Manual scavenging- a national shame

Editor’s Note:

An edited version of this article was published in September 2013 issue of ILAIGNAR MUZHAKKAM in Tamil. Here we produce a short English translation of it. The long pending Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavenger and the Rehabilitation Act has been passed now. This new Act though a step forward also has loopholes. Rectifying the definition of ‘manual scavenging’ has broadened the scope of the law. The law prescribes stringent punishment for the offenders, which includes five years of imprisonment and offenses under the Act are made cognizable and non-bailable. Provisions for rehabilitation have been included for both manual scavengers and their family. Indian railway, the largest employer of manual scavengers has been brought under the purview of this latest Act although it does not apply if manual scavengers are wearing a ‘protective gear’.

(Original Article: Deepa, Translation and Editing: Suresh)

Manual Scavenging constitutes works like, cleaning dry latrines, manually cleaning underground drainages, cleaning human defecation on railway tracks etc. Any work that involves cleaning human shit manually constitutes Manual Scavenging. B.R.Ambedkar said, “In India, a person becomes a conservancy worker because of their caste and not by the nature of work they do.” Yes, in India the synonym of conservancy worker is ‘dalit’.

The caste order of the society characterizes them as conservancy workers; it cannot be viewed as a mere human rights violation. It is an example of the inhumane character of the society. It is a social sin! No conservancy worker voluntarily involves in this ‘divine work’ as termed by Gandhi. They are compelled to take this job by continuous oppression and lack of other vocational skills.

What statistics says?

The 2011 census reveals that there are eight lakh dry latrines in our country which are manually cleaned by dalit scavengers, particularly women. Out of this, 73 percentage are in rural area and 27 percentage in urban area. Apart from this human defecation from 13 lakh latrines are flushed out in open drains which are again manually cleaned by humans. The unclear information in the census is the five lakh latrines which are said to be cleaned by animals which consume human defecations.

Many organizations that work to eradicate manual scavenging denies the census records which states that manual scavenging is in minimal percentage in states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Paradesh and Chathishgarh.

There are 583 latrines which are manually cleaned by conservancy workers in Delhi alone. Yes, this is the way India shines!

Status in Tamilnadu:

You will be wrong if you think that Tamilnadu would not have any dry latrines. There are 2.03 lakh dry latrines in Tamilnadu out of which 1.49 lakh are flushed out in open drains. Particularly there are 27, 659 dry latrines where human defecation are manually cleaned by humans. Highest percentages of these latrines are in Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram districts of the state.

Thiruvallur – 3144 latrines (Manually cleaned)

2687 latrines (deemed to be cleaned by animals)

Kancipuram – 2108 latrines (Manually cleaned)

1882 latrines (deemed to be cleaