In this article, we will discuss Manual Scavenging. So, let’s get started.
Manual Scavenging and Caste Based Prejudice
- Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers without any safety gears and with bare hands”.
- Manual scavenging is violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees ‘Right to live life with dignity’.
- The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020 proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
- It is still awaiting cabinet approval.
Caste Division Linked to Manual Scavenging
- Caste leads to the division of labour as well as labourers. Dalits often face discrimination when seeking employment in sectors that are considered “pure”.
- Manual scavenging or cleaning of dry latrines, for instance, is a job that the Dalit classes have been burdened with.
- They are expected to carry loads of human excrement, and clear sewage for little or no income. They are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion.
- Although banned under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers Act, 2013, the inhumane exercise still continues.
- According to government data, 97% of manual scavengers are Dalits – about 42,594 manual scavengers belong to SCs, 421 belong to STs and 431 belong to OBCs.
- The statistics are a disturbing reminder of our collective failure to rise above caste lines and provide dignity of labour to all.
Efforts that have been made to end Manual Scavenging
- The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 supersede and goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
- In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers, more than 90% people employed as manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste.
- This became an important landmark to free manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations.
- Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on World Toilet Day for all states to make sewer-cleaning mechanised by April 2021.
- Safai Karmachari Andolan was also a movement for elimination of manual scavenging.
- Caste-based prejudice has been normalised to such an extent that the plight of manual scavengers does not get the attention that it deserves. The governments at central and state levels have been enshrouding the problem.
- There has always been an attempt to fudge the data, and contradictions are found in government data itself.
- The government said that there is no report of people currently engaged in manual scavenging and no death has been reported due to the practice in five years (2013-2018).
- However, according to the National Convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, 472 manual scavenging deaths across the country were recorded between 2016 and 2020.
- According to some well-researched media reports, the Indian Railways, the army, and urban municipalities remain the biggest bodies that still have workers engaged in manual scavenging.
- They either find ways to outsource such work to contractors so as not to be held directly accountable or liable or simply misrepresent such workers as “sweepers”.