Statistics have suggested that it is safer to be a soldier in Kashmir than a manual scavenger in India. Quartz India has pointed out that manual scavenging has claimed more lives than the terrorists in the country. This is even after the law that made it mandatory to use safety equipment before taking up cleaning of a sewage or a septic tank. Despite working in such risky conditions, manual scavengers in India, unlike the soldiers, get no respect and are subjected to discrimination and mistreatment.
A couple who came from a family of manual scavengers did not appreciate these differences and started a non-profit to uplift the lives of their community.
Preeti Pradip Hajare grew up in a family of manual scavengers. While growing was subjected to a lot of misbehaviour from her school teachers and her classmates. She was deterred from studies by her teachers as they believed that it was not going to be of any use for her. They, in fact, asserted to her that she and the people of her community are fit for only one kind of job. She, however, did not believe this and completed not only her graduation but also earned a Master’s Degree.
Preeti’s Husband Pradip Balwant Hajare also had a similar story. He accompanied his mother at times, who worked as a manual scavenger. While he never thought that it was a dirty job, he realized that people around him did. He worked hard and got himself the job of a life insurance advisor. He then supported his family and managed to get his mother to quit the job.
The couple realizing the plight of the members of their community have started a non-profit called the Jan Jagriti Aawahan Bahuuddeshiya Samiti (JJAS) in Nagpur, which they registered in 2010.
JJAS works to empower manual scavengers by running a school/daycare facility for their children and other marginalised communities in Nagpur. They raise awareness about the rights of manual scavengers, conduct skill development programmes for them, organise health camps and clinics alongside other NGOs and government agencies. They also assist youngsters who want to transition from their caste occupation and find alternative sources of livelihood.
The non-profit gives utmost importance to education. Thus, in 2008, JJAS started the Shining Star Convent School in Nagpur, an English medium school with classes from Nursery to KG-2. Currently, there are nearly 50 students in this school.
Apart from educating young children, the organisation also conducts awareness workshops for their parents. The workshops help them understand the bane of untouchability better, the history of their community, how they can address discrimination on a daily basis, the legal tools at their disposal and how they can encourage their young ones to take up different occupations once they grow up.