What caste does Rai belong to

A Dalit family on the way up

She looks like jewelry, the 42-year-old yogender Devi, with the gold earrings and the Mangal Sutra, the necklace that shows her marital status. The white chunni, a silk scarf, only half covers her jet-black hair. And when she laughs, her snow-white teeth shine. But at the moment she looks very thoughtful. She stands in front of the limestone memorial with mixed feelings: a woman with her sari gathered almost to the knee is balancing a tin canister on her head, supporting with her right hand. The figure is supposed to symbolize a success of the nationwide Sulabh movement. The subject is the fight against the social evil of manual toilet cleaning. Centuries ago, untouchable casteless people, the marginalized Dalits, but especially the Balmikis, were condemned to this activity. They form the lowest level in the Hindu caste system and are disregarded even by other outlaws - the gravedigger, the tanner or the removal of animal carcasses. Yogender Devi and her family belong to the Balmikis group. She looks at the memorial with mixed feelings because, on the one hand, there are still at least 350,000 outrageously poorly paid toilet cleaners in India and, on the other hand, because her family has managed to break free from the bonds of this labor. Her husband, Madan Mohan, worked for decades as "Bhangi" or "Sandas", as the people who dispose of human excrement are called in northern India. He had to put up with the abuse and swear words that would translate as "dung beetle" or "garbage rat". According to the caste code, he was not allowed to dare to argue. The family comes from Narela in the state of Haryana. Yogender Devi never had to work as a bhangi, but felt the social discrimination in her youth in a different way - during forced labor in the fields for the upper castes, who strictly insisted on keeping untouchability. Today she laughs at the nonsense: “The grain was cut by us, separated by box. But in the end we threw it in the same heap in front of the threshing machine. ”The Balmikis had to draw water from a separate well. And of course they lived in a poor settlement, separated from the other castes. Even today she regards it as a miracle that after working in the fields she was able to attend school up to the 8th grade. After their marriage, the move to Delhi to the Palam Extension settlement, formerly called "Harijan Basti", which means neighborhood for untouchables, initiated the change. Her husband found a job in the waste disposal department of the Delhi City Council. This was possible because there are laws that set an employment quota for Dalits in public institutions. Madan Mohan took the opportunity, qualified and is now working as an inspector. The family of five owns a modest two-room apartment. The facility includes radio and television, »although it is only available for the news and the program" Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? " runs «, stresses Ms. Devi. Her husband, which also reveals the rise of the family, has a hobby that is not exactly typical for a Balmiki: he makes music, plays the saxophone, flute, harmonium and synthesizer. The three boys attend school. Rahul Babbar is studying in the 9th grade of Sulabh Middle School in Delhi-Palam, where 300 children, 60 percent of them from Dalit families, are taught and - which is important for careers in India - learn English. Rahul belongs to the top group in its class. "But the best is Amit, whose parents are still working as bhangi," he says. Caste boundaries no longer exist at school. Rahul wants to be an engineer. And like his father, he has an artistic streak. He draws great and shows us a few samples, including portraits of Aishwarya Rai, India's beauty queen, and of the Hindu goddess of learning and knowledge, Saraswati. The mother listens to her 15-year-old with undisguised pride and comments: "He's on his way." He sits with the brothers over homework every day until midnight, helping them both - and the mother. Because she stays awake, serves tea every now and then and learns English until the boys go to bed. "I have a lot to catch up with and want to be a role model for the neighbors too," she admits. It collects money for charitable purposes, organizes events and therefore enjoys a good reputation in the settlement. The former Bhangi family has not forgotten that they owe the path to a decent existence not only to their own ambition, but also to the commitment of others. There is the social organization "Sulabh" (expediency, convenience). The initiative came from their employees to win over families from the social elite to "sponsor" bhangis and to support them in their endeavors to achieve social justice. There are now 250 such sponsorships. The Minister for Petroleum, Mani Shankar Ayiar, has been looking after Yogender Devi and Madan Mohan for four years. He invited the family to his home state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. For the first time in their lives the five sat on a plane when they traveled to Chennai. For the first time they saw the sea there - unforgettable experiences. The minister is ready to provide advice and assistance if his godparents have serious problems, if bureaucratic barriers or hidden disadvantages have to be overcome. In 1970, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, a Gandhian, in the Union state of Bihar "Sulabh" as an organization for social services. It had initially set itself the goal of abolishing manual toilet cleaning - a revolutionary measure. As a Brahmin, a member of the highest caste, Pathak defied a taboo. Until then, no one had dealt with the fate of the bhangis. Only much later was a law supposed to eliminate the archaic toilet system by 1997. That didn't work until today. Nonetheless, Prof. Satyendra Tripathi from Sulabh comes up with a respectable balance sheet so far: 60,000 bhangis were retrained, 240 cities freed from the old system, nationwide more than a million private and over 6,000 public flush toilets as well as 120 biogas plants connected to communal toilets were built. Sulabh was the first organization in India that even devoted itself to this topic, which brought it to the public and thus contributed to the practical abolition of untouchability (which had been banned by law in the 1950s) and to the gradual elimination of excesses of the caste system performed. Under Dr. Pathak's leadership developed Sulabh into a social and hygiene movement with 50,000 volunteers in all states of the Union. She opened several schools for Bhangi and other Dalit children, organized literacy courses in slums and vocational training for young people from socially disadvantaged families, developed environmentally friendly cleaning and disposal technologies and set up her own institute for public health and hygiene with a role model function for other developing countries. In a few years she will set up the Sulabh International University of Sanitation and Technology with five faculties in Haryana. And last but not least, she regularly takes part in the World Toilet Congresses and owns the largest toilet museum in the world. With the commitment of Sulabh - apart from the support for the bhangis - the solution of an enormous problem for society as a whole is connected. According to the 1991 census, only just under 24 percent of all Indian households had their own toilet facilities and a third of them were bucket or dry toilets that had to be disposed of by the bhangis. In rural areas, only 9.5 percent of all households had a toilet. Around 700 million Indians still relieve themselves today in the open air, in fields, in ditches, on railways or on the banks of lakes and rivers, which represents a considerable health risk. Because it favors the spread of cholera, typhus or hepatitis. Raghuvansh Prasad Yadav, the Minister for Rural Development, thinks the old habits are scandalous. He wants to forbid citizens who build houses without toilets to run for parliament. "If they don't even provide a toilet, what use can they have for the voters?" He asked provocatively. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, stated: "The day on which each of us can use our own toilet will be proof for me that our country has reached the pinnacle of progress." Despite Sulabh's work, lies. ..

The following options are available for further reading:

With a digital, digital mini or combi subscription, you have, in addition to the other subscription benefits, access to all articles since 1990.