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April 25, 2017

A caste gone wasted: Inside Mangaluru's living hell

CD Network | Carol Pinto & Nidhi Rao

Mangaluru: The road from Vamanjoor to Pacchanady in Mangaluru taluk is infamous for its pathetic stink released from the garbage landfill of the Mangaluru city corporation. This road not only holds a landfill but very next to it is a slum colony housing about 16 families who belong to the most backward sections of the society.

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These people belong to the so called lower caste that does manual scavenging and other garbage picking jobs for the MCC. Most of their ancestors claim to have been working with the MCC on a permanent basis until their demise. The dwellers who know no other skill other than collecting scrap and segregating waste in the nearby dump yard, now have no job or any financial security due to the new policies in the government system. They live in small tents next to the dump yard with not even the most basic of facilities for hygiene or electricity. About 16 families with 5 to 9 members live in each tent of which one small corner is used as the bedroom. The wealth that they make out of the waste they pick and sell from the dump yard is their only means of livelihood that supports their families. About 4 of these families have residents working on a temporary tender with the MCC but they have not been provided with the privileges they must receive. Their daily income is only enough for them to sustain the day's needs.

All households in the colony have about 2 to 3 children per family, who go to the local government school at Vamanjoor. As school going children, they find it hard to study as there is no electricity in the houses and they have to study with candles which has caused migraine and headaches among the kids. The kids were provided with solar lights by St Aloysius College but they are of no use in the monsoons as they cannot provide energy for light. Another problem that they face is, their social status affecting their social development. Parents are worried about their children being discriminated by other kids in school which may lead to a serious developmental effect on their psyche leading to personality problems caused by social stigma. One of the residents also mentioned that most people there suffer with breathing problems due to the dump yard toxins released in the air.

The colony has about 60% of a female population of young adolescent girls and women and yet there is no toilet facility nor a bathroom facility provided to them. The residents have constructed a makeshift bathroom stall with tarpaulin sheets and 4 bars of wood around it. The residents have to walk down to the forest to attend to their sanitary needs.

Women have complains about eve teasing and misbehaviour by local boys while walking on the road as there are no street lights. Sightings of snakes in their tents and around the compound have also been reported.

When asked about their land and family history the residents claim to have been lived there since their birth for about 35 to 40 years now. They belong to the scheduled caste and claim to have been born and brought up in Mangaluru. They say it is their ancestral land as their forefathers lived there before the government claimed the land. Most of them have papers of their Adhaar and BPL cards as well as birth certificates but, they say those documents are of no use to get their provisions as the government keeps delaying and denying the process, making them run around each time. “The only time the government bends to our beck and call is during the elections when they need our votes, at that time they are willing to even come and have lunch at our place, otherwise they only wave and grin once they have won the elections”, said one of the sources seeking anonymity.

When questioned about this issue, the government officials stated that these people are not residents of Karnataka, but residents of other places in the south who have migrated and settled here and blended into the Kannadiga lifestyle. “A scheduled caste here, maybe be another caste elsewhere therefore unless we are sure of their residence and birth address we cannot give them any of the government facilities, as we are answerable to the CAG during assessment”, said Mr Chitranjan Das, the community development expert for MCC. The government also claims that these residents are illegally living in the government land. When asked about skill training programme for these residents the environmental engineer Mr Madhu reported that St. Aloysius College, department of social work had organised a workshop where 18 to 20 of the residents attended but due to inappropriate follow up the programme didn't work out.

“We grew up here in this life, this has been our means of life. From the time we started, we didn't have education, we learnt this work from our parents, we don't know any other skills, we shall and we will continue to work in this dump yard as long as we live just so that children don't have to end up like us”, said one of the residents on being asked about changing her occupation if given a chance.

Besides this there is no drinking water facility in the area, residents drink the MCC water which is not purified. Hygiene is a great challenge here and the ground has potholes that can collect water and stagnate it making a breeding ground for illness. People, even children, drink the stored water which is unhygienic. According to the residents, the government has apparently not conducted any health checkups or given any special benefits for these people.
“We did not choose this life, we had no choice, but we want to make the choice to free our children of this life and provide better lifestyle for them and not let them suffer in the future like we are suffering now, and for their well being we are willing to face anything”, said Savitha, a resident of the colony.

In this debate between the government and the residents, with their own versions of the story, it gets us wondering who must get the benefit of the doubt.

The question that still remains in the midst of caste, creed, race and all the paperwork is, will humanity somewhere be found?

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A caste gone wasted: Inside Mangaluru's living hell

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