I Completely Share Your Anguish, Pa. Ranjith; But I Don’t Think India Is A ‘Shameless Nation’
Aravindan Neelakandan’s open letter to Pa. Ranjith
My dear brother Pa. Ranjith,
I recently read about your anguished outpouring at the conference (or was it a seminar?) for the rehabilitation of hygiene workers who had to clean night soil. I completely empathize with the essence of your anguish and pain. Yes, it is a shame that this highly degrading practice exists in our society. Yes, we should accord the highest priority to this problem. You have given the statistic that twenty six workers had died when cleaning the underground sewage systems throughout India this year alone and that most of them were youths. Clearly, in a nation where we speak of digital technology, that safe technology has failed to reach our own hygiene workers is a telling sign of our collective failure. Adding more cruelty to these existing inhuman systems is the fact that most of our hygiene workers are made to go to this degrading, dangerous work driven by caste and unemployment and humiliated day in and day out by untouchability. So your anger and pain are more than understandable. They should be shared by each and every Indian today - from the Prime Minister to the common man.
However when you said that while many consider India as a land of culture and civilization , you consider it only a 'shameless nation where cows are valued more than the human lives', naturally that sentence got highlighted. Further you said to the organisers of the conference/seminar that none other than the organisers care or talk about these workers.
Here I want to point out certain things.
—In your movies I have seen Swami Vivekananda being shown in certain frames. You should be hence knowing that his Guru Sri Ramakrishna had it as a part of his own sadhana the removal of the disease of casteism from our minds. He cleaned the night soil of the scheduled community members and carried it on his own head. We consider this act of Sri Ramakrishna as the pinnacle of India’s spiritual civilization.
—I want you to look at some enlightened Hindu responses on social media to your statement, particularly those of Sp. Chockalingam, an advocate in Madras High Court and Ananda Ganesh, a long time blogger, both active in social networks. Together they have brought out some important points:
In 1950s Gopichettypalayam a small municipality, in Tamil Nadu, became the first municipality to abolish the manual removal of night soil. The ban was the result of the toils of G.S.Lakshmana Iyer – a Gandhian. In 1955 even though a legislative attempt for the ‘upliftment’ of manual cleaners of night soil was attempted it did not help matters much. The next important legal ban on the manual removal of nightsoil was effected strictly by the municipal administration of Udupi temple town. The person who labored for this and spearheaded the legislation was V.S.Acharya the municipal chairman belonging to Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the precursor of today’s BJP. At the central government the definitive legal ban on this humiliating occupation was brought by P.V.Narasimha Rao – the man all secularists love to hate and whose name Congress men hasten to erase from their legacy.
Let me also point out that it was Veer Savarkar who in 1931 built the pan-Hindu temple in Ratnagiri and made as its priest a man born in the Bhangi caste – the so-called untouchable community forced to do the manual cleaning. The pan-Hindu conference he organized started with the recital of Gayatri mantra, the holiest of the Vedic mantras- by a youth Vedic scholar born in Bhangi community.
These are historical instances. In fact I will not try to shift the blame on Islamic invasions and colonial impoverishing of India, though I should say there is a school of thought supported by oral and historical evidence. But it will be totally unfair, if I do not mention the fact that as early as 1925 a study titled 'Patit Prabhakar: Mehtar Jati ka Itihasa' published in Ghazipur, establishes that bhangis and kshatriyas descended from the same source, substantiated by philological evidence. So though today suffering, we have a collective past in which we have contributed to the greatness of this nation and culture and when we degrade our nation because of the social evils of today we essentially again degrade ourselves. I do not have to tell you the fact that you should be knowing very well that it is into the strengths of our own culture that we have to look into to reassert our humanity in our society. We do not have to forsake it.
Now let me come to the reality of today. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, a Gandhian Hindu, has dedicated his own life to improvement of the condition of hygiene workers while at the same time freeing the workers forced into the work by social stagnation. He designed the Sulabh two-pit pour flush ecological compost toilet and made it into a people's movement.
In 2003, UNDP in its Human Development Report states that his work has shown that 'human waste can be disposed of affordably and in a socially acceptable way'. BBC Horizons has declared the Sulabh technologies as one of five unique inventions of the world. The Sulabh Foundation has used many Hindu customs and traditions to empower the erstwhile communities who were forced by the forces of subjugation and social stagnation to be sanitation workers and break the social taboo associated with hygiene services.
Right in the capital of the nation 50 Sulabh toilets are managed and cleaned by so-called Brahmins by birth. In 2013, at the Kumbhmela the highest religious leaders who had assembled there promised Dr. Pathak that they would stand by him to eradicate the stigma of untouchability and continued forms of discrimination. It was no empty promise. In 2016, in Madhya Pradesh, the erstwhile sanitation women workers along with Brahmin priests and Sanskrit scholars, together took a holy dip in the Kshipra river at Ujjain during the Kumbh Mela. Through that significant act was underreported in the mainstream media, the erstwhile sanitation women workers purified Hindu society of its stigma of social stagnation. Today under the present government, Dr. Pathak is the brand ambassador for the cleanliness campaign of Indian Railways.
Dear Pa.Ranjith, the India that we are all to be proud of is this India, which is striving to remove every human degradation that exists with all its spiritual strength. Despite the vote-bank seeking politicians who have for almost seven decades after independence made us fight in the name of caste, despite the corruption that drains our wealth just like the colonial imperialism drained it, despite the large apathy among the vast sections of population for the downtrodden and marginalized sections of the society, India lives as a great civilization because of the people who care in their spirit for the suffering humanity and feel the guilt for that suffering. You are in the field of mass media and you can reach out to millions. Perhaps Mother India has chosen you to convey Her real greatness by highlighting the lives of such great souls and thus inspire the next generation to remove this stigma from the land and mind of our nation in war footing.
Wishing you a great future,
A proud Indian who shares your righteous anguish
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