'Spend our lives like vagabonds': Manual scavengers whose feet PM washed at Kumbh Mela pray for 'permanent jobs'

'Spend our lives like vagabonds': Manual scavengers whose feet PM washed at Kumbh Mela pray for 'permanent jobs'

'Spend our lives like vagabonds': Manual scavengers whose feet PM washed at Kumbh Mela pray for 'permanent jobs'


V Khanal

Prayagraj: As a young boy growing up in the tiny hamlet of Dharmhata in Baberu tehsil of Banda district, Naresh Kumar Chamki was used to being called 'Mehtar'— a caste of sweepers -- by people of the upper class. The school dropout opted not to sweep in his village, and instead, turned to other jobs but he couldn't shake off this title. Until Sunday night, when the villagers started calling him “Nareshji”.

The 32-year-old landless daily wage labourer was among the five sanitary workers from the Scheduled Caste who were felicitated by the Prime Minister during his visit to Kumbh Mela on February 24. The occasion turned out to be the moment of their lifetime, after PM Modi washed their feet, wiped them dry with a towel and then felicitated them by presenting 'angvastram'.

However, despite the symbolic elevation of their social status, all that the landless daily wage labourers want is “permanent jobs”.

“Kal raat say gaon walon ke phone aa rahen hein. Hamarey yahan bahut chuachut hae to jinhone kabhi jindagi may mud kay bhi nahi dekha tha aaj Nareshji keh kar puch rahe hain. (I have been flooded with phone calls from my villagers. The problem of untouchability is a big issue in my village so those who had never spoken to me, are calling me Nareshji,” said an elated Naresh.

“Everyone wants to know what conversation I had with Modiji,” he said. Naresh has been entrusted with the task of cleaning Sangam Nose and receives Rs 340 per day, which is credited in his bank account by the health department every 15 days. His wife Naki Devi, 30, also works as a sanitary worker in Sangam Nose. They live with their four children in the Sanitary Colony, a temporary arrangement made by the Kumbh Mela administration.  

“He asked how cleaning work is going on at the ghat, to which I replied that it's good. Then he asked whether it's cleaner than the previous Kumbh or magh mela, to which I replied 'yes',” he said, adding that he will keep the 'angvastram' till his death.

Naresh, who lives in a thatched house back home, expects that his life will change after his meeting with PM Modi.

“Mujhe ek sthai kaam chahiye, ye sab kaam kabhi kabhi milta hai…kya isse sthai kaam milega? (I want a job as we rarely get this (Kumbh Mela) sort of work... Can this (meeting) help in getting a job?)," questioned Naresh.

Similar is the question of another landless labourer, Horelal, 35, who hails from village Darhata in district Sambhal, and is a sanitary worker. He too was felicitated by the PM at Kumbh Mela.

Horelal works as a construction worker in Sambhal city, and a contractor had sent him to the mela as a sanitary worker along with his wife. He claims that he is feeling guilty after the PM washed his feet.

“Itnay bade admi kaise hamare payr chu sakte hain, wo kahan hum kahan. Mujhe bahut kharab lag raha hai ki maine unko ye karnay diyaa aur glani ho rahi hai (How can such a prominent person touch our feet. I am feeling bad that I allowed him to do so, and also feeling guilty),” said Horelal, attired in his work outfit which has the tag 'Swachchta Doot' (ambassador of cleanliness).

“Main us time ko yaad karta hun to lagta hai jaise sapna dekha tha. (Whenever I recall that moment, I feel as if it was a dream),” said Horelal, who cleaned the Sangam Nose, Triveni Road and Sangam Chowki area in the Kumbh Mela.

Horelal has also worked in Noida and Delhi, and is among a group of construction labourers who is regularly employed by the contractor to work in the NCR region and nearby district for months. Horelal takes his wife Rajkumari, 32, and three children with him to these places.

“Hamare pass koi jameen nahi hai, koi kheti nahi hai, bas yahan se wahan kaam karke gujara karna hai. Ab Modiji aakay hamse baat kiye hain to kya mujhe naukri mil jaegi? Ya phir isi ko pucca karde (We don't own any plot or farm land, and spend our life like vagabonds. Now, PM Modi has spoken to me, so can I get a job? If not, then recruit us as permanent sanitary workers),” said Horelal.

Pyarelal, 45, and Chaubi, 35, from Banda, and Jyori, 25, from Korba, Chhattisgarh, also expect that “something will happen”, after PM Modi washed their feet.

“We don't dare to even dream of PM Modi touching our feet so this was something which I will remember all my life, and hope that some officer will soon recruit us as permanent workers,” said Chaubi.

PM Modi, while addressing the workers, hailed them as “karmayogi”, adding that by maintaining cleanliness in the Kumbh Mela area, they have shown that nothing is impossible in the world.

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