Corona attack on India seems to have suddenly changed our understanding of Safai karmacharis of India. They are now seen as desh bhakts even by those who never recognized their desh bhakti. When the life of rich who treated them lowly and unworthy of respect and dignity are in danger as never before, they are recognizing what I call the Safai Soldiers along with doctors, nurses as praise worthy. Doctors always have been respected in modern times. Nurses too have status even earlier, though basically seen as female profession.
But the recognition of safai soldiers is the first ever in Indian history. This is a contribution of corona mahammari. Their work of cleaning and bleaching the roads that are seen as harbours of deadly virus day and night with hardly any protective gears, unlike doctors and nurses, is a valueless work.
Now the nation knows that theirs is a work of courage and sacrifice like the soldiers on the borders. But what is their life at home when life after work needs to be at least comfortable?. Did our nationalism recognize them as the saviors of nation like soldiers, politicians, teachers and saints and provide them a good life?
What is their place in our written texts of social, spiritual, political and economic life? Did any religious text give them at least ‘half status’ that the priests, mullahs and bishops and monks got?
How many divine men are on the roads to save the life of the nation at a time when the Satanic (in Christin and Muslim language) or rakshas (in Hindu language) corona is taking the life of rich and poor without discrimination quite brutally? With whom is Easwar, God, Allah live now? The priests, saints, bishops, mullahs, monks all are home ridden as all laymen, and the temples, churches and masjids, viharas are locked down. Easwar, God, Allah are virtually with the safai sainiks. Is that realization on us now in the world and in our nation?
No doubt religion will not die after corona, but if the worker on the roads are seen as more godly than the priests, bishops, Mullahs and monks and that will be a miraculous change.
They are the cleanest and neatest people ( particularly Indians) now because of which corona is afraid of them. Hereafter in the post corona world they should be most respected, having come from the former untouchable background (most of them in India).
In times of social isolation maintaining disease distance even from wife and children why and how these safai sainiks are working to save life? What value the nation should give them in the post-corona nation of nationalism?
Prime Minster, Narendra Modi, along with lock down of the nation announced that all top bracketed salaried people’s salaries from President of India downwards are reduced 30 percent. The State Governments have introduced their own salary cuts. But is it not nationalistic step to increase 30 per cent of salaries of all safai soldiers? Why does not PM think of such a positive nationalist step?
For years Bejawada Wilson was fighting for changing the status and life of the nation’s safai sainiks. PM has done a tokenist job by washing four -five safai kamacharis’ feet at Kumbhamela some time back, but never thought of changing their real living conditions.
A real nationalist idea is that the most basic servants of nation should get a salary by which their children should be able to study in the same schools that the children of top politicians, bureaucrats, doctors, engineers and teachers of universities could study and change their occupation easily. Should not the rich of the nation psychologically prepare that their own children also be ready to do the sacred job of safai soldier in future?
It is not just enough to praise that they are doing great nationalist work with courage and commitment. It is not morally right to decorate them with a ten rupee note garland by the rich when they themselves are dead scared of life with a devilish virus. How many of them are ready to say ‘cut our salaries, tax us more and pay them much better salaries’ across the nation? Where are the lovers of matrubhoomi to ask for equal status to them with saints and sadhus as they are giving this matrubhoomi life in the face of major threat to life ?
The nation and nationalists know that their salaries always have been meager. Their earnings as of now do not allow them to eat well, shelter well and educate their children to change their parental occupation, which in normal times is disrespected and maltreated.
It needed a modern globalized virus which made the rich and arrogant humble. Till Covid-19 convinced that the more you air travel, the more you are vulnerable for attack of this satan. The best of the world hospitals cannot cure you. The safai sainiks working in airports could never think of traveling in those flights. Now all the flying rich are afraid of flights because of corona rakshasi.
Why are the safai soldiers not so afraid of this mahammari? They are born out of soil, live on soil and eat food the rich despised (including beef) and yet they are facing devil on the roads even without masks on the face. How?
The more you are on the soil, soiling your hands the more courage, confidence and immunity you have to fight this mahammari. Where from the courage, confidence and immunity came for this poor, despised mass, who live in slums, not in spacious bungalows? It comes from the poor’s common sense that they came from the soil and go to the soil if this mahammari attacks them. They know that it cannot kill all of them. They have lived through many such mahammaris, which did not touch the rich travelling in air conditioned plane or train or bus, lived in air conditioned houses. But corona told them that they are less safe if they live unequal life like this. It told them that not hospitals would save them but the very poor whom they hated can save them.
Safai soldiers are doing that with equal commitment that the soldiers stand on our borders.
Imagine if the safai sainiks go on strike for one day asking for good pay and equal respect as human beings in these times of corona crisis. We all would die out of fear of corona everywhere on the roads. If we are nationalists let us resolve that we shall start reducing inequalities by upgrading the soldiers that are saving us in every street, all over the country, from this deadly virus.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is Political Theorist, Social Activist and Author