Saturday, May 27, 2017

Before Yogi Adityanath’s visit, Dalit villagers got shampoo, soap to ‘clean themselves’ // GST’s Cultural Statement: Sindoor Is Pure, Blood Is Dirty

NB: No amount of soap can cleanse the minds of patriarchs and racists - DS

A DAY before Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s visit on Thursday, the 100-odd Musahar Dalit families of Mainpur Deenapatti village in Kushinagar district received two bars of soap, ‘Lifebuoy’ and ‘Ghari’, a sachet of shampoo, and instructions to “clean themselves” before attending the public meeting. “I got the soaps from the Anganwadi women. I didn’t get the shampoo, but others did. I was told to take a bath with the soap before going for the meeting. We already use soap which we buy from the local shop. What’s going to change with just two bars of soap,” said Keshri, a villager in her sixties.

The village, mainly consisting of thatched huts, saw a lot of activity in the week leading to Adityanath’s visit. Villagers pointed out the new pavement made of cement and bricks, about a dozen freshly-dug pits for construction of toilets, repaired hand-pumps and posters of Swachh Bharat Mission. “About two years ago, the area was in the grip of cholera. The handpumps were installed then, after a visit by the district magistrate. Many people don’t bathe for two or three days. We are trying to change that, but not much can be done when we live in such poverty. We are all labourers, we don’t have enough land to construct a house. Many children still don’t get adequate nutrition. Yogi Baba ke aane se fark padega (Yogi’s visit will make a difference),” said Dharmendra Prasad, a school dropout who works as a farm labourer.

Prasad said they had informed officials that most of the handpumps pump out water which is yellow and stinks. “Earlier, many children used to get Japanese Encephalitis. Many got tuberculosis. The situation has become slightly better in the last few years. Officials have assured us that they will do something. This is the first time that there is focus on our locality. We have also been given new ration cards to help us get wheat and rice,” he said.

Most of the huts are not more than 15X8 feet. Each family has about four to six children. “My husband works as a labourer in Chennai. I have to feed four children. I sometimes work as a labourer. If we earn Rs 50-60 in a day, we need to buy wheat and rice with that money,” said Durgawati. Her youngest child is six months old, while the oldest is an 11-year-old girl.

Dinesh, another villager, and his wife, Keshri Devi, have five children. “The hut leaks when it rains, and we have to seek shelter in the corners of the hut all night. We don’t have any money to buy a tarpaulin,” said Devi, adding, “the two bars of soap are not going to last forever.” Dinesh said he and his children often suffer from diarrhoea. “It gets better when we take tablets, but then starts again,” he said. Meanwhile, Anganwadi worker Asha Kushwaha said she did not have any information on who distributed the bars of soap and shampoo. Pointing out that poverty is the primary concern, she said, “They earn so little. Their main worry is food.”

District Magistrate Andra Vamsi said the administration did not issue any orders in this regard. “But it was a programme organised to promote cleanliness. It included making villages open-defecation free and maintaining hygiene. All Anganwadi workers and ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) were given instructions to promote cleanliness, which is crucial to stop diseases like kala azar. So, whoever distributed the soaps has to be appreciated,” he said. Village pradhan Bhagwat Yadav said he was not aware about the distribution of the bars of soap and shampoo. However, he said that in the past too, the Musahars, all landless labourers, have been given instructions about maintaining hygiene.

Under the new GST regime to be effective from 1 July 2017, sindoor, bangles and bindis have been exempted from tax. However, sanitary pads are still considered to be "luxury" goods and will be taxed at the rate of 12% (lower than the earlier 14.5%). The campaigns run and petitions signed to exempt sanitary napkins from taxes did little to stir the patriarchal mindset of the ruling regime. What does this imply about the attitudes of the Hindu majority in India? Firstly, the sindoor-choodi-bindi trio is a traditional Hindu metaphor for a married woman. Indeed, assertion of marital status is hardly so explicit in female followers of other religions. Unmarried women are not required to adorn themselves with these accoutrements and widows are prohibited from wearing them

Now on to sanitary pads—according to a study by AC Nielsen in 2011, sanitary pads are used by merely 12% of the 355 million women who menstruate in India. Nearly three quarters of women admitted that their families could not afford sanitary pads. Yet the ruling regime has evidently put the needs of Hindu married women before those of every female in the country who has attained puberty and menstruates. Healthcare and education have always been the last priority for India, exemplified by its meagre allocation of GDP towards these sectors. We are obviously a lot more proactive about safeguarding cultural practices… read more: