Pragya Akhilesh, the trade unionist, activist and theatre director. She is also the national secretary of the Bhim Safai Karmachari Trade Union and the convener of Rehabilitation Research Initiative.
What does rehabilitation mean to her?
This initiative grew as a movement with the subjective understanding of Parsonian approach to rehabilitation. Personally, each member needs to be rehabilitated through a network model where the effect of the rehabilitation of a child can be seen on a mother and vice versa.
A lot of people when they think about the term ‘rehabilitation’, equate it with objective goals like getting a job, but do not take into account the sustenance after it.The real question is who are you rehabilitating? What is their socio-economic background? Are you setting up micro-credit self help tools for this member if that job doesn’t work?In this way, rehabilitation is objective, subjective and evaluative at the same time.
“I have never focused on the number of people rehabilitated; it is about whether the people you set on this journey are still in your life.”
What made her start the journey?
The ‘toilet woman’ epithet was first used in a negative sense as I have always worked with the sanitation workers. Family members of men who died in the septic tanks and while scavenging became the body of the initiative. They opened their own union of sanitation workers, and started challenging the lack of implementation of rehabilitation schemes by the government.
Sanitation workers who clean the toilets find themselves in public toilets that lack water supply. These toilets turn into ‘dry latrines. When their entire family acts as a sustainable unit, sanitation workers are liberated from state oppression. If they decide to leave the job we ask them to think how they want to rehabilitate them.
Her organisation tries to hold their hands while they break their own silence.The first SHG was a group of women sanitation workers who collected Rs 10 each from each other and held each other’s hands to liberate themselves. They became each other’s family member. When a group of people pushes each other to find their own path this is where the subjective and evaluative methods of rehabilitation become important.
About the Sanitation Workers and their rehabilitation
The sanitation workers who have successfully transitioned through the painful process of restoration are able to guide other workers on what hindrances they will face during the process.
Similarly, within different groups of men and women, the conversations around micro credit facilities, banking and small scale loans ease financial pressure. You have spoken about the need for a long learning process and understanding of the group of people you want to hold the hands of.
Rehabilitation in this way has not been about telling people what to do. If a person wants to take a class of folk theatre or learn singing it is also a way to restore life. When groups come together they themselves open many small political and cultural groups for doing activities together or having a conversation on things like minority community rights or gender.
There are multiple groups like Ambedkar Manch, Bhim Dal and Lok Theatre run by people of the community. In addition to this, women also put up their craft work in Dilli Haat through their small brands, Gulmohar and Neela Phool.
Sometimes it is also about enrolment in an English speaking course or learning a simple skill set. A person who wants to continue as a sanitation worker may also want to learn to sing. This is what an integrated life should look like. The scavenging community is very political when it comes to talking about caste and the eradication of manual scavenging.
The pros of working with digital platforms and writing online are that you end up remembering all the important dates, days and festivals. In case you forget a single one, twitter ensures that you find it in your trending list!
Today is daughters’ day — and I woke up with a WhatsApp text from my mum! No, I was in the house with her, but in the age of digital communication, she wanted this text to remain on my phone always. Parents, I sometimes wonder, are so naive and pure!
So this daughter’s day, I decided to publish this feature when the day ends — to make you realize that emotions and relationships don’t belong to one particular day and the stories are meant to live forever.
These daughters share one of the most beautiful parts of their lives with us — when they got into their parents’ shoes and excelled in the time of crisis — which made their parents realize that their daughter is all grown up now!
She’s always been a mess — a beautiful and notorious one! “From being a bratty child all through junior college to barely finishing my degree, my parents always worried about how I’d sail through. But cut to now, each day as they see me handle my clients and grow every day, they smile at me and tell me every day that having a daughter was the biggest blessing in their life,” Srishti’s excitement was so evident while she shared this with me.
She asked her mother about an emotional moment which she could share with us, and the answer was — “when Srishti purchased an AC from her first salary!” And she was super emotional.
Remember the times when we packed our bags and left home to explore our own ways? The excitement & feeling of living independently and the pain & emotions of leaving parents back is something we all have been through.
Sramana being the chhota bacha of the family has always been pampered the most. When she left for Pune, her parents were worried, especially her baba, but she managed everything pretty well. “I travelled alone and waited for seven hours at the airport. I learnt cooking, did every household chore, and took care of my elder sister too. Everyone used to say that ‘beti badi ho gayi’ but yes, all of these made me realize that managing a home is not easy. Hats off to you maa,” Sramana scolds her maa and baba whenever they neglect themselves. Parents often ignore their own health and well being when it comes to their kids, and that’s when Sramana becomes their mother — to remind them that nothing is more important than their well being!
