Allahabad: As the administration gears up for the holy bathing day Feb 10 on Mauni Amavasya at the Maha Kumbh here, women scavengers (untouchables) of the yore will perform rituals at the Sangam with Hindu priests Feb 7, marking a departure from a tainted tradition.
The initiative has been taken up by the Sulabh International, an NGO working on hygeine and sanitation. The historic event will be held at the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati ahead of the Feb 10 'shahi snan' (royal bathing).
Around 100 former women scavengers from Rajasthan's Alwar and Tonk districts will take a holy dip in the Ganga and will perform rituals with top Hindu priests. They will also dine with senior Hindu religous leaders, including the Naga sadhus, later this week.
"This is a rare occasion and a serious effort to wash away the centuries-old tag of untouchable women," said Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, head of Sulabh.
"We are trying to ensure that the women interact with some of the top religious leaders at the 'akharas' of Hindu religious sects at the Kumbh," Pathak told IANS.
Sulabh has converted 1.3 million bucket toilets into flush toilets and lakhs of scavengers have been freed from manual cleaning of human faeces. The NGO has also constructed over 8,000 public toilets at important places across the country, which are being used by more than 15 million people everyday. About 200 of the toilets are linked to biogas plants.
Kumbh officials say this was a path-breaking initiative and would help in establishing these one-time scavengers into mainstream society. "The whole process is a welcome move and is an example of good and serious social engineering," said Ashok Sharma, an official at the Kumbh festival.
The Kumbh began at the Sangam Jan 14 and will continue for 55 days till Mar 10, when the last of the seven 'shahi snan' would be held on Maha Shivratri.
On Mauni Amavasya, the number of devouts is expected to cross 2.30 crore (23 million) as the day marks the most auspicious planetary configuration according to the Hindu calendar.