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| Last Updated:08/09/2014

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Narendra Modi: One hundred days of latitude

The Economic Times, 04 September 2014

 

I marked one hundred days of the Narendra Modi government by meeting four women called Usha Chaumar, Guddi Athwal, Annu Tamole and Sunita Chawaria who have travelled in just over a decade from the lowest rung of India's caste ladder to a future that holds hope and optimism. Their lives and their stories were more uplifting than all the words being spoken and written about India's huge problem of open defecation and the urgent need for more toilets.

 

Twelve years ago Usha was walking on a street in Alwar, Rajasthan, carrying a load of human excrement, when she was accosted by an elderly man who asked her if she wanted to free herself from her wretched existence. At that time Usha earned Rs 10 a month from each upper-caste person whose waste she carried away. People gave her leftover food for her young family, and sometimes castaway clothes. Soon after her encounter with Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, who is famous for inventing the two-pit Sulabh Shauchalaya, Usha travelled to Delhi with her husband and three children. Five years later, in 1998, she and 35 other women got on a plane to New York. At the United Nations, they attended a conference to mark the Year of Sanitation. They also proudly showed off clothes they had stitched and strutted their stuff on a catwalk alongside professional models. Since then Usha has travelled to other countries as president of Sulabh International, whose main mission is to stamp out the scourge of scavenging by "night-soil workers", mostly women from the Valmiki community who were treated as untouchables. India has laws against manual scavenging, but the practice endures alongside the absence of toilets. Read more....