VARANASI: In a revolution of sorts, some 200 Dalit women from Rajasthan Monday achieved what they thought would remain a mirage, performing rituals with upper caste Hindus at the Vishwanath temple.
Amidst ecstatic shouts of ‘Har Har Gange’, the women, who once worked as manual scavengers, also took a dip in the holy Ganga and chanted hymns along the Dashashwamedh Ghat, deemed to be the most pious bank.
“We never thoughtt we would get an opportunity to celebrate our liberty like this… For decades, we have faced hatred and discrimination. As we mingled with the upper caste, we get the feel of being liberated,” Shanti Chaumaria, a manual scavenger of over two decades, said.
While the Vishwanath temple does not bar Dalits from offering prayers, the women considered performing rituals with Brahmins an act of empowerment.
“It’s an out of the world experience for us. We want to stay here as long as we can. This day will remain memorable for us. We now feel we have really joined the mainstream. Sharing a platform with the upper-caste is really a privilege,” said Guddi, who was a manual scavenger for 10 years.
After performing rituals at the Dashashwamedh Ghat for nearly two hours, the women proceeded to the Vishwanath temple, carrying earthen pots filled with Ganga water, even as the locals watched them curiously.
“When people from upper castes assisted us in carrying out the rituals, for a while it all appeared like a dream. Though we have visited several prominent temples across the country, it was for the first time most of us got the opportunity of taking a dip in the Ganga,” said Shakuntala Chaumar, who was earlier involved in manual scavenging in Rajsthan’s Tonk district.
Brahmanand Chaturvedi, one of the priests who guided the women in their rituals, said: “For the almighty, everyone is same and equal. Why should there be any discrimination? These women are also a part of our society. We must make efforts for empowering them.”
Sulabh International, the social service organisation which organised the programme, flew in the women from Rajasthan.
The NGO rehabilitated these manual scavengers by providing them with various vocational jobs like stitching, embroidery and pickle-making. The women now earn a monthly stipend of Rs 2,000.
The Sulabh International’s founder opined, Mr Bindeshwar Pathak, an estimated one lakh people are still involved in manual scavenging in the country.
“Manual scavenging still prevails in several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra,” Mr Pathak said.
“We are trying our best so that we can weed out the disgraceful practice in a year or so. It would require support from all sections of the society,” he added.