ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Translating Symbolism into Action: AAP's jhadus

Devaki Jain(devakijain@gmail.com) is Associate Fellow of the Delhi Policy Group and member of the Governing Council of the National Institute for Advanced Studies, Bangalore. 

The Aam Aadmi Party should engage with the problems of the manual scavengers and waste pickers earnestly to translate their symbolism - using the jhadu as their election symbol, into action. 

It was refreshing to see jhadus (brooms) being waved while celebrating the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly Elections 2013.  A television screen where scores of supporters and well-wishers can be seen  waving jhadus instead of flags or face masks or even candles , felt good – as if the celebration was not just focused on the AAP but also focused on the less privileged, on the working classes  - the sweepers. Of course women of all classes have also been vociferous supporters of the AAP, but let that rest for now.

The challenge now is for the AAP to translate the use of that symbol into something meaningful for those who are jhadu marne wallas – the sweepers.  Otherwise it would appear that the AAP appropriated a symbol – the jhadu that is evocative of exploitative and discriminatory practices, particularly to the sweepers themselves. Now the AAP can garner more popular support for itself by doing something for the jhaduwallas (sweepers). 

The AAP has, in its campaign and election manifesto, focused on the resettlement areas in the periphery of Delhi, understanding their problems, and garnered significant support from the votes of these marginalised people. It has been reported that even a significant portion of the slumdwellers residing in Lutyens’ Delhi voted for the AAP. One wonders what might have prompted the voters of central and south Delhi, who have benefitted from government schemes more than their brethren in the other parts of Delhi, to vote against the Congress.

As a starting point, the AAP could look at the whole issue of scavenging and wherever possible, among other things, implement the new Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.This Act aims to eliminate dry toilets and manual scavenging and will enable rehabilitation of sweepers in alternative professions within a constitutional framework. AAP’s cadres and volunteers could find those places where this is happening and not just punish those who have such latrines but facilitate the process of finding livelihood options for those involved in manual scavenging.  This will not be an easy task but it will be a worthy one.  The identified persons would not only need an alternate livelihood but also housing, schooling and health facilities – a real upgradation – to move them out of their condition.  Government has many schemes for such an intervention, but this is also an opportunity for bringing in other sources of support to make this happen.

The other set of persons who would fit into AAP’s ideology are the waste pickers.  Most of the waste pickers live in the resettlement colonies. There are many initiatives in India where waste pickers, especially women whom we see carrying huge filthy sheets on their back filled with refuse from domestic and industrial establishments, have been organised into associations and cooperatives. These initiatives have enabled them to have collection points in mohallas (neighbourhoods), where waste is recycled not only into the typical plastic sheets but also into energy, fertilizers and what not. In Pune and Kanpur the municipality has mobilised the waste pickers by creating a system in which the waste, generated from the households and collected by the waste pickers, is recycled locally at a site provided by the municipal authorities. No landfills needed, no large company contracts - all very aam admi (common man) or better still, aam aurat (common woman).

Waste pickers have formed associations and cooperatives and have upgraded their clothes and vehicles and professionalised their work apart from saving the environment by local recycling.  It is a joy to see the Pune Municipality model which is reportedly working in Kanpur as well. 

If the AAP does concentrate on sweepers and waste pickers and prioritise their economic and social programmes, they would live up to the image provided by the waving of jhadus, and not be accused of usurping a symbol – a symbol of a particular class and of manual work. 

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