Sulabh International’s yet another step towards social transformation

Sulabh International’s yet another step towards social transformation

In a marked departure from age old traditions, lowest ranking members of the caste ridden society once treated as “untouchables” took a holy dip along with Brahmin pundits and Sanskrit scholars at Singasth Kumbh in Ujjain, writes Madan Jha


round 200 women from Alwar and Tonk districts of Rajsthan, who belong to the caste whose members performed manual scavenging in the past, had the holy bath at the famous Ramghat — a ritual that they perhaps never even dreamt of.

As the women from the lowest strata of the society — Dalit “manual scavengers” – took the dip at the sacred site, it was a rare occasion that washed off their “untouchability” forever. Dalits are known as one of the most discriminated against people in India, generally prohibited from even touching members of higher castes. They are not generally allowed to perform most Hindu rituals, including the Kumbh dip.

Yet, when the group emerged from their holy bath, priests who belong to the highest Hindu caste, welcomed them to mainstream society by blowing conchs, chanting hymns, smearing holy ash on their forehead, and declaring that the women were no longer “untouchables.”

“It’s the biggest sign yet of changing attitudes about India’s outdated caste system,” remarked Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of Sulabh Sanitation movement. “This Kumbh ceremony should be viewed as a bold and successful step toward the egalitarian inclusion of the downtrodden in the religio-social world of the Hindus,” says Dr Pathak pointing out the historical importance of the high caste Brahmins supporting the women. Dr Pathak, the brain behind low-cost Sulabh Sauchalya, is man responsible for organising this programme aimed to create social streaming. He is waging a campaign against untouchability for the last four decades.

Acharya Rajendra Prasad Shastri, one of the religious leaders present at the ceremony, said the liberation of the untouchables, marked a landmark day. “Following the liberal tradition of Hinduism, we welcome these sisters to our mainstream Hindu society today,” says Acharya Shastri who shared meals with the “just-liberated” women. The Kumbh ceremony has had an overwhelming effect on the women from the scavenger community who, shunned by the high caste Hindus, are still marginalized.

“It is true that we have left scavenging 10 years ago and are leading a dignified life, but high caste people in general view dalits as untouchables. They usually avoid all social interactions with us,” says former scavenger Usha Chamour who took the Kumbh cleansing dip. Such kind of programmes will help us to streamline the social structure and equality, observed priest Pandit Uma Shankar Tiwari.

madan jha
Madan Jha is Delhi-based senior journalist

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