From manual scavenging to walking the ramp at UN

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New Delhi, Mar 7 (UNI) Freed from their obnoxious and demeaning profession, a group of 28 liberated scavenger women from Alwar, a small village in Rajasthan, are all set to walk the ramp at the United Nations in July.

With an aim to showcasing the path-breaking contributions of liberated scavengers in the context of social reforms, Sulabh International, a leading NGO in India's sanitation movement, has planned to take them to the UN where they will walk the ramp at one of the UN General Assembly Halls on July 2, where ministers and officials from more than 150 countries will be present.

A book containg success stories of these women, titled 'Princes of Alwar', will also be released.

The journey from being a scavenger carrying night soil in a small town to walking the ramp and rubbing shoulders with celebrities was tortuous but all the 28 women, hailing from the lowest strata of the society, are exultant over their tryst with destiny at the UN.

Till four years ago, these downtrodden women were engaged in the traditional family practice of cleaning night soil in their localities. Each one of them is now an active member of a group to motivate members of the scavenging community to come out of an existence that offers nothing but drudgery and humiliation.

They were helped in giving up their work by a vocational training centre, 'Nai Disha', an initiative of the Sulabh Sanitation movement in Alwar.

Now these liberated scavengers have become role models for the society.

According to founder of Sulabh movement Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, ''I have been, in my own humble way, attempting, since 1968, to realise, in no small measure, one of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, to restore human rights and dignity to persons engaged in manual cleaning of human excreta and carrying it as headload.'' Dr Pathak said the scavengers were termed as 'untouchables', prior to the country's independence. They were confined to the lowest order and put on the last step in the ladder of the Indian hierarchical caste structure.

To relieve them from their obnoxious profession, he has developed two technologies: one for the individual households and the other applicable to toilets at public places.

''After relieving them from the demeaning practice, we have imparted to them education and vocational training, to enable them becoming self-employed,'' he added.

Apart from other things, these scavengers now prepare eatables, like papads, noodles and pickles, which are bought locally by the people, a phenomenon unthinkable in the Indian society.

At the last World Toilet Summit, the scavenger-womenfolk had stitched clothes for the models at a fashion show and walked the ramp with them. One of the scavengers shared the dais with former President A P J. Abdul Kalam and the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands.

UNI/SKS RC RK1803

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