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8 - Excluded and Marginalized: Patterns of Deprivation of the Scavengers

from Part II - Empirical Studies: Caste and Religious Exclusion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2014

Vishav Raksha
Affiliation:
University of Jammu
Paramjit S. Judge
Affiliation:
Guru Nanak Dev University, India
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Summary

Ambedkar told Gandhi in October 1932 ‘that I have no interest in the temples being thrown open, common dinners and the like, because we suffer thereby…I only want that social and economic hardships should end. It is a mistake to suppose that it (untouchability) is only a religious system… It is also an economic system, which is worse then slavery… History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics’.

In India scavengers and sweepers still carry out the basic sanitary services in cities and towns. While many are employed by local urban authorities to clean the sewers and sweep the streets, a significant number still work in their traditional occupation. This means that scavengers are still cleaning latrines by hand and carrying night-soil in baskets on their heads. As their occupation renders them permanently polluted, according to Hindu society, scavengers are treated as untouchable, even by other untouchable castes.

Scavengers are placed at the bottom of the heap in India, ranked as the lowest social group, in Ambedkar's words, ‘the lowest in a system of graded inequality.’ They are known by different names in different states – Bhangi, Thotti, Paki, Madiga, Balmiki, Chuhra, and Mehtar. For centuries now, they have held the strict monopoly of cleaning latrines and toilets, handling human excreta. This is one area where progress has not intruded. As this occupation is associated with cleaning of human bodily waste, it is considered as an unclean occupation.

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Chapter
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Mapping Social Exclusion in India
Caste, Religion and Borderlands
, pp. 146 - 163
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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