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Savanur and Manual Scavengers: Another loud cry for social justice

On July 20th Deccan Herald ran a disturbing news item. Manual scavengers from the Bhangi caste in Savanur had covered themselves with human excreta to protest their impending eviction and a denial of water by the Town Municipal Corporation (TMC). There were other similar reports in the Kannada press (both print and electronic). The back-story to the incident is incomplete in media reports. This write-up is an effort to document the facts surrounding the protest.

Savanur was ruled by Nawab Abdul Majid Khan II till Indian independence. Eight decades ago, the Nawab had granted land to the Bhangi community on which they could build their houses. On this land are four houses which make up the homes of seven Bhangi families. From the days of the Nawab these families have been working as manual scavengers in the town of Savanur. This land is now prime property in Savanur.

The TMC passed a resolution that transferred property granted by the Nawab into the hands of the Town Municipal Corporation. The resolution in-turn was used to declare that a “commercial complex” would come up at the site of these Bhangi homes.

The community made several requests to the authorities to stop their eviction. The TMC had by this time made their intentions of grabbing the land clear. Government officers gave a token assurance that the families would be moved to homes in other locations under the “Ashraya” scheme. This was nothing more than a way to rationalize their eviction.

On July 17th 2010, their common water connection was disconnected. The TMC claims it was for non-payment of dues and an illegal connection. Neighbours denied them the use of street taps and forced them to collect water from drain water around the public taps. In response to a complaint filed on 19th of July 2010, the Assistant Commissioner demanded that the families pay a fine of 2000Rs to have the water reconnected. Such a demand scoffs at both their economic status and their nature of work (manual scavenging).

On July 20th 2010, the community out of desperation protested by smearing themselves with human excrement. Once their protests reached the news wires, the TMC official promptly provided independent connections to each of their homes.

Why was it disconnected in the first place? The Departments of Municipal Administration (DMA) has been mandated to allocate 22.75% of ALL grants for the welfare of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe citizens. Explicitly mentioned within this scheme are funds that are to be allocated for providing drinking water connections [source]. The fact that they were isolated and targeted proves that it was an intimidatory tactic to force eviction. The scapegoat for the incident is the Chief Officer who happens to be a Dalit. He will be transferred for following orders.

To make matters worse another ugly layer to the problem is that children are being sucked into the caste labour of manual scavenging. A 13 year old boy has taken to manual scavenging after his father’s deteriorating health forced him to stop the caste labour. The Child Rights commission is making a suo-motto intervention but their track record makes us fear that the case will end up being diluted.

What the families were put through was shocking and inhuman. The general silence from the civil society to such apartheid by the state government and elected officials was worrying. A blatant land-grab from the most oppressed of people demanded a far stronger response. While most of us slept over the issue, certain religious institutions used it as an opportunity to declare their concern and adopt the children of these homes. Yes…adopt…heaping more insult to their injury. Pramod Muthalik of the Ram Sene made a visit to the homes. The Kannada daily Prajavani titled his entry “Graha Pravesha” (house warming).

Incidents like those in Savanur are not isolated. We need to begin joining the dots on forms and practices of untouchability, it’s beneficiaries and how it’s being used politically. The families in Savanur are the visible tip of the iceberg. Media reports suggest that up to 80% of the villages around Savanur have dabi and pit latrines which need to be cleared by manual scavengers. The situation is no different in many parts of the country.

The denial of water and the attempt to evict these Bhangi families was a deliberate and systematic attempt to grab their land. The town municipality, District and Taluk administration are all parties to this incident.  We leave you with two questions. What is your response? What do you suggest should be done?

Polic Terror: Trafail Slum, Gulbarga

Police terror in the Tarfail slum, Gulbarga
Uncovering institutionalized caste prejudices and biases

A report by PUCL Karnataka

View/Download the complete report HERE [.PDF format]

Background Note and Need for the Report

On 8th April 2010, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties – Karnataka (PUCL-K) received a representation from Shri. Allama Prabhu Nimbaragi, Convenor of the Zilla Kolageri Nivasigala Okkuta, Gulbarga and a respected young social activist.

The representation drew the attention PUCL-K to an incident that is said of have occurred on 29th March 2010, where, allegedly, the police lathi charged residents of Tarfail slum located near the Gulbarga Railway Station. The representation also stated that several innocent persons, including women, children and old persons were harassed and traumatized by the police.

Further, it was stated that male members of almost all the houses had been arrested on false and frivolous charges. Given the grave allegations made against the police and alleged human rights violations and atrocities, it was necessary that the PUCL-K conduct a detailed fact-finding into the incident.

