Understanding Caste, Identity and Occupation: Analysing Manual Scavenging as an unsolved social stigma through select literary text
Ms Anjali, PhD Scholar, Department of English, Patna University, Bihar, India
Manual scavenging, a caste-based occupation imposed on certain Dalit communities under the division of labour in the Hindu caste system, means not only picking up night soil from dry latrines but also extends its tentacles to those working on railway tracks, manholes, public toilets, sewage, and even those working with protective equipment or empty hands. But it’s a matter of grave concern that the definition in the 1993 Act didn’t clearly define who a manual scavenger is and surprisingly, the definition of the present 2013 Act excludes those persons working with protective gear from being considered a manual scavenger.
Gandhi who believed in “Chaturvarna” and its division of labour, equated the cleaning of excreta to a mother cleaning her son’s shit. He portrayed scavenging as dignified work. Deifying the occupation, he used to say, “I am not ashamed to call myself a manual scavenger and ask every manual scavenger that he should not feel ashamed of being called the same. To him, this society is based on many services, a scavenger is at the base of every service.” On the other hand, Babasaheb Ambedkar says, “How sacred is this work of cleanliness! That work can be done by a Brahmin or by a Bhangi. The Brahmin may do it in his wisdom, the Bhangi in ignorance. If either of the two disappeared from Hinduism, Hinduism itself would disappear.” He considered, as contrary to Gandhiji, manual scavenging to be a symbol of slavery and advocated for its eradication. Dr B.R. Ambedkar explains “In India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not.”
Considering the above arguments this paper is an attempt to analyze the portrayal of manual scavengers in India through the works of literature. It explores and examines ‘dalit body’ representation in contrast to reality through Sivasankara Pillai’s 1947 novel, Scavenger’s Son, Bhasha Singh’s Unseen, Baburao Bagul’s When I Hid My Caste and . Unseen exposes the plight of manual scavengers across eleven Indian States. In Jerry Pinto’s translation of Bagul’s When I Hid My Caste, stories like “Revolt” and “When I Hid my Caste” narrate how educated lower caste men, who nurture desires of revolting against caste, are rendered helpless due to their lower caste status and are forced to continue manual scavenging, his caste occupation. Scavenger’s Son details the plight of manual scavengers particularly their social status, deplorable working conditions, pathetic safety measures, and the agonizing self-pity with which each one lives. The paper will be an attempt to analyse the issue of representation of one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society.