Caste-based Slavery – Rekha’s story
Rekha Bai is a 32-year-old woman from Rajasthan, India. When she was a child she was married off to a man whose mother, because of her caste, was engaged in “manual scavenging.” Traditionally, women of the Dalit caste are obligated to empty the dry latrines of people from higher castes — with their bare hands.
They must then carry the waste on their heads, in wicker baskets, to a dumpsite outside the village. Following tradition, Rekha inherited this responsibility when her mother-in-law became too old.
“As payment for my labour I got just one chapatti from each household.”
Rekha was engaged in manual scavenging for 18 years. As compensation for her work, she would only receive one dry chapatti from each household. Her health suffered as a result of carrying waste on her head; fecal matter is a major vector for infectious disease.
She also faced violence and discrimination because of her caste status. Rekha was deeply ashamed of her degrading occupation.
With the encouragement of Jan Sahas and another local NGO that seeks to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging, Rekha gathered the courage needed to walk away from this modern form of slavery.
In 2013 she joined a 10,000 kilometre march, or “Yatra”, organised by these groups, alongside some 5000 other victims from 18 different Indian states. Rekha was also provided with legal and social assistance by Jan Sahas.
Today, Rekha is a daily wage labourer, and receives the minimum wage. She is free. Rekha is now viewed as a role model for others who are still engaged in the manual scavenging practice.
Jan Sahas, which has received grants from the UN Slavery Fund since 2012, is an NGO working in several states in India to end slavery and violence against Dalit women and men.
It helps Dalit communities to abandon slave-like practices, find alternate livelihoods and re-build their lives in dignity.