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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Once untouchable, now it’s band, baja, baarat for these sisters

The weddings were organized with help of Sulabh International, an NGO that works on sanitation.

jaipur Updated: Feb 20, 2018 22:02 IST
Urvashi Dev Rawal
Urvashi Dev Rawal
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
(Left to right) Sarita and Rajni in their bridal finery before the wedding in Tonk on Tuesday.
(Left to right) Sarita and Rajni in their bridal finery before the wedding in Tonk on Tuesday.(HT Photp)

Rajni and Sarita Thanwal once worked as manual scavengers and were treated as untouchables by their employers.

On Tuesday, the same people participated in the “grand” weddings of the sisters in Tonk.

Elephants, camels, horses, bands playing wedding songs, and dancing baraatis, the weddings in Tonk, about 100 km from Jaipur, had all the pomp and show of a regular “upper caste” wedding, which would have been unthinkable for the manual scavengers.

“Our mother used to work as a manual scavenger and we used to go with her from house to house. People used to discriminate against us,” said Sarita, 25, looking radiant as a bride who was married to Sunny Sangat, a cameraman from Kota.

“They used to give us food and water from a distance and we could never think of eating or drinking with them. But today those very people are today participating in our wedding,” she said.

“A former employer sent us box of sweets, a coconut, betel lead and garlands as shagun.”

Her sister, Rajni, 27, got married to Shubham Dharu, a fireman who lives in Ajmer’s Sarwad town.

“I used to hate it when I had to do manual scavenging in childhood. People used to misbehave with us and taunt us. We used to earn Rs 200-300 every month and got leftover food from houses of employers,” Rajni said.

“Once in school, I asked the woman peon for a glass of water. She had just given water to another student but refused me when I asked. I got angry and complained against her and the headmaster even ticked her off,” she said.

The weddings were organized with help of Sulabh International, an NGO that works on sanitation.

Sulabh has been working in Rajasthan since 2003 and has helped to rehabilitate manual scavengers.

Manual scavenging was banned In India in 1993 but has not yet been completely eradicated.

Sulabh International chief Dr Bindeshwar Pathak said with this ‘grand’ wedding they wanted to convey the message that society has accepted the change and is treating these women who were once untouchables, with respect.

“Once they used to carry human excreta on their heads. But today they can hold their heads high in society,” said Pathak. “These women have chosen to call themselves Brahmins and now socially interact with upper classes.”

Sulabh has helped organize weddings and given Rs 2 lakh financial help for 15 women who were previously manual scavengers.

The sisters say their lives changed for the better after they joined the Sulabh International centre in Tonk in 2008. Sarita works as a beautician while Rajni who has completed her graduation and a computer course, works at the Sulabh centre in Tonk.

In Rajasthan, Sulabh has two centres, one in Tonk and the other in Alwar, the districts that had a majority of manual scavengers.

Tonk had more than 250 manual scavengers and Alwar more than 200. Both the districts were declared manual scavenging free in 2010.

The objective of opening the centres was to reach out to manual scavengers and give them alternative life skills, said Pathak.

The centres impart skills such as tailoring, embroidery, beauty care, making handicrafts, bags, pickles and papad.

Sonu Gupta, training in-charge at the Tonk centre, said there were more than 275 manual scavengers when the centre opened in 2008. By 2010 all of them had left manual scavenging and taken up alternative employment.

Apart from life skill, the scavengers were also taught to maintain cleanliness and keep their surroundings clean, she said.

“The outlook of society has slowly changed and discrimination has reduced. Now upper castes also invite them in social functions.”

In 2015, Sulabh International had organized a function in Delhi where more than 300 women manual scavengers were formally declared as Brahmins in the presence of Union minister Mahesh Sharma and Sanskrit scholars.

First Published: Feb 20, 2018 21:56 IST

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