(This is a report filed by students of MIDS, Chennai who had gone to investigate the incident)
On 19th Jan, 2016 Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), who is on Nationwide Bhim Yatra, notified students and activists of Chennai about the killing of four persons, all Dalits, who were engaged by Dindugal Thalapakatti Biryani, Thoraipakkam, to clean their Septic Tank.Another person who also was made to enter the septic tank was severely affected and injured. He is now recovering in the Royapettah hospital. Some students including Bharathi Dasan and Elaya Raja of Madras institute of Development Studies (MIDS) led by Dr. Lakshmanan and Dr. Ravichandaran rushed to the spot. Few Tamil TV media were also present at the spot. The activists of Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), Red Flag Union, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and other concerned individuals were present at the spot. During conversations with people present there, the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) team found out that the deceased were not even wearing any “protective gear” in clear violation of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (Prohibition Act 2013). It’s another matter that given the hazardousness of manual scavenging (including septic cleaning) these so called “protective gear” are hardly capable of providing any “protection”.
The 2013 Act clearly states in Chapter III, Section 7: “No person, local authority or any agency shall, from such date as the State Government may notify, which shall not be later than one year from the date of commencement of this Act, engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.” And Chapter I, Section 2. d): “hazardous cleaning” by an employee, in relation to a sewer or septic tank, means its manual cleaning by such employee without the employer fulfilling his obligations to provide protective gear and other cleaning devices and ensuring observance of safety precautions, as may be prescribed or provided in any other law for the time being in force or rules made thereunder;”
After unearthing relevant information, the team went to Kannagi Nagar Police Station (J-11) as they were informed that a case against the Employer has been registered by the concerned police officials. However, after reaching the Police Station,they found to their utter dismay that it has been registered under IPC Section 304 A and not under above mentioned 2013 Act or Prevention of SC/ST atrocity Act. In fact, the concerned police officials showed absolute lack of concern about this killing of four young men. They refused to file any complaint or FIR(First Information Report) under 2013 Act or Prevention of SC/ST atrocity Act. They informed Dr. Lakshmanan that the body of deceased had been already sent to Royapettah Government Hospital for postortem. There seemed to be some kind of social-political pressure on the police to register the case only under Section 304 A.
According to news reports, Athiyaman ofAthi Tamilar Peravai, has blamed the government for not implementing the Prohibition Act 2013, whereas being very proactive in terms of implementing certain specific laws. On the one hand, the “Bhim yatra” is going on throughout the country to stop killing scavengers, passing now through Tamil Nadu, but on other hand they continue to be killed in cities like Chennai. Therefore, he strongly condemned the laxity of Tamil Nadu Government which has killed four young Dalits.
According to Jakkaiyan, Adhi Tamizhar Katchi (ATK), so far in Tamil Nadu 202 Manual Scavengers have been killed cleaning Septic Tanks. The law for prohibition makes it clear that each one who is killed in the process should be compensated with Rs. 10 lakh and strict punishment should be meted out to the culprit, but so far neither any case under Prohibition Act 2013 has been registered nor has anyone received any compensation in Tamil Nadu .
While speaking to the MIDS team, one of the VCK functionaries at the spot observed that the government officials turn up only when the actual killing of scavengers have happened but do nothing to protect or prevent such killings. Padam Narayanan has termed it as murder due to apathy of Government.
Meanwhile, the team of DYFI and TNUEF activists led by Deepa (also a MIDS Research Scholar) and Samuel left for Royapettah Government hospital, where they found that post-mortem would be done only on 20th January. They also met the family members and finally decided to petition Assistant Commissioner Office at Thoraipakkam Police Station as a third party to register this case under “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.” The provision for punishment under this act is given in Chapter III, Section 8, 9, and 10. After some deliberation, Assistant Commissioner saw the necessity of registering the case under 2013 Act. The FIR was finally filed, “under sections, 288 (negligent conduct), 336 (endangering life or personal safety of others), 304 (a) (death caused by rash or negligent act) of IPC and Section 8 of the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers
act”, 2013. Section 8 of 2013 Act states, “8. Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 5 or section 6 shall for the first contravention be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees or with both, and for any subsequent contravention with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.” Meanwhile, Prof. Mariyam Samuel, Madras Christian College (MCC), along with Satish, the son of a deceased person, who is studying Master of Social Work, also met the Police officials. The petition by Samuel, TNUEF is attached here below.
This is the first time anywhere in India that a case has been registered under “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.” Samuel from Safai Karamchari Andolan has also returned midway from Bhim Yatra to pursue this case here. More struggles to get the culprits punished and hold the government accountable for the killing awaits us ahead.