Comrade Zafar gave his life defending the dignity of the poor and of women – in the process exposing the ugly face of Prime Minister Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign.
Universally liked and respected by everyone in the Bagwasa Kachchi Basti, Comrade Zafar had for a couple of decades been spearheading efforts to get the basti regularized, to achieve basic sanitation and water facilities for the basti, and to prevent eviction from the basti.
The Swachh Bharat campaign claims to encourage people in rural and urban India to give up the widespread practice of open defecation (which has serious public health consequences) and switch to toilet use.
But the Pratapgarh episode culminating in the lynching of Comrade Zafar highlights the Government-led campaign’s callousness, cruelty and contempt towards the poor.
Comrade Zafar and the people of the Bagwasa basti were not among those resisting toilet use – on the contrary Comrade Zafar and the colony’s women had submitted memorandums and led delegations seeking funds from the Government to build individual and community toilets and ensure proper water and cleaning facilities for such toilets. Instead of welcoming their demand and acceding to it, the elected Chairman of the municipality – a BJP leader Kamlesh Dosi – tore up their memorandum and mockingly told them to get rid of eviction of the entire colony instead of trying to provide toilets for it.
Meanwhile, every morning, in the absence of proper toilets, the colony’s residents had no option but to defecate in the open: and the municipality personnel would harass, bully, and shame them for so doing! Comrade Zafar and the colony’s women had specifically demanded in their memorandum (submitted to the offices of the municipality and the Collector days before Comrade Zafar was killed) that the coercive tactics be suspended at least until funds be provided so that toilets can be built and functional. But funds were denied, the colony lacked both toilets and water, and yet the poor were shamed and bullied and the women sexually harassed for being ‘dirty’ and uncouth enough to defecate in the open! Not only are the poor condemned to live in the most appalling and inhuman conditions – they are mocked, bullied and shamed for those conditions.
A story in Wire.in (‘Dirty Backstory to ‘Swachh Bharat’ Lynching: No Toilets, No Water and the Threat of Eviction’ by Shruti Jain, 22/06/2017) tells how there is one single community toilet with ten commodes in the Bagwasa basti which houses 3000 residents – and that toilet has no water, the flushes do not work and consequently the toilets are clogged and unusable. (Whenever these toilets are ever cleaned, it will be a job of manual scavenging which is supposed to be illegal but which continues to widespread. The Swachh Bharat campaign claims eradication of manual scavenging as one of its goals: but makes zero effort in this direction.)
The Rajasthan Chief Minister, police and Government are trying to claim, based on the post mortem report, that Zafar just happened to die of a heart attack and that he was not attacked by government personnel at all. But it is clear from eyewitness accounts and even from the selective, short video clips released by the government personnel themselves, that Zafar did not just happen to drop dead and suffer a ‘demise’ on a morning walk. He had no history of heart problems or hypertension. He was undoubtedly in an altercation and scuffle with Government personnel minutes before his death in an attempt to prevent the personnel from photographing and videographing women of the basti while they were defecating. Multiple eyewitnesses from amongst the women bear witness to the fact that he was beaten to death by the personnel for offering resistance to their bullying and sexual harassment of women.
The killing of Comrade Zafar by Government personnel in the name of the Swacch Bharat campaign has brought a host of issues about the draconian and undemocratic character of the campaign to a head. Liberation takes a closer look at the stated aims and goals of the campaign, its methods and its performance.
LYNCH MOB SYNDROME : SHAMING, BULLYING, AND VIOLENCE AGAINST THE POOR
Zafar’s lynching should come as no surprise, given the tactics adopted by the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (henceforth SBA) as well as by government campaigns against open defecation predating SBA. Under the SBA, police are government personnel instructed to form vigilante mobs to patrol villages at dawn and dusk to harass and bully people defecating in the open, with a view to shaming them. These vigilante mobs are instructed to whistle, cat-call, clap; groups of women follow men and groups of men follow women and photograph/videograph them when they are defecating. These mobs grab the lotas (mugs of water) and shout slogans. These are the tactics to which Zafar objected.
Such tactics have resulted in dehumanising violence and have sparked social conflict and sharpened social divisions all over the country. One elderly man in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh in December 2016, for example, was beaten and forced to clean his feces with his hands by civic body authorities – and a video of the whole degrading scene was uploaded by Ujjain Municipal Corporation (UMC) deputy commissioner Sunil Shah in a WhatsApp group. (‘Villager forced to clean his feces with hands in Ujjain as part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, Salil Mekaad, Times News Network, December 29, 2016)
In Maharajpur village in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh in October 2016, Vipin Sahu was dragged out of his home, beaten and stabbed to death by a mob in front of the whole village because he had delayed construction of a toilet in his home and has sought more time till Diwali to do so. (‘Man killed for buying time to build toilet’, Rashmi Drolia, TNN, October 8, 2016)
Such tactics predate the SBA of the Modi Government. A report by Liz Chatterjee in the Guardian (‘Time to acknowledge the dirty truth behind community-led sanitation’, The Guardian, 9 June 2011) details the coercive tactics adopted by government officials in Karnataka to deter open defecation: “A local official proudly testified to the extremes of the coercion. He had personally locked up houses when people were out defecating, forcing them to come to his office and sign a contract to build a toilet before he would give them the keys. Another time, he had collected a woman’s faeces and dumped them on her kitchen table.”
GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Government campaigns against open defecation, including SBA, openly instigate and encourage violence against women. The Madhya Pradesh Government in 2013 titled its campaign to end open defecation, ‘Maryada Abhiyan’. The word ‘Maryada’ in Hindi signifies women’s sense of dignity and/or womanly shame, and a campaign booklet issued by the MP Government harps on the theme of how open defecation threatens women’s dignity and puts women in danger of sexual harassment. In the process, however, the booklet itself openly instigates sexual harassment of women!
The booklet (found at this link http://www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/sites/communityledtotalsanitation.org/files/MP_NBA_MARYADA_guidelines.pdf) asks people to imagine a young woman defecating in the open and being watched by voyeuristic men. It even carries a voyeuristic drawing to this effect. It does not ask why any men watching should not be punished for voyeurism – a crime under Section 354 C of the Indian Penal Code!
Instead the booklet itself prescribes such voyeurism and sexual harassment, by asking ‘Sanitation monitoring committees’ (basically vigilante mobs) to patrol villages, whistle at people defecating in the open, and take photographs and videos of open defecators ‘with the threat and possibility that the photos might be displayed or the videos shown.’ The district administration of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s own constituency of Jhalawar in June 2016 asked teachers to conduct similar patrols and take photos and videos of open defecators (‘Rajasthan Wants Teachers To Make Early Morning Rounds, Click Pics To Check Open Defecation’, Huffington Post, 06/06/2016).
Do PM Modi and the various State Governments not know that taking or showing photos or videos, or even ordering such photos or videos to be taken, is a crime of voyeurism under Section 354 C of the IPC (see box)? Chief Ministers, Sanitation Ministers, as well as local administrators could and should be booked under Section 354 C for ordering and approving voyeurism in the name of SBA. The SBA tries to create fear in women that open defecation will expose them to voyeurism and sexual violence – and then unleashes government-sponsored voyeurism and violence on them!
The booklet harps on patriarchal notions of ‘maryada’ as meaning the enforced imprisonment of women behind veils and inside four walls of the home. It suggests that in meetings of groups of villagers, mothers-in-law be asked why their daughter-in-law covers her head while sending her out to bare her bottom. An advertisement by one of the celebrity ambassadors of SBA, actress Vidya Balan, also raises the same question. One of the most common SBA slogans is Bahu-betiyan door na jayen, ghar par hi shauchalay banvayen “Daughters-in-law, daughters should not go far, construct a toilet in your house.” In the process, the campaign endorses, invokes and reinforces the notion that young women and daughters-in-law should be made to wear the veil and prevented from going outdoors to maintain ‘maryada.’ Instead of emphasizing that open defecation harms health of people, especially children, it is more obsessed with suggesting that open defecation harms patriarchy!
The SBA’s assumption that women do not like to go outside the house to defecate is misplaced anyway. The Sanitation Quality Use Access and Trends (or SQUAT) survey 2014 found that many women in fact cherished open defecation because it offered an opportunity to go out of the house: “A young daughter-in-law in Haryana, whose household owns a latrine, explained that: The reason that [I and my sisters-in-law] go outside [to defecate] is that we get to wander a bit…you know, we live cooped up inside.”
Moreover the survey found that it was a myth that open defecation increases the danger of sexual violence, noting that: “Of 1,046 women interviewed by the SQUAT survey, 4.3% told us that while going to defecate, they had been the victim of someone attempting to molest them. Of the same group, 7.6% reported that this had happened to them while going to the market. …The point is that it is not a serious policy response to these facts to suggest that women should stop going to markets.”
Instead of appealing to patriarchy and using patriarchal violence and shaming to deter open defecation, campaigns should aim to raise consciousness about the dangers of open defecation to public health. As the SQUAT survey notes, patriarchal messages “give villagers the impression that latrine use is for women, but the message that the government should be sending is that latrine use is for everyone. Men’s faeces as well as women’s faeces spread germs that make other people sick.”
COERCION AND CONTEMPT FOR THE POOR
The public shaming tactics of the SBA and of other government campaigns too reek of contempt for the poor and expose the attitude of governments towards the poor. The latest example is the Rajasthan Government order instructing local administrations to paint a bright yellow sign on their homes stating “I am poor and I receive food from National Food Security Act” on the homes of BPL families. Like the SBA tactics, such tactics too amount to shaming the poor for their poverty.
In many states, rations are withheld until families construct toilets. Madhya Pradesh enacted a law barring those not having a flush toilet in their homes from contesting in Panchayat elections. Such coercive tactics withholding basic facilities and rights amount to grave human rights violations.
The SBA has neither succeeded in ending open defecation nor has it achieved its other stated goals such as ending manual scavenging. It has not even made any serious effort to ensure the rights and dignity of sanitation workers – instead practices amounting to manual scavenging continue to thrive all over India, tacitly endorsed and enforced by governments.
Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karmachari Andolan asks, “Why does this government and Modi not make investments in cleaning technology?” and fears that the SBA’s focus on toilet construction minus structural changes to tackle and end manual scavenging will “simply create more unsanitary latrines that will require more manual scavengers to clean them.” (‘Down the Drain: How the Swachh Bharat Mission is heading for failure’, Sagar, 1 May 2017, The Caravan)
WHY DO INDIANS PREFER OPEN DEFECATION?
Understanding the answer to this question is essential if we want to persuade people to make any lasting change in this practice.
The SQUAT survey found that while poverty and resulting lack of land or money for constructing toilets, as well as lack of water for maintenance of toilets are no doubt factors, they are still not the main factors responsible for open defecation in India. Its researchers observe that 70% of rural households in India do not have a toilet or latrine, while “in rural sub-Saharan Africa, where people are, on average, poorer, less educated, and less likely to have access to an improved water source than people in rural India, only about 35% of people defecate in the open without a toilet or latrine. In rural Bangladesh, only 5% of people defecate in the open.” (‘Understanding open defecation in rural India: Untouchability, pollution, and latrine pits,’ EPW January 7, 2017, by Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Dean Spears, Nikhil Srivastav, and Sangita Vyas)
The survey found that Indians across social sections do not prefer to use the small twin-pit latrines (for which Governments give a Rs 12000 subsidy to rural Indians), even if these are constructed. The reason is that these latrines require periodic manual pit emptying – a practice associated with manual scavenging, associated with Dalits and consequently considered degrading and polluting. Non-Dalits will not empty the pits, and Dalits no longer want to be employed to do such labour. If affordable twin pit latrines are constructed, one of the pits can be allowed to decompose into compost while the other is in use – emptying decomposed waste is not manual scavenging. But it still carries the social stigma associated with degrading labour, and is thus shunned.
People are willing to use the larger and more expensive latrines with septic tanks – or the ones that use bio-digester gas technology to ensure that no residue is left in the pits. Since the Government does not fund such latrines which are relatively more expensive than small-pit latrines, people much prefer open defecation – even considering it to be healthier and more dignified than using small-pit latrines.
To this, add the fact that most poor people have experienced public latrines at bus stops – where they tend to be overflowing with faeces, stinking and lacking in water. Naturally, they tend to associate latrines with dirt and open defecation with fresh air and health – all the more so if their homes or colonies lack proper water, sewage and sanitation facilities.
We must remember here that caste prejudices relating to sanitation are by no means limited to Indians of the underprivileged classes. People who are privileged enough to have flush toilets in their homes also share those prejudices, as displayed in the fact that most of them would not allow workers from oppressed castes who clean their toilets to eat or drink out of their utensils. (‘Survey finds practice of untouchability’, Rukmini S, The Hindu, November 13, 2014).
So, we have to remember that the poor prefer open defecation over small-pit latrines – they would probably not prefer open defecation over fully functional, modern flush latrines. Similarly in urban areas people defecate in the open when the community toilets provided are clogged with faeces and ill-maintained. The big, unspoken question with regard to community toilets and individual pit-latrines alike is – who will clean the toilets. Campaigns like SBA do not address this question because the answer would require them to confront the reality of manual scavenging done by Dalits.
Moreover, we must remember that those who can afford large-pit latrines with septic tanks in villages and flush latrines in towns and cities are those from more privileged classes and dominant castes. It is these relatively more privileged people who tend to be tasked with shaming the poorer and more underprivileged people for defecating in the open.
HOW TO END OPEN DEFECATION: PERSUASION VS COERCION
Internationally, Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is recognized as having achieved results in ending open defecation. CLTS involves educating communities to recognize the health hazards of open defecation, through campaigns that teach people to recognize that through open defecation “we are eating each other’s shit.” People from the communities are then mobilized to persuade others in the community to adopt toilet use. In its spirit CLTS is meant to be persuasive rather than coercive.
In India, CLTS practices have never seriously been adopted except in small pockets. However, it is a fact that even in other countries, CLTS campaigns too have been criticized for using tactics of public shaming and coercion.
It is high time that Indian people rose up against the tactics of vigilantism, public shaming, bullying and sexual harassment unleashed in the name of SBA. We have to recognize that a campaign to end open defecation can succeed only if it is able to convince and persuade people to voluntarily use toilets and shun open defecation. This calls for a multi-pronged approach in which shaming and coercion can have no part.
- 1) Governments must educate about the health consequences of open defecation. Campaigns must focus on health rather than on notions of social shame, status, or patriarchal culture.
2) Government officials, elected representatives, and so on must lead by example in having, using and popularizing the kind of toilets they expect people to use. Using Amitabh Bachchan who has palatial toilets to shame the poor for open defecation must stop. Let the government officials, MLAs, MPs, etc use twin-pit latrines in their own homes and regularly clean these out themselves to show people that no stigma should be associated with the use and cleaning of such latrines. Such practices would truly be in the spirit of Gandhi who emphasized the need for people to clean their own toilets. And adopting and popularising such practices would be far more meaningful and effective than the photo-ops of politicians posing with brooms as part of SBA.
3) Governments must provide toilets that people are willing to use. This means that the campaigns must engage with people. If Governments find that people are simply not ready to use twin-pit latrines, they must then fund either bio-digester toilets (which are also quite cheap and cost-effective) or latrines with larger pits and septic tanks.
4) Governments must also ensure the availability of water in individual and community toilets alike. They must provide proper facilities for cleaning community toilets in both rural and urban India – facilities that provide the best and safest hygienic equipment for sanitation workers and do not in any way allow manual scavenging.
5) Governments must immediately declare a no-tolerance policy for any kind of naming-and-shaming, public humiliation, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or coercion in the name of deterring open defecation. Defecation must be recognised as a human need – and people’s right to defecate with dignity, without fear or shame must be recognized as a human right. Any person or public official violating this right must face punishment.
Zafar’s lynching must serve as a wake-up call. No more bullying and coercion in the name of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan! Persuasion not coercion must be the rule for any campaign against open defecation.
RAJASTHAN GOVERNMENT’S ATTEMPT TO COVER UP ZAFAR’S LYNCHING
The India Today channel conducted a sting operation
in which BJP leader and municipality Chairman Kamlesh Dosi boasted of releasing selective video clips to suggest that Zafar was the aggressor. The sting also showed doctors in the government hospital giving evasive responses to questions.
Kamlesh Dosi said in the sting operation that he was informed by his municipality officials at 7 am on 16 June that one of the municipality workers was bleeding due to an attack on the workers by Zafar. He said that he immediately instructed the officials to file an FIR against Zafar. He said that it was only after this that he heard that Zafar had fallen ill and needed to be taken to hospital.
But the FIRs filed by Zafar’s family and by the Government against Zafar tell a different story and belie Dosi’s version. The FIR filed by Zafar’s family shows that it was filed at 11.30 am on 16 June 2017, while the one filed by the Government against Zafar is clearly an afterthought, filed at 22.51 pm late at night on 16 June! It is quite obvious that the Government decided to file an FIR against Zafar only when they realized that national media was picking up the story of Zafar’s lynching and they needed to try and protect the accused Municipality Commissioner Ashok Jain and others by painting the victim, Zafar, as the aggressor!
TAKING PHOTOS AND VIDEOS OF WOMEN DEFECATING IS A CRIME
(Here is what Section 354 C of IPC states about voyeurism)
Section 354C IPC: Any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine, and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation I.— For the purpose of this section, “private act” includes an act of watching carried out in a place which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy and where the victim’s genitals, posterior or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear; or the victim is using a lavatory; or the victim is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.
Explanation 2.— Where the victim consents to the capture of the images or any act, but not to their dissemination to third persons and where such image or act is disseminated, such dissemination shall be considered an offence under this section.
LET’S SUPPORT ZAFAR’S FAMILY
As you know, CPI(ML) and AICCTU activist Comrade Zafar (55) was lynched to death on 16 June 2017 for defending poor women from attempts by Rajasthan government officials to take photos and videos of them in a state of undress. The women were forced to defecate in the open because the government had refused funds to construct toilets in their colony.
Comrade Zafar is survived by his wife Comrade Rashida, and daughters Rukhsar (who is married) and Sabaz (who is in Class X in high school). Comrade Rashida and even his young daughters are boldly fighting for justice. Comrade Rashida has refused a cheque of Rs 2 lakh as ‘compensation’ from the government officials who are covering up Zafar’s lynching and are using various threats to get Rashida to withdraw her police complaint. She is determined not to be silenced by such offers, and is demanding justice instead.
We appeal to you to contribute generously to Comrade Rashida to help her support herself and her family. Contributions can be sent directly to Comrade Rashida’s bank account:
Name- Rasida Bee w/o Zafar Khan
A/c No- 42310100020101
Name of Bank- Baroda Rajasthan Kshetriya Grameen Bank
IFSC Code – BARB0BRGBXX
The article orginally appeared http://cpiml.org/liberation/july-2017