“Stop denying access to water, sanitation to Dalits”
9 December 2014
The underlying inter-linkages between caste dynamics and lack of basic amenities such as access to drinking water and sanitation cannot be ignored anymore in a vibrant new age India, noted the All India Interface Conference: Towards Inclusive and Equitable Rights to Water and Sanitation held here today. The interface conference was organized by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Right to Sanitation Campaign, Right to Education Forum, Safai Karmachari Andolan and Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan- NCDHR.
While sharing his personal experiences of water and sanitation issues in school Dr PL Punia, Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, said, “Even now discrimination against Dalits and other marginalized communities remain the same but civil society organizations matter and have a huge role to play. When the report of this conference is presented to the Government of India, it will echo the voices of the millions who face discrimination every day.”
The Modi government’s dream is of an India where every household has a toilet by 2019. Reflecting this view is Rajesh Upadhyay of the Right to Sanitation Campaign. According to him, if the dream is to be realized then in the first year of the Clean India Campaign, then SC/STs, who comprise of 25 per cent of the population, should have toilets and water connection.
Panelists agreed that issues pertaining to poverty, inequality and unequal power are the reasons for the current crisis. Water and sanitation policies and programmes all too often exclude marginalized groups, informal settlements and arid lands.
“We are still very backward in our thinking. Instead of inclusion we practice exclusion,” said Preet Verma, Adviser, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Dalits are often discriminated from accessing water, food and accommodation due to ingrained, discriminatory societal norms that lead to a separation of common water sources, common dining and common shelter areas according to caste status.
Expressing shock and sadness, Paul Divakar, General Secretary, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, remarked in a serious tone, “Maybe 30 years later, it will be denial of oxygen to the Dalits and other marginalized communities because that could pollute the air.”
Dalit victims of discrimination and atrocities, who attended the conference, too shared their experiences at educational institutions, villages. A Dalit woman brick kiln worker from Punjab said that water from the gutter was provided to the brick kiln, where Dalits worked, and this made them prone to various diseases.
“The state and central Government should legalise the right to water and sanitation for Dalits and other marginalised communities with adequate Budget allocation. Untouchability, discrimination and atrocities should be prevented when it comes to access to water and sanitation. Elimination of manual scavenging and their proper rehabilitation should be implemented. The discrimination in education institutions should be abolished and adequate facilities should be provided,” concluded Dr VA Ramesh Nathan, General Secretary, National Dalit Movement for Justice.