Come July, at least 28 liberated scavenger women from Alwar, a small village from Rajsthan, are all set to walk the ramp at the United Nations.
With an aim on showcasing the path-breaking contributions of liberated scavengers in the context of social reform, Sulabh International has planned to take them to the United Nations General for a cat-walk at the General Assembly Halls on July 2, 2008, where ministers and officials from more than 150 countries will be present. A book containing success stories of these women, Princesses of Alwar, will also be released.
The journey from being a scavenger carrying night soil in a small town to a chance to walk on the ramp and rub shoulders with celebrities was tortuous but it happened like a classic case for each one of the 28 woman folk who hail from the lowest strata of the society.
Four years ago, all the 28 downtrodden women were engaged in the traditional family practice of cleaning night soil in their localities. Each one of them is now an active member of a group to motivating her scavenger brethren to resign the lives of drudgery and humiliation.
They were helped in giving up their work by a vocational training centre, Nai Disha, an initiative of the Sulabh Sanitation movement in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. Now these 28 liberated scavengers have become role models for the society.
According to founder of Sulabh movement Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, "I have been in my own humble way attempting since 1968 to realise in no small measure one of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi to restore human rights and dignity to people engaged in manual cleaning of human excreta and carrying it as headload." You may be aware, that the class of people, referred to above, called scavengers, were termed as 'untouchables', prior to Independence of India. They were confined to the lowest order and the last step in the ladder of the Indian hierarchical caste structure, he adds.
"To relieve them from their sub-human practice of manual cleaning of human excreta, two technologies were developed by me: one for the individual households and the other applicable to toilets at public places, so that the practice of manual cleaning of excreta is dispensed with. After relieving them from the demeaning practice, we have imparted to them education and vocational training, to enable them becoming self-employed," says the Sulabh founder.
Apart from other things, these scavengers now prepare eatables, like, papads, noodles, pickles, which are bought locally by the people, a phenomenon unthinkable in the Indian society. In the last World Toilet Summit, the scavenger womenfolk had stitched clothes for the models at a Fashion Show and walked the ramp with them. One of the scavengers shared the dais with the former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, of the Netherlands.