Sunil Yadav, 36 has earned four degrees in the last nine years but works as garbage collector with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in Mumbai.
“We were born as scavengers. Right from our birth we have been slaves. We never really had any rights. We are trying to get out of it, and there is only one way to do that. Baba Saheb Ambedkar said ‘if you study, you will grow’, but people still don’t accept us,” said Mr Yadav.
From 2005 to 2014, Mr Yadav completed his B Com, BA in journalism, MA in Globalisation and Labour, Masters in Social Work and at present is pursuing M Phil at the reputed Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
“I got down into a drain on my first day of work. For days after that, the smell didn’t leave my mind. I walked through water with dead animals. That’s when I decided I had to study and get out of this vicious cycle,” Mr Yadav recalled.
His is the fourth generation running as manual scavengers who took up his father’s place at the BMC after his father declared medically unfit.
“Not every Dalit is a scavenger, but every scavenger is a Dalit. There is 100 per cent reservation in that category”, Mr Yadav said sarcastically.
Sunil Yadav took up his father’s place at the BMC after his father declared medically unfit.
Lack of money does not stop Yadav to give up his education. He funded his education and works at the municipal body at the same time.
“I worked in the night from 9 pm to 2 am and studied during the day and even though BMC rules state I am entitled to a study leave, it took me 18 months to get it approved”, he added.
Mr Yadav’s wife Sanjana also completed her graduation after getting married.
“He has always been very supportive. He told me to complete my graduation and explained that society will respect me only if I was educated”, Sanjana told NDTV.
In 2013, a bill was passed in the parliament to prohibit manual scavenging, but experts feel the country still has a long way to go.
“A new act has come in 2013, two years have gone, and we have not prosecuted even a single person across the country. So, when the law is not working, the bureaucrats are not working, when political will is not there, when the society is not sensitive, where is the question that we can achieve our target?”, said Bezwada Wilson, National Convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan.