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That Gandhi may not be born again[continued]

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Catch India:

In Patna, chasing a promised job, Pathak was not driven by that memory. He was looking to feed himself and his young wife.

To today's young educated Indians who can switch jobs with ease, name their salaries and expect not to retire from the job they begin at, getting and holding a job in India of the sixties would read like chapters from Catch-22.

The Centenary Committees's own term was nearing its end. Chief Ministers changed frequently. Salaries were just numbers in books, not money you received in hand. There was no Rs.600 job— instead there was a temporary one at Rs.12 per month. That too was threatened because of a perceived temerity towards superiors. Pathak hung-in there in hope of a 'permanent' job someday."We got by, selling trinkets from my wife's jewel box," says Pathak.

But an extraordinary meeting took place in 1967 that would concentrate his mind. Rajendra Lal Das, then 65, was a member of Sarvodaya movement, that worked on Gandhi's social concerns. Within that, Das had kept a firm focus on scavenger liberation or Bhangi Mukti. He urged Pathak to devote himself to the cause.

A clean-up caste:

There have been some persuasive arguments to pin the origin of the scavenger class on Muslim conquerors of India: it started for the convenience of their ladies in purdah. There is some truth that they used captured warriors as porters of night-soil. There are clear references however, in ancient Naradiya Samhita and Vajasaneyi Samhita to designated slaves —Chandals & Paulkasas, for example— for cleaning up toilets. Those two castes are referred to in Buddhist times also. The Mughals may however have introduced the bucket-privy and created a new caste label called Mehtars. Finally, the catch-all, derisory name, Bhangi for these abused people emerged.

In 1931, when India's population was a fourth of what it is today, the census reports nearly 2 millon Bhangis.

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