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Where are burial ground workers in our frontline stories?

Tanya Dhingra, #COVIDActionCollab

January 14, 2022

Crematorium and burial ground workers in India live on the fringes of society. They predominantly belong to the Dalit community and have been doing this work inter-generationally. For centuries, this profession has been passed down to the next generation making it a caste-based occupation and creating further barriers for them. They are paid below minimum wage, work in hazardous environments without safety measures, and are constantly discriminated against.

These situations worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. With death rates at an all-time high, crematorium and burial ground workers were overburdened. Furthermore, they were at risk of contracting the virus being exposed to infected bodies and working without protective equipment. The task of burial or cremation is emotionally challenging and the COVID-19 pandemic only accentuated this with increasing bodies and worsening conditions. Alcoholism and mental health issues became rampant in the community.

 

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Child Rights Foundation India, an organisation that works with women from marginalised communities in Bangalore saw the impact of all this trickling down to women and children. They work primarily with the workers from five burial grounds in Shantinagar, in Bengaluru where they noticed that the increase in alcoholism among men in the community had put the women and children further at risk. With a lack of financial resources and schools shutting, the children were more vulnerable to continue in the intergenerational burial occupation. “When we economically strengthen women, we also automatically strengthen children and families. We believe that we can influence a child’s life through these women, “ said Christopher, Founder at Child Rights Foundation India. With this belief, they decided to conduct financial literacy training for women with the support of Buzz Women, an organisation working on financial literacy among vulnerable groups. 

The trainings were targeted for the women from Shantinagar burial ground and Neelsandra, an urban slum colony in Bengaluru. The purpose of these trainings was to share knowledge on the basics of financial management, form self-help groups amongst the women, and identify skills among the group to introduce entrepreneurship ventures to further their income. Through this two-day training programme, Child Rights Foundation India and Buzz Women were able to reach 49 women, motivate them to form four self-help groups and identify 13 trades among women who had entrepreneurial aspirations. Women from these communities had been denied entry in government self-help groups, therefore through this venture, a saving system has been initiated that helps women save over Rs. 100 every month. To make the group self-sustainable, the organisations also identified women leaders who will take the initiative further and open savings accounts. An unexpected social impact of bringing groups of mariginalised women was the creation of a safe space for them to share their struggles and their thoughts. Talking about the approach used by Buzz  Women, Christopher said, “Buzz Women had relatability in their approach. They understood the needs and challenges of the community rather than going with their understanding of financial literacy and using jargon. They brought chairs and their Audio Video material ensuring everyone from the community sits on the chairs whereas earlier [I have seen] community members have to sit on the floor [during such trainings].”

Collating resources, knowledge, and expertise is the only way to reach vulnerable communities. Talking about being a part of #COVIDActionCollab along with 330+ partners, Christopher said, “My collaboration with CAC has been very special. We are a new organization and we were struggling financially initially and they gave us a lot of hand-holding. Because of them, we were able to achieve a lot of things. Not only relief and rehabilitation during COVID times but also helped me develop a mass base to work with communities. They also provided technical support like connecting us with technical organisations which can support my organization and my people to enhance their skill to have a kind of better vision.” 

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