This wonderful news comes to us from India.
MeeraBaghel had adjusted herself to the fact that being a manual scavenger, collecting human excreta, cleaning drains, lifting animal carcasses and disposing of household waste was the only kind of work that society would allow her and those of her kind to do.
This was until 2004.
Today, the 40-year-old Meera is one of the trainers at GarimaSilaiKendra (Stitching center) in Dewas. She earns up to Rs 8,000 per month and happens to be an active member of a local self-help group. The group fights against inhuman and unlawful practice of manual scavenging.
Nearly 41,000 people like Meera who had previously lived an oppressed life as bonded laborers and manual scavengers have been rescued and rehabilitated by Jan Sahas-this is an NGO founded by the activist AshifShaikh about 9 years ago.
It is definitely not easy to fight against traditional customs that have a strong root across the country with threats and warnings becoming a part of Ashif’s life. But despite verbal and physical attacks, the activist continues to wage his war against injustice.
Besides the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, the NGO also works to get justice for rape survivors and women who have been victims of any kind of sexual exploitation. To date, the NGO has supported 15,000 rape survivors through legal actions, employment and so forth.
Ashif is known for his battles against caste-based discrimination and freeing people from the shackles of manual scavenging. Ashif took birth in a Dalit Muslim family in Mukeri in Indore. While growing up he faced caste discrimination and was also a victim of physical violence.
He says,” At a very early age, I saw the unrealistic boundaries created by society. I understood the conscious attempt that was being made that separated me from them. As a kid, there was very little I could do to end the unjust practices. But listening to the speeches of activists motivated me to put my thoughts into action.”
In 1999 he mobilized students of his own age group and formed YuvaManch to educate local children who had been ostracized by schools. He also conducted night classes for children in his town and freed them from child labor.
Recently, Ashif has ventured into a new initiative of freeing underage girls from certain communities who are forced to become sex-workers. Applying a strategy of rehabilitation the NGO has been able to prevent close to 6,000 such girls from caste-based exploitation by their own families. Ashif is a man with a mission and undaunted by threats and callous behavior of people, the activist who always listens to his conscience is bent upon changing the lives of fellow humans who have received a raw deal.
Image source: Social Work India