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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

From waste picking to a B-grade job in the MHA, the inspiring story of the struggle and life journey of Ramesh ‘Bhangi’

“Education is the milk of a tigress, whosoever drinks it will roar” — through his life struggles, this saying [of Babasaheb Ambedkar] has been proved true by Delhi’s Ramesh Bhangi. On the strength of his education, he overcame society’s stigmatization of his caste and attained all those achievements that people aspire to in life. So, come, today, let us introduce you to Ramesh Bhangi. Who drew inspiration from Babasaheb to progress at every stage of his life. The Mooknayak team talked to Ramesh about his life struggles.

Feeding pigs and studying

In the conversation with The Mooknayak, Ramesh Bhangi began by saying, “After being born in a Bhangi family, our lives were going the same way as that of the many people who belong to the Bhangi community. Feeding pigs, waste picking, and a life lived in poverty.”

But even as he lived all these hardships Ramesh still began his journey of education. Recalling his childhood days, he says that there was a lot of poverty, and his father was deep in debt. It was so much debt that even after coming to Delhi and getting a job, I had to keep making payments for so many years to pay off that debt, and it is only now that we are rid of it.

Ramesh gained his early education in the village primary school itself. He says, “While studying in class 6, I read about Babasaheb. This is what inspired me to study. I read a lot of small-small booklets and learned everything about Babasaheb. Then, this thought came to me that if Babasaheb in those times and after undergoing so many hardships could gain so much education, then why can’t I do it. From that point onwards, the determination to study continued to grow in me. After passing the class 10 exam from the village school, I took admitted to a city college. My journey of learning thus continued.”

A simple marriage without ritual ceremonies

During this time Ramesh left Baghpat and came to Delhi, and in 1979 he got married. Ramesh says that even at the time of my marriage, I didn’t have much money. My employer at the place where I used to work offered me some money. But my family was still living in so much poverty and the debt was so high, that I didn’t want any extra and unnecessary expenditures to be made for my marriage. I decided there was no point in taking yet another loan simply to put on a show in front of people.

“We lived in the Jhuggis [shacks] of Delhi, we picked and sorted wastepaper. In this situation,” said Ramesh, “Why to do it in such a way so as to add to the burden of our debt. That’s why for my marriage, neither was there a henna ceremony nor did I allow arranging a sangeet event.”

Like every person, Ramesh Bhangi’s life changed in many ways even after his marriage. He tells us that he lived with his wife in the Jhuggis of Trilokpuri. In the day he picked and sorted wastepaper and at night he studied. Sometimes he even used to go towards Meerut to deliver newspapers. But he wouldn’t then go to visit hishome[in nearby Bhagpat] but used to come back to Delhi so that he could study in whatever time was left of the day. In this way, the work of making a living and getting an education continued alongside.

A job with the DTC

In the 80s, he got a job with the DTC [Delhi Transport Corporation] and left the work of picking wastepaper. Here he worked for about 11 years. Even during this time, his zeal for studying further did not diminish. Ramesh tells us that after finishing his work for the day at the DTC, he would go to the library. In this way, he completed his MA by distance learning. Along with this, he did a course on translation from the Central Institute of Hindi and passed the test. Then in1989, he filled the SSC [Staff Selection Commission] form for translation and in 1993 he got a government job.

Ramesh explains that I got this job because of a reservation. If there had been no reservation, I would never have gotten the job. Age-wise too, I was reaching the upper limit for recruitment – I had only two months to go. Talking more about reservations, he says that even now, reservation has not been implemented properly. And if the reservation had not been there, then who would have let the people of our community make progress. Our caste name is used as a form of verbal abuse by people [a casteist slur].  We are looked down upon. In such a situation, even imagining we can get a job is in vain.

Casteism is embedded in the mindset of urban people

Explaining the differences between the casteism seen in cities and in villages, he says, “The people in the village openly practice casteism. But this is not the case in cities. Here it is deeply embedded in people’s mindsets. Especially in the public services.”

Ramesh recalled one incident when he was working in the Ministry of Home Affairs as a translator. I was on speaking terms with my savarna colleagues. But they just could not bear to see us come forward. For them, my caste was the most important thing about me. They could not understand how a wastepaper picker could hold a job alongside them in the ministry. When it came to promotions, there were always hurdles in my case. But, he says, all these things never broke my spirit. I worked as a translator for a long time and retired in 2018.

Writing his caste name after his name

After retiring from his job, Ramesh’s interest in literature deepened, and some of his articles and poems have also been published. In these articles, he refers to the widespread casteism in the country. When asked about writing Bhangi after his name, he says that people think that if they hide their caste, they will be spared. However, it is not like that. In India, a person’s identity [pehchaan] can never be free of their caste identity. Trying to hide it day after day, thinking that what would happen if someone came to know – this is a fear that we need to get over. So that our psychological well-being is maintained. This is why I put Bhangi after my name so that people know my caste. At the same time, our community’s representation [in the mainstream] must also increase.

Video Interview:

Poonam Masih
Poonam Masih
Poonam Masih, Journalist The Mooknayak

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