“Jagriti was in 3rd year when she lost her mom. She has always been a bold and super confident girl, but her mother’s demise took away all her charm and happiness. She didn’t talk to anyone and barely stepped out of her room. And after a month of struggle with herself, she came into the dining area one day — called the maid, got the entire house cleaned, and prepared the breakfast and meals for her younger sister and me.
That night, while giving me my medicines, she said, ‘dad we cannot afford this anymore. Mom would hate us for making this house and our lives such a mess. She hasn’t left us yet, but I bet if the maid doesn’t come tomorrow, she will pakka run away!’ And the next moment, I was laughing my heart out with eyes full of tears.
It’s been three years since my wife left us, but my daughter managed the house and our lives so well. How could we be blessed with such a beautiful angel? She is my daughter, my friend, my guide and my mother sometimes. And I wish her in my every birth,” Jagriti’s father writes to me while her daughter books another online workshop for him.
When Balaji brought Pihu home for the first time, he knew that she was the one! “A sweet little naughty girl — Pihu never fails at making us ROFL through her mischievous side. She never sits silent and loves playing with me. Oh, and she loves papaya like anything! I bet even if you give her one whole papaya, she can eat it entirely at one go,” Balaji doesn’t see Pihu as a dog.
Yes, animals are family — a beautiful part of our lives. Balaji didn’t give birth to Pihu, but he would love to be her mommy forever. She is a seven months old bundle of joy and happiness without whom he cannot imagine his days now.
“Back in 2014, my mother suffered from cardiac arrest. I was in my first year of graduation, and she was hospitalized for around two months. Since then I have stepped up in her shoes and managed the whole household on my own,” Sakshi shares that moment when her life got upside down.
It was hard for the young Sakshi, but she did manage everything so beautifully and is still continuing that. And considering the amount of responsibilities she has been fulfilling for her family, her mother says that she has become of all her home.
Rashmi’s life changed when she saw her mother in bed for more than a week. For someone like her mother, who was always active and full of energy, Rashmi couldn’t bear seeing her like this. “Vertigo made her weak — a disease which a lot of people are not aware of was making our lives difficult. My mom was very weak and always felt dizzy,” Rashmi was home for vacation at that time.
Though the maid was there to help her with all the washing and cleaning chores, she still had a lot to manage. “I used to cook with whatever knowledge I had and that was the first time when I took full responsibility for the kitchen. I used to give my mom food, tablets, and hot water whenever she needed and she recovered within a month, “ Rashmi smiles while recalling that.
But what she heard later from her mother made her proud and emotional, “my mom was telling my nani that I took care of her exactly how she used to take care of me when I was sick!”
Remember the times when we fight with our parents only to make them realize that everything on WhatsApp is not true and that superstitions are not meant to believe?
“I remember this was around my wedding preparations. We used to get time for shopping only on weekends, and my mom never allowed me to buy utensils or stuff on Saturdays. Every time she used to come up with such gyans, I had to give her the logic for that. I still do! My father almost signed on a property paper in a long-lost family dispute and that just didn’t make sense, but I stepped in between and made him realize that he was being cheated. Parents are definitely more experienced than us, but a part of theirs is so innocent and unaware of the frauds that we children have to act as their guardians at times,” Rakshita smiles while recalling her old memories.
They say elder sisters are no less than a mother and I completely second that! When Supriya was in standard 12th, her parents got admitted to a hospital for almost a week because of dengue. “My brother was in standard 11th — so yes, not much younger than me. But I used to wake up early every day to make him breakfast. Then I used to wake him up, and we used to go to school. I was making lunch and dinner after coming back from school,” Supriya recalls.
Her parents were admitted in Ahmedabad, and they were in Gandhinagar, so it was difficult for them to visit their parents every day. “I used to prepare fruit juices and send other necessary stuff with my neighbours who used to visit them,” this was the time when she took the entire responsibility on her so efficiently!
A lot of people still believe that daughters are a burden, but these daughters are proving that it’s a blessing to give birth to a daughter and day is just not enough for all the love and happiness they bring with them! #ChotiChotiKhushiyaan #HappyDaughtersDay
A 'non-9-5 desk job' ambivert geek who chooses her own audience, Sonali loves sharing stories and finding the corners where humanity still exists! She believes that every individual's story is unique and special. She loves writing about the untouched and unspoken segments of society. When not writing, you can find her listening to someone's stories or playing with dogs. Sonali values mental health and encourages people to speak their heart out!