20th February - World Day of Social Justice

Interview with Dr Bindeshwar Pathak
Dr Bindeshwar Pathak

Interview with Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak

At its sixty-second session, in November 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 20th February as World Day of Social Justice.

The World Day of Social Justice is aimed at addressing global concerns such as poverty eradication, promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.

On this occasion, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reforms Movement spoke to Suniet Bezbaroowa of Paycheck India. Dr Pathak, Ph.D., D.Litt, has been conferred with various national and international awards such as the Padma Bhushan and the Stockholm Water Prize 2009 for his outstanding work in the social reforms sector.

Paycheck India: Is it a threat or opportunity for social justice in India in present times? Please substantiate for either of your views.

Dr Pathak: The answer to this question is in the positive. The background to this is social as well as economic. In India, new schemes such as right to information, creation of opportunities for the minorities and right to education are some of the areas where social justice deserves to be viewed positively.

On the economic front, the very fact that we have not been badly affected by the recent recession and are now a country with the second highest economic growth, formulating schemes for the common man have laid the foundations of social justice schemes mentioned above and for them to be meaningful.

Paycheck India: How successful have been the state machinery and concerned NGOs to work in tandem to address the concern of social injustice?

Dr Pathak: The State machinery and the NGOs have worked hand in hand to attend to the issues of social injustice. The one institution that comes in a big way to help meet the challenge of social injustice has been the judiciary. The concept of Public Interest Litigation has helped NGOs to a great deal. It was formulated by the judiciary itself.

This is not to play down the role of the media especially the T.V. which graphically brings instantaneously to every home the stories of injustice, e.g. of the Green Movement in which the NGOs have found able support both in the Government and the Judiciary as well as the Media; or for that matter the issue of Bt-crops.

Paycheck India: What role could trade unions play in advancing full and productive employment and decent work?

Dr Pathak: Trade unions in India are gradually growing out of their earlier negative role which at times was even destructive. When I speak of trade unions, I speak of them not merely in the conventional sense of the term. A significant development has been that NGOs or even the Govt. - the earlier master have to a great extent come to occupy the space dominated earlier by the trade unions.

I am happy to note that this has happened without any conflict or pushing aside strategy being adopted by the NGOs. This is partly explained for by the fact that the state and economic growth have given better deal to the workers and their dependence on trade unions has gradually declined.

However, the dangerous phenomenon which has developed is that a section of society, not dependent on either the trade unions or the NGOs, has taken recourse to violence and placed themselves outside the pail of law. It is worthwhile remembering that in India where 70% of the population lives in rural areas, trade unions hardly play any role. It is political empowerment and implementation of government schemes which provide and create conditions to provide employment.

Paycheck India: The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 at Beijing noted the “feminisation of poverty.” Moving forward, how far social and legal institutions have been able to guarantee women equality in employment earnings, apart from basic legal and human rights.

Dr Pathak: In India, we are still concerned more with providing basic human and legal rights rather than guaranteeing to women of equality in employment earnings - not that it is of less importance. It is only after assuring basic legal and human rights that we can think of equality in employment earnings in a big way for women. This is true especially in social sphere. Even so, for example, for women, avenues and opportunities for earnings have been opened in the field of aviation and even defence services.

The most important back-up for opportunities arising has been of women empowerment at the grassroots level of representative institution like Panchayats, where women have legally been provided the right to find a place therein, which they have availed of in full measure. I would like to say that we are moving away from feminization of poverty to feminization of empowerment.

Paycheck India: As a social reformist, are you working on specific projects to address social injustice in India?

Dr Pathak: Yes, I am working as a Social Reformer to address social injustice in India. We have liberated scavenger women from their demeaning and sub-human occupation. I have started Vocational Training Centres in Patna, Jhambul (Maharashtra) and New Delhi for their rehabilitation. I have also started ‘Nai Disha’ in Alwar and Tonk (Rajasthan) to give the liberated scavengers education and vocational training in different trades like tailoring, embroidery, plumbing, electrician, beauty care, making eatables such as papadum and noodles and thereby make them self-employed.

The edibles prepared by them are now bought by local people in whose houses they earlier used to go to clean toilets. This is a sea-change in the attitude of the people. Recently, a Brahmin invited an ‘untouchable’ scavenger to the wedding of his daughter. He even accepted a gift from her and allowed her to dine with his family members. This had never happened before in the history of 5000 years of India.

I have been working for scavenger liberation and many such issues without any hesitation, but only through peaceful means and a silent revolution.




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