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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

7/1/2011 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

'Untouchables' in Hindu system are relegated to cleaning dry toilets

An Indian pioneer in sanitation has helped in the slow eradication of Balmik women, who are considered 'untouchable' in India's caste system. Bindeshwar Pathak has developed an eco-friendly, underground toilet system which he calls Sulabh, meaning "simple." The system converts waste into dry fertilizer and bio-fuels inexpensively and with no daily maintenance.

Hundreds of millions of Indians continue to be ostracized and mistreated because of their connection to a certain class. There is a whole subculture of Indian woman whose only work is as night soil scavengers, those who are forced to clean Indian's dry toilet systems by hand.

Hundreds of millions of Indians continue to be ostracized and mistreated because of their connection to a certain class. There is a whole subculture of Indian woman whose only work is as night soil scavengers, those who are forced to clean Indian's dry toilet systems by hand.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/1/2011 (3 years ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: India, toilets, Balmik women, caste system, Hinduism


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - After it gained independence, modern India outlawed discrimination against so-called "untouchables," the lowest of social classifications outlined in Hindu scripture.

However -- hundreds of millions of Indians continue to be ostracized and mistreated because of their connection to that class. There is a whole subculture of Indian woman whose only work is as night soil scavengers, those who are forced to clean Indian's dry toilet systems by hand.

One such woman, Usha Chamour says she was seven when she started following her mother around so she could watch her clean night soil and learn how to do it herself. Her mother carried the waste on her head, and she says she would eventually have to do the same thing herself. 

Chamour says her hands were too small at the time for the usual cleaning brush, so she had her mother make her a miniature one.

Night soil scavenging is slowly becoming obsolete in some areas, thanks to a sanitation revolution launched by Pathak. Furthering this vision, Pathak now offers these women an escape from untouchability, and their first experience of a classroom.

"These children, they are coming from the area where they have zero education.  They are very smart, very intelligent.  Age is no bar," she explains. 

"I meet ladies who are almost sixties, 67, and they come very sweetly and they say, 'I don't know how to write my name -- can you please teach them?' The shine which comes into their eyes that they have learned how to write their name -- it really gives me encouragement to learn from them."

Pathak's passion for decades has been to eradicate Hindu discrimination against so-called "untouchables" like these women. He recalls a defining moment in his life when he saw an entire community ignore an untouchable boy who had been attacked by a bull.

"We took him to hospital, and the boy died. There, I took a vow to fulfill the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi," he says.

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