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Sonia may do Gandhi proud!

Sonia has taken up cudgels for India's scavengers, announcing to end the century-old manual scavenging system at the earliest. | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 31, 2008 01:57 AM IST

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi is all set to achieve a distinction what leaders of all hues could not achieve since India's independence. Quite befitting a Gandhi, Sonia has taken up cudgels for the worst-sufferers of the century-old tradition of manual scavenging, announcing to end the evil at the earliest.

The UPA government is all set to eradicate manual scavenging. While talking to a group of liberated scavenger women from Rajasthan's Alwar, the UPA chairperson assured that she would discuss the issue with the Prime minister to end the 'evil of the society'.

Manual scavenging was banned by a formal Act of Parliament in 1993 and it is called Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition Act. Using or maintaining dry toilets is illegal and liable for criminal punishment.

But, paradoxically, official figures of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for 2007, reveal that there are at least 342468 manual scavengers in the country, spread over 21 states working at dry latrines and invloved in human excreta cleaning processes.

These 28 liberated scavenger women, who got a chance to meet UPA Chairperson on Thursday, are all set to walk the ramp with top models of the world at the United Nations in July.

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 Assembly Halls on July 2, 2008, where ministers and officials from more than 150 countries will be present and where a book containing success stories of these women titled "Princesses of Alwar" will also be released.

The Congress president has expressed great satisfaction over the efforts of these liberated scavengers who have not only left the traditional practice of manual scavenging, but have also started social initiative to motivate other colleagues. Sonia Gandhi also appreciated the contribution of Sulabh and its founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak in the liberation of manual scavengers in the country.

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 fairy tale for each one of the 28 woman folks 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 that motivates their scavenger brethren to quit 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 persons engaged in manual cleaning of human excreta and carrying it as headload."

The scavengers were termed as 'untouchables', prior to Independence of India, having been put to the lowest ladder of the caste hierarchy. Mahatma Gandhi, who became the voice of these 'untouchables', must be smiling from the heavens.

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