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'PM can't say cleaning sewers is a spiritual experience'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
February 25, 2019 16:08 IST
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'If you think this is a kind of spiritual experience, you will fall into a trap of your own.'
'Why are the people dying, why is the prime minister not thinking about it?'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi washes a sanitation worker's feet during a Swachh Kumbh Swachh Aabhaar event in Prayagraj, February 24, 2019. Photograph: Kind courtesy @BJP4India/Twitter

'Moments I'll cherish for my entire life! Honouring remarkable SafaiKaramcharis, who have taken the lead when it comes to realising the dream of a Swachh Bharat! I salute each and every person making a contribution towards a Swachh Bharat', Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi tweeted on Sunday after washing the feet of select sanitation workers at the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj.

However, this prime ministerial act didn't go well with Bezwada Wilson, Magsaysay Award winner and national convener, Safai Karamchari Andolan.

Criticising the PM, he tweeted, 'Clean your mind not our feet, Mr PM! Highest form of humiliation. 1.6 lac women still forced to clean shit, not a single word in five years. What a shame!'

Explaining his scepticism in an interview to's Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Wilson says, "The person who thinks of the next election cannot resolve the problems of the country at all."


What is wrong in the prime minister cleaning the feet of safai karamcharis? If anything, it is a sign of respect and regard.

This is a completely humiliating attitude.

You are unable to treat people equally.

When you make citizens equal, only then you can do justice.

If you are making people God, then it is a danger to democracy.

No human being must become God.

No human being should be a slave either in a modern, democratic, society.

Both things are dangerous.

Don't you think the PM was giving respect to safai karamcharis by this gesture?

There is no point in giving dignity as dignity must come through the law.

There are schemes that have to be implemented (to eradicate manual scavenging).

The PM is completely diverting the attention from the failures and the actual problems, and glorifying something (else).

Glorifying of marginalised people is a crime, just like glorifying injustice is a crime.

So you cannot commit that kind of crime.

Why did you criticise Mr Modi for describing manual scavenging as a spiritual experience?

PM Modi cannot say cleaning sewers is a spiritual experience.

Taking out the s**t of someone else with your own hands cannot give you a spiritual experience.

No human being can have spirituality like this.

No human race will accept that kind of spirituality in any human society.

You recently stated that 105 sewer deaths were reported in 2018 and 11 so far in 2019. Why has nothing been done about this issue?

That is a problem of the casteist mindset in our country.

They don't see this as an issue at all.

If you think this is a kind of spiritual experience, you will fall into a trap of your own.

You will never actually see what is the problem.

Why are the people dying, why is the prime minister not thinking about it?

That is a major problem, and it is an ideological problem.

The prime minister must understand what Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar said about the most marginalised people in the country and what inequality means.

Why are you linking caste to deaths from manual scavenging?

Because only a particular caste enters this profession of manual scavenging.

People from only this caste die.

80 per cent of manual scavengers are Dalits.

They do sanitation related work.

If people from some other castes had died, everybody would have felt agitated.

It is only because Dalits are dying that the country is not taking this as a serious matter.

According to government data, 90 million toilets were built in the last five years under the Modi regime, which no government has done in the last 70 years. Is it not a big achievement of the Swachh Bharat programme?

Toilet buildings and septic tank deaths of workers has got no connection.

These are two different issues.

But the government is spending a huge amount of money on safai karamcharis under the Swachh Bharat programme.

Let me make it clear again.

Constructing toilets is not the solution to stop sewer deaths.

Sewer deaths are happening because you have no mechanisation of cleaning. So people are dying.

You want to construct a toilet, you construct across your house.

The prime minister can construct toilets within the PMO (prime minister's office) too and we have no problem with that.

But the problem is, who will clean the toilet? Where will the human excreta go? Whether the sewer lines are mechanised or not?

These are the questions that one needs to answer.

You mentioned once that we are not doing manual scavenging because we are illiterate or poor, but because of the way society is organised.

As I said, because of caste and patriarchy, people think they (Dalits) will clean all things.

We do not give an opportunity to such people in society.

It is not that they are doing it voluntarily.

We have made such a conspiracy that they (Dalits) fall into that trap.

After 70 years of Independence, why have such structures of inequality in society not collapsed?

This is because honestly, we have not progressed to make India into a scientific temper society.

We are just becoming more and more a fundamentalist society.

Once you become a fundamentalist society, you never understand the value of equality.

Why don't you share your anguish with the government?

I have done as much as possible, but then the government has to take this issue (deaths due to manual scavenging) forward.

They are not even following one step (of my advice).

Modern machines are there to clean the sewage, and the government must get them to clean.

But that is not happening.

They (machines) have to be promoted and brought into more use according to the situation.

The government must enact a time-bound action plan and do the needful, but they are not doing it.

Why do you think the government is not doing anything about it?

It is because of a casteist mindset.

They don't treat Dalits well.

Dalits have just become vote banks.

All citizens of the country, they (politicians) calculate on the basis of the next election.

The person who thinks of the next election cannot resolve the problems of the country at all.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf / in Mumbai
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