Nashik District, Maharashtra | Maya Khodve
In December 2014 three men lost their lives at an accident at their work site. All three were conservancy workers who had been hired by contractors working for the Nashik Municipal Corporation.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, mandates all government bodies, including municipal corporations, railway authorities to identify conservancy workers in their area and rehabilitate them with alternative employment opportunities.
The 2011 Census estimates that around 1.3 Dalits across India continue to work in this profession. Since the time this video was made, no efforts have been made to compensate the family members of deceased. The Municipal Commissioner has taken no further action on this case, nor on the continued hiring of people to clean sewage lines.
Call to Action: Please call the Municipal Commissioner of the Nashik Municipal Corporation and ask him to ensure that the contractors completely stop the practice of manual sewage cleaning and use machines instead.
Maya Khodve is an activist, videographer and Community Correspondent, who lives in a Nashik slum. Nashik Slum has seen some improvements in recent years as India is developing, such as much improved electricity and gutters – the latter being installed in part because of pressure from one of her videos. Yet, toilets and running water are yet to be installed in the two room house that she shares with her husband, three children and in-laws.
Nashik Slum has seen some improvements in recent years as India is developing, such as much improved electricity and gutters – the latter being installed in part because of pressure from one of her videos. Yet, toilets and running water are yet to be installed in the two room house that she shares with her husband, three children and in-laws.
Maya moved from the village to the city of Nashik when she was married at 14. Her first child, who is now 13, was born before her 15th birthday. She remembers with a laugh her naivety as a new arrival in the city: she was afraid to use an auto rickshaw, thinking the brown-uniformed drivers were policemen. The urban pressure to earn money also surprised her in her early days, but now she appreciates the opportunity and freedom of the city.
Maya has worked many jobs in Nashik, including as a cleaner in a hospital, and a security guard in two movie theatres. Her longest, and most formative, employment has been as a rag picker. The well-organised rag picking union, 15 members of which now make up the core of her Video Volunteers “Dismantle Patriarchy Gender Discussion Club,” helped her realise the power of collective action. There was another incident that helped shape her as an activist: shortly after marriage, her husband, who delivers government-issued cooking gas canisters for a living, had a canister fall on his foot, disabling him from working for a long spell. The lack of a disability pension put the family through significant financial hardship; because of this incident, she has been fighting for pensions for rag pickers for many years.
A few years ago the rag pickers’ union, sensing real leadership potential in her confidence and self-motivation, offered her a job in the union. Though it would mean a pay cut (she was earning Rs. 3500 a month as a rag picker and would only earn Rs. 3000 in the Union) she took the job. “It was much cleaner work; and more than that, it was a chance to learn something new.” Though she loved that work, her career advancement in the union was limited, since she had stopped school at 8 years old and could not write well enough to do the reporting the job required. Since then, her literacy has improved, thanks to training by her 13-year-old son. She and her son are best friends, and she has high hopes for him. He is a budding tinkerer and inventor who engineered a clever motored toy and is creative too. His painting of Ambedkar, the author of the Indian constitution who is the pride of the Maharashtrian urban Dalit community, adorns the wall of their house.
She was first introduced to video when she attended a video training by Abhivekti, a Nashik-based NGO. Her trainer would soon start work at Video Volunteers as the Maharashtra State Coordinator, and he recruited her to be a Community Correspondent in August 2014. Since then, Video Volunteers has been her primary dependable paid employment, and thanks to these earnings, she’s been able to convert the walls of her home from tin to concrete.
Recently, she decided to supplement her VV income by starting a video production business. The entire front part of Maya’s home is now covered in a massive poster advertising her services in wedding video production, events video and photo printing. She has set up a studio in one room of her house, complete even with a chroma key green screen, and has invested in a computer, a high-end printer and has figured out how to rent high-end video cameras when she needs them. So far, she’s had two big jobs totalling nearly Rs. 70,000 and as of December 2016, the business was only a few months’ old.
As a VV Community Correspondent, her work stands out for the quality of her camera work, and for the valuable contribution, she has made to the rag pickers’ movement in acting as their advocate, spokesperson and ‘explainer-in-chief’. It is now her they turn to when they need guidance on working with the government. In her videos, you clearly see the pride she takes in the rag pickers, who are working to keep Nashik clean and even, to reduce climate change. In 2010, she got to attend a climate change conference in China with the rag pickers’ union, and she plans to make videos on how rag pickers are fighting climate change by stopping garbage from being burned.
Of her work with VV she says, “It’s made people in the community respect me, and I love that. I am now seen not as a rag picker but as a journalist. I’m not afraid to talk to government officials or to speak in an event, and that inspires other people too.” During a visit in December 2016 by a group of VV board members and well-wishers, her persuasive abilities were very apparent on two difficult topics, community responsibility and patriarchy. At a community screening which had more than 100 people in attendance, she stood at the junction of a major thoroughfare and a narrow slum road, showing her videos and delivering a very strong message about this particular community needing to take more responsibility. The following day, in her Gender Discussion Club, she screened her videos and used them to help women see aspects of patriarchy they had never before recognised. “I’m in charge of 80 Self Help groups, and in addition to saving money, we support each other in many ways. But in this Gender Discussion Club, we’re talking about ideas we’d never thought or heard of before,” she says, as the women made a long list of ’things men can do and women cannot do,’ and ’things women can do and men cannot do.’
She is making a strong contribution to journalism in Nashik, and people are recognising that. She joined the 800 member Journalists Activists Network of Nashik – set up by local journalists partly in response to the threats journalists and Right to Information activists face in Maharashtra – and was later elected its secretary. “They appreciate how I’m always asking, ‘What action are we going to take? How are we going to solve this not just report on it?’ and so they elected me secretary. I’m very proud of that.”
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