TamilNadu Untouchability Eradication Front Protest Demonstration in Chennai
June 21st 2013
Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front organized a protest demonstration against the continuing practice of manual scavenging demanding its immediate abolition and rehabilitation of manual scavengers and conservancy workers forced to manual clear sewer lines. The demonstration, held near Chennai Collectorate in Parrys, was attended by workers from Metro Water, Chennai Corporation and fraternal trade unions and womens’ organizations. This was part of state wide agitation demanding the legislation of a improved Act abolishing manual scavenging while also provisioning to rehabilitate those currently involved. TNUEF coordinated protest demonstration in 10 corporations of Tamilnadu including Tiruchi, Madurai and Vellore on the 18th of June.
The practice of manual scavenging (clearing human excreta manually) has been banned in India by several court orders. It is a punishable offence under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and construction of Dry latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993. Yet the practice has continued into the 21st century. With urbanization, manual scavenging has also taken a modern turn with departments in-charge of sewage disposal and treatment using workers to clear blocks in the sewage system using their bare hands. Not only has this dehumanized people but is now also a killer with scores of workers dying in these sewers while attempting to clear them. As with many other things in India, caste plays a vital role here in deciding who is employed in such inhuman work and as you would have guessed rightly, it falls to the Dalits to suffer this hazardous and undignified work.
While demanding the end to this inhuman practice, Com. Neethirajan, Secretary, TNUEF (south Chennai), maintained that not a single person had ever been charged under the provisions of this act while hundreds have perished cleaning the gutters of our cities – a powerful proof of caste discrimination and exploitation of Dalits. He mocked the official figures on manual scavengers highlighting the fact that Indian railways continues to employ workers forced to clean tracks of human excreta. Com. Jayaraman, District Sec, North Chennai of TNUEF, demanded the immediate mechanization of these work, maintaining that it would cost the Corporation of Chennai a mere 7 crores to purchase enough jet rodding machines and desilting machines for each ward. He charged the ADMK and DMK governments for neglecting the genuine concerns of the dalit people while making useless expenditure in the name of freebies. Former MLA and State Vice President of TNUEF, Com S.K Mahendran elaborated on their demands. He sought the immediate end to this practice and enacting a more human centric legislation that not only punishes people who make use of manual scavengers but also provides viable opportunities for scavengers to liberate themselves from this inhuman occupation and improve their livelihoods. He demanded that a just compensation be provided to the families that have lost their dear ones while initiating criminal proceeding under the Untouchability eradication Act against those who lured or forced the workers to enter drains, He reiterated the demand that this occupation be mechanized at the earliest and the rights of all conservancy workers be protected and working conditions improved. Speaking to the gathering Com. Rani, from All India Democractic Women’s Association (AIDWA) extended their support to this struggle while pointing out the intense suffering of sweepers and conservancy workers (predominantly female) in the corporation.