When Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson broke bread with former scavengers

January 5th, 2009 - 9:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) Usha Chaumar was a scavenger some years ago but today speaks in English and presides over the sprawling campus of Sulabh International that works to give people like her a new life free of stigma.”My parents were scavengers and it was natural that I followed them. At the age of eight I was married and was sent to my husband’s home at the age of 14. It was 2003 that I came to know of this organisation and since then my life has taken a complete U-turn,” Chaumar told IANS.

She was speaking at a unique lunch here Monday at which Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi broke bread with the employees and families - all of them liberated scavengers - at the Sulabh Gram, as the campus is named, in southwest Delhi.

Gandhi’s wife Usha Gandhi, about two-dozen students from the University of Illinois, and Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak were also present on the occasion, which was meant to increase the social interaction of the former scavengers with the world at large.

“The dream Mahatma Gandhi nurtured (of abolishing scavenging) but could not see fulfilled in his life has come true today,” a visibly moved Rajmohan Gandhi said.

“Gandhiji would have been filled with pride had he witnessed such a rare moment,” he added.

Just how effective the Sulabh movement has been can be gauged from the fact that in six years, Chaumar has found a whole new life opening up for her, has addressed the UN Economic and Social Council, and has also met President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

At the UN event, she was also presented with a gold crown and was later photographed with the president wearing it.

“My life changed and all credit goes to Pathak sir,” said Chaumar, dressed in a blue sari - the colour that all Sulabh Gram employees wear.

The Sulabh International Social Service Organisation has turned around the lives of thousands of people like Chaumar in the 38 years it has been in existance. Along the way, it has also promoted the construction of dozens of pay-toilets at public places across the country.

It has helped them lead independent lives through making pickles, paintings and designing clothes, among others.

“Sometimes we are so full with orders that we even have to send some customers back,” said Laxmi, a worker at Sulabh Gram.

Not surprisingly then, the event Monday was a unique and amazing experience, both for the employees and the guests alike.

For the workers, it was also an opportunity to be photographed with Mahatma Gandhi’s lineage.

“We haven’t seen Gandhiji but we got a chance to be photographed with his grandson,” said one of the excited workers.

The guests were also overwhelmed with the experience and were all praise for the Museum of Toilets at Sulabh Gram, terming it a “unique collection”.

“The effort made by Sulabh is just incredible and we all are so happy with the hearty welcome that we have received over here,” Allie Stanko, a student of the University of Illinois, told IANS.

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