Accordingly, a fact finding team was constituted comprising of the following members:

  1. Prof. Y J Rajendra, Vice-president, People’s Union for Civil Liberties – Karnataka
  2. Dr. Ramdas Rao, Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties – Karnataka
  3. Dr. Chandrakant Yatanoor, Professor of Political Science, Gulbarga University,
  4. Raghupathy S, Advocate
  5. Maitreyi Krishnan, Advocate, Alternative Law Forum

The Report of the fact finding team is available here

|Press Release| Government intereference in SHRC and Backward Classes Commission

Friday, 30 April 2010

Press statement

Condemning the state government and BJP’s interference in the independent functioning of State Human Rights Commission and Backward Classes Commission

The large number of incidences of abuse & exploitation of children, women, dalits, disabled, minorities, farmers & other vulnerable sections are increasing. The dislocation & displacement of these sections in the name of development are aggravated the situation bad to worse. The law & order is out of gear, the authorities responsible for protecting people are exploiting causing severe damage to lives, livelihood and rights of common people specially, the weaker and vulnerable sections. The Commissions constituted under constitution of India to protect people’s rights and livelihoods are under the attack of state government. The recent incidences of highhandedness & undemocratic decisions of state government by curtailing the powers of such constitutional authorities is a setback & dangerous.

The PUCL-K condemns the recent efforts of the BJP administration to silence and intimidate independent statutory authorities in the state. The PUCL-K is disturbed by the way the BJP administration has sought to interfere with the functioning of both the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission as well as the Backward Classes Commission.

The reported remarks of the BJP’s spokesperson that Justice S R Nayak was fighting for his own rights rather than fighting for human rights is a calculated attempt to humiliate a former Chief Justice and the present Chairman of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission.

One can only understand by these remarks that the BJP administration is upset with the independent stands taken by Justice Nayak which has embarrassed the government.

One in particular would like to draw the attention to the series of Orders issued by Justice Nayak which has repeatedly chastised the State Government for its turning a blind eye to moral policing in Dakshina Kannada. Justice Nayak has repeatedly warned the state that ‘Unless the State authorities, particularly the law enforcing authorities of the State nip these ugly heads of moral policing in the bud, there is likelihood of these forces engulfing the entire coastal belt and the State resulting in communal upsurge’

Justice Nayak has also been very active on a range of human rights issues right from slum dwellers rights to the rights of construction workers to the rights of sex workers. He has proved to be an able defender of human rights and a great ally of human rights struggles in Karnataka. As such targeting Justice Nayak is nothing but an attempt by the Government to immunize itself from any criticism of its abysmal human rights record.

With regard to backward Classes Commission, the issue of a circular by the Karnataka government to clip the powers of the Backward Classes Commission is another attempt by the State Government to denigrate and degrade independent statutory authorities.

The Karnataka Backward Classes Commission under its Chairperson, C.S. Dwaraknath has been functioning effectively to fulfil its mandate under Section 9 of the Karnataka State Commission for   Backward Classes Act, to examine requests for inclusion of any class of citizens as a Backward Class in the lists.

In particular, the PUCL-K would like to commend the Chairman for holding a unique meeting with members of the transgender community to examine the possibility of their inclusion as backward classes. His intervention in protecting the rights of kadugollas when their huts burnt by upper caste in Kurumayyana Gudlu,Gubbi taluk; and special package recommended to safe guard their interest is still pending with government. Similarly, the way he responded to uphold the rights of Alemari community, the rehabilitation of a small invisible dakleru community, series of measures initiated by him and the members of the Backward Classes Commission within the constitutional mandate created hopes in small communities in backward classes.

Such being the sterling contributions towards building an inclusive and democratic Karnataka, the comments and actions by the Government against these two authorities are indeed a step backward.

Therefore the PUCL urge that if the Goverment is serious in its intention to abide by the Constitutional mandate of ensuring justice social, economic and political, then it must forthwith

  1. Apologize to Justice Nayak for the intemperate remarks made against him by both BJP party spokesperson as well as senior government functionaries
  2. Withdraw the circular which in effect destroys the statutory independence of the   Backward Classes Commission.

We request you to publish this press statement in your newspaper to draw the attention of the public & government so as to protect democratic and constitutional spirit and uphold human rights of common people.

Thanking you

  • Arul Selva,  Secretary  PUCL – Karnataka
  • Y J Rajendra, Vice President   PUCL – Karnataka

Dated: Friday, 30 April 2010

PUCL petition on hazardous working conditions of Sanitary Workers

April 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Report, Urban Poverty 

In response to the PUCL petition on the hazardous working conditions of Pourakarmikas and Sanitary workers:

  • The High Court of Karnataka has constituted a 10 member committee headed by the Member Secretary of the Legal Services Authority.
  • According to the court’s order, the committee will submit it’s report within four weeks of receipt of the copy of the order.

The petition was filed to seek the court’s intervention to:

  • Ban entry of workers into sewage lines and manholes
  • To ban entry of workers or handling of human refuse in septic tanks of individual homes, hotels and other establishments manually
  • To protect the best interests, employment and benefits of the permanent and contract workers currently employed in this work

Related Documents

Citizens against UID

PUCL has endorsed the Citizen’s Statement on UID

We, representatives of people’ movements, mass organizations, institutions and concerned individuals including all the undersigned strongly oppose the potential tracking and profiling based techno-governance tools such as the Unique Identification number (UID) by the Government of India and the manner in which legitimate democratic processes have been undermined through this.

The proposed UID project seems to be perched on an anti-people perspective and violates a number of basic rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India including Articles 14, 15, 17, 19 and 21 viz., the Rights to equality, dignity, privacy, expression and the right not to be discriminated against, The project seems to be aimed at profiling people by pooling in biometric and retinal data pertaining to an individual and could be potentially discriminatory in a country where caste identity is the most predominant socio-political marker. Further, it is a travesty on the dignity and privacy of individuals. At another level, given the fact that more than one third of our population live below the substantial level called “poverty line” and without literacy & numeracy, a large section of our population would find itself unable to handle this number in a meaningful way and thus face the danger of virtually stripped of their citizenship and thereby the very legitimacy of their existence on the land of this country.

This project which has been launched at a budgeted cost of INR 1900 Crores for the year 2010-2011 in a country where the Government has officially declared that 400 million of its citizens are living below poverty line is , thus an insult to the dignity of the Peoples of India. The project headed by a person of the rank of the Union Cabinet Minister, whose appointment was not transparent and a staff overhead of more than 100 is also working under the most non-transparent processes and we fear that the decisions are made and influenced by vested private and corporate interests who have had a record of anti-people and anti-democratic activities. There is no wide public discussion on the feasibility or desirability of the project.

It is in this context that we have serious objections to the way the decadal census process is being used to pitch the UID process and no discussion on this has happened in any of the democratic forums including the Parliament, which also transgresses n the right to dignity and privacy of individuals and their choice to opt out of the UID process. If the UID continues to be tagged with the Census process – we would also consider boycotting the same. It is a matter of great concern that the powers that be have deliberately kept silent on the inter linkage between the UID and current mode of census

In this situation it is not clear which decisions are being made by the private sector or by the elected representatives. There are proposals within this project that will result in changes to the PDS, food subsidy, MGNREGS etc are being put forward by the Planning commission and UIDAI. They suggest that instead of food grains, cash subsidies must be given to beneficiaries which can be encashed at public or private sector shops.

In the past the changes in policy were achieved through influence and lobbying, but now entrepreneurs have been appointed as non-politicians with cabinet rank. While the project was hailed as a “gamechanger” and a welfare measure, the public at large have expressed growing concerns about the UID and its implications for ordinary citizens. Many questions are being raised about the nature, status and aims of the scheme. Countries such as the UK, Australia and the USA have found similar measures unworkable due to the serious probability of abuse and the strong opposition of the public. There is a huge expenditure proposed for the UID. The UID would affect every citizen. We as groups and individuals feel the need to engage the larger public in an open discussion about the UID and its proposed scope, implementation, benefits and risks. We are also mobilising public opinion on issues and concerns about the UID.
We the undersigned demand that

  • the UID project be scrapped with immediate effect
  • all the transactions undertaken by the UIDAI project be scrutinized by an accountable public body from the democratic governance structure in a transparent manner taking into consideration the concerns of the all the peoples before venturing into the implementation stage
  • the financial and technological implications and the costs incurred so far, including details of contracts entered into with respect to the UID project be made transparent
  • the Census and UID project be forthwith de-linked

|Report| Eviction of Dalits from Tannirbhavi in Mangalore

PUCL Dakshin Kannada

A Fact Finding Report on the proposed eviction of Dalits and others from Tannirbhavi, Mangalore, in Karnataka.

“Dalits At Tannirbavi Being Evicted” was the headline of a news item that appeared in ‘The Hindu’ of 14th June, 2009. We were shocked to read that the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) was initiating steps to evict residents from a plot which KIADB has reportedly sold to a certain industrialist. We decided to visit the site in order to ascertain the facts in the background of serious allegations against KIADB, which is accused of earning exorbitant profits through land dealings, though the avowed purpose of its creation is to develop plots and provide them to small industries on a no loss-no profit basis. A fact-finding team was set-up with the following members:

  • P.B.D’Sa – President, PUCL Mangalore
  • Prof. Pattabhirama Somayaji – Academician and Social Activist
  • Suresh Bhat B. – Member, PUCL, Mangalore
  • C.N.Shetty – Industrialist, Thinker, Social Activist
  • Damodar Jathanna – President, Janapara Vedike, Udipi
  • Rasool Barkur – Secretary, Janapara Vedike, Udipi
  • Shekhar Shetty – Vice President, Janapara Vedike, Udipi

View the full Report

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