should, no human being should,” Wilson said.
He said that the government had spent a lot of money on its flagship cleanliness programme, Swachh Bharat, but issues of rehabilitation of those forced to do manual scavenging remain unaddressed.