Bezwada Wilson was born in 1966 in the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) in Karnataka in Southern India. His organization, Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), is an Indian human rights organization that works for the eradication of manual scavenging and also, campaigns for the construction, employment, and operation of manual scavenger which has been illegal since 1993.
Ashoka Foundation had nominated him a Senior Fellow, recognizing his work at SKA, a community-driven movement. He was also honoured with the Raman Magsaysay Award on 27th July 2016.
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Here are 5 must-know facts about Bezwada Wilson:
1. Bezwada Wilson witnessed the troubles of scavengers ever since he was a child.
Born to parents of the Thoti caste, a historically discriminated against and untouchable caste in India, Bezwada Wilson was witness to the troubles of scavengers ever since he was a child. His father was a manual scavenger, as was his brother who worked with Indian Railways for a few years. “I was 13 when I discovered that my parents and my brother picked human waste for a living. That was a shocking revelation for me. My friends in school would tease me. When I asked my parents what they did for a living they would try to hide it from me. But when I finally became sure of our background, I wanted to die,” he says.
2. As Wilson grew older, he observed that many kids drop out of school and end up becoming scavengers.
He graduated in political science and became more involved in various youth-related programs. He observed that many kids drop out of school and end up becoming scavengers. Born and brought up in a Dalit community in Karnataka, Wilson decided to eradicate this inhuman practice from its very roots.
3. From organizing rallies, spreading awareness, mobilizing people, and helping scavengers get better jobs, Wilson has left no stone unturned to empower lakhs of people who are still involved in manual scavenging.
In 1995, he kick-started the Safai Karmchari Andolan (SKA) to liberate people from this degrading occupation and enable them to live with dignity. Started in Karnataka, the movement is now active in 25 states of India. “The biggest challenge is that the community is so embarrassed that they don’t even want to talk about it. Bringing them together is the first step,” he says.
— Bezwada Wilson (@BezwadaWilson) December 1, 2017
4. In 2003, Wilson filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, showing that all Indian states, as well as the government departments of Railways, Defence, Judiciary, and Education, were violators of the Manual Scavenging Prohibition Act.
The PIL brought the issue sharply into focus. Narayanamma, a once manual scavenger, is an example of the impact SKA has created. She got the courage to say no to the demeaning job after she became associated with SKA.
5. Many other organizations and states have replicated SKA’s model.
Those who have quit this filthy job have been rehabilitated through other employment opportunities, mainly in the field of sanitation. Wilson’s fight does not end here. He wants to eliminate scavenging and sanitation work from the Dalit community and abolish the caste system that still prevails in the country. “Because they have done this for their entire life, they cannot think of doing anything else. Even if they want to get out of this, they are unable to do so. They need a push and SKA is trying to give them that,” he says.