Text source: Karen Hightower
Introduction / History
Bhangi is an Indian caste that was previously classed as untouchable. They have many subdivisions. They prefer to be called "Balmiki" or "Valmiki."
During the colonial period they were brought from villages to remove human excrement and clean the cities. They became an urban community.
Balmiki make up a cluster of communities, having united to form one community, claiming a common origin from the saint Balmiki. Balmiki is thought to be the first Sanskrit poet and author of the holy Hindu epic Ramayana, and was brought up by a sweeper woman although he was a Brahmin (highest Hindu caste) mendicant's son.
Where are they located?
These communities can be found throughout the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat, and the union territory of Chandigarh where they are locally known by various names mentioned above.
What are their lives like?
Bhangi people have been restricted to three types of work which are cleaning toilets, sweeping and scavenging. Scavenging can sometimes mean handling dead people. A child in a Bhangi family was forced to do this kind of work mainly because of finances.
Although there have been attempts to improve sanitation including banning the manual removal of human waste, some Bhangis are still doing that kind of work, and suffer much discrimination. Even Dalit castes classed as "backward" such as the Dhobi washer men are socially higher. The Bhangis are rightfully described as "outcasts even among outcasts."
Bhangi people occupy the lowliest position of the caste system. In time, with the introduction of septic latrines, the practice of carrying buckets of excrement on their heads is gone, but they still work to clear blockages in sewers where they are half submerged in filth. The stigma remains as they are still identified with the work they perform and considered untouchable and treated as such. They have always been marginalized and treated as outcasts socially, economically and culturally. Sweepers are now referred to as sanitary workers.
They were given names contrary to their position to give them dignity despite their lowly status such as Chuhra meaning "beautiful" and Mehtar, a Persian word meaning "prince" or "leader." However, Bhangi, the most widely used name, is a Hindi word meaning "one addicted to drinking bhang" (a drink made from marijuana leaves).
They are beginning to have opportunities to work in agricultural or contract labor, bamboo basketry, poultry and pig farming, wedding music, and midwifery.
What are their beliefs?
Most Bhagi people are Hindus, observing religious rites, festivals, and customs. Some Bhangis are Muslims though most Bhangis are strong Hindus but some have gone to other religions to get away from the social position that they have. This has generally not brought about changes for the better for them. In spite of all this, there are some Bhangis classed as Hindu saints.
What are their needs?
The primary need is to know the one true creator God who loves them no matter what others think of them.
Bhangi people have medical, social, economic, and educational needs.
Servants with broken hearts for them need to live among them to earn their trust and respect, offering physical help while communicating the gospel to them.
* Pray that existing churches will grow and spread, producing many disciples among Bhangi people.
* Pray for God's blessing, strengthening and healing of families and communities within the Bhagi people through the abundant life and love Jesus offers to all nations.
* Pray for deliverance from the fear that hinders God's blessing from affecting Bhangi communities.
ReferencesView Bhangi (Hindu traditions) in all countries.