PROFILE : '' This is not what they were born to do.'' A man's long fight against caste discrimination and India's dry latrines.

When he came to fully realize exactly what his parents and older brother did for a living and what it most likely meant for his own future, Bezwada Wilson says he was so angry that he contemplated suicide. 

His family members, and his broader community, were manual scavengers, tasked with cleaning by hand human excrement from fry latrines at a government-run gold mine in southern India.

While his parents had tried hard to hide from their youngest child the nature of their work as long as they could - telling Mr.Bezwada they were sweepers - as a student Mr. Bezwada knew his classmates viewed him with cruel condescension. He just didn't know the reason.

'' In my growing up  years, I was made to feel different from the rest in school. I was not allowed to laugh at jokes, and caste slurs were thrown at me,'' Mr. Bezwada said in an interview on a recent evening in Delhi.

'' All I wanted to know then was why is my community different, and how could I make them equal to others?''

By the time he was 18 or so, the young man of course knew what his community did to put food on the table, but his knowledge was still only theoretical. He wanted to experience the work for himself.

So he urged some manual scavengers to take him on the job. He watched them reach way down into the pit to scrape dried human waste from toilet floors, piling into iron buckets and then transferring it into a trolley to be dumped on the mining township's outskirts.

As he observed, one man's bucket fell into the pit. The man rolled up his pants before dropping down into ankle-deep waste to pull the bucket out.

'' I shouted, cried and implored him not to do so. How could any human do that?'' Mr. Bezwada recalled.

The night of that incident, furious about what he had witnessed, he spent hours sitting by a water tank, thinking about jumping in to end his life.

'' The sound of the water was consistent. But what I could hear in my mind was a '' no, don't die. Live on and fight,'' Mr. Bezwada recalled.

And he has for the last four decades. Every morning, Mr. Bezwada, now 57,wakes up with a single-minded mission : to unshackle his community from the centuries-old scourge linked to their caste.

'' My community did not realize that this is not what they were born to do,'' Mr. Bezwada said, '' but were made to do by society and government.''

The movement he founded in 1993. SAFAI KARAMCHARI ANDOLAN, or campaign of the  Cleanliness Workers, is now one of the largest organizations in India fighting against caste discrimination.

The World Students Society honours and thanks Suhasini Raj. The Essay Publishing will continue into the future.


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