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Bhangi is an Indian caste or jāti, that was previously treated as untouchable before its abolition upon independence. They prefer to be known as Balmiki or Valmiki. They were historically restricted to three occupations: cleaning latrines, sweeping, and scavenging (which sometimes involves handling dead bodies). In India as in anywhere else, historically, professions were passed on from parents to children, thus a child born in Bhangi family was forced into this profession mostly for economic reasons.
Efforts have been made to improve sanitation systems in India, including laws that ban the construction of dry toilets, and the manual removal of human waste. However some Bhangis, found throughout India, continue to work in their traditional roles and they continue to face severe social barriers and discrimination. The Bhangi community includes a number of subdivisions such as the Hela.
Relations to other castes
Backward Dalit castes such as Dhobi (washer-men) and Vankar are considered socially above the Bhangi. These upper sub-castes among Dalits would not interact with lower-order Bhangis, who have been described as "outcasts even among outcasts". Even though most Bhangis are devout Hindus, some Bhangis have converted to other religions in an attempt to escape the social stigma. However, such attempts generally do not bring any positive material impact on their socioeconomic condition.
Although the Bhangis traditionally had a lower status, there have been several Bhangis that have been universally recognized as Hindu saints. For example, Maharshi Naval kumar and his successors Daya kumar Maharaj (his son),Bakshi Maharaj and the present-day Badri kumar Maharaj are important Hindu figures. Saint Umaid kumar Maharaj and his successors Suresh kumar Maharaj, Deepak kumar Maharaj and the present-day Mangeshwar kumar Maharaj are important Hindu figures as well.
In Gujarat, Makarand Paranjape, when he was researching the Bhangi of the Swadhyaya tradition, a Bhangi member said to him, "I am a Bhangi, but I also do the work of a Brahmin. A Brahmin is one who spreads knowledge, sanskars; so I too am a Brahmin. I go on Bhakti pheris to spread the liberating message of Swadhyaya. So I am a Bhangi-Brahmin."
- Kamlesh Balmiki, MP from Bulandshahr (Lok Sabha constituency)
- Om Prakash Valmiki, writer
- Suraj Pal Chauhan, writer
- Dev Kumar, writer & dramastic
- Yuvraj Valmiki, Indian field hockey player
- Mohammad Yousuf, Pakistani cricketer, formerly Yousuf Youhana. He was actually born in a Hindu Balmiki family in the slums of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. As he claims, he had two religious conversions (first from Hinduism to Christianity, and then from Christianity to Islam).
- Aacharya Nafe Singh Dhilod Charak, Writer
- Spiritual Sites as Sources of Social Transformation: Lessons from Svadhyaya by Makarand Paranjape, A.M., PhD
- Lesser Humans — Review of a documentary film on the Bhangis