India: liberated women scavengers visit Parliament, meet Speaker

A new beginning: A group of liberated women scavengers during their visit to the Parliament House in New Delhi, India. Photo: R. V. Moorthy/The Hindu

It was an unforgettable moment for 300 women who used to work as manual scavengers as they entered the precincts of Parliament to get an experience of the Lok Sabha [Lower House] on Tuesday [16 August 2010] for the first time.

Treated as “untouchables” and ostracised by society for the nature of their work for decades, the women belong to a class of workers who used to manually clean human excreta.

The 300 women, who hailed from Alwar and Tonk districts of Rajasthan, have stopped working as manual scavengers now. They were received by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as special guests.

Ms. Kumar (1945) was elected as the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha in 2009. From 2004-2009 she served as Cabinet Minister in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Laxmi, who has worked as a manual scavenger said, “My in-laws forced me into the dirty job and it made me feel extremely dirty and undignified for about a decade”. She is now a beautician at a beauty parlour in Alwar.

The Lok Sabha Speaker expressed grave concern over the age-old practice of manual scavenging and called the women “real heroines”. She also felt the need for an extensive campaign to uproot such social evils.

[…]

Many of these women were helped by NGO Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, which works in the field of improving sanitation and the liberation and rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

Source: PTI / Deccan Herald, 17 Aug 2010 ; The Hindu, 17 Aug 2010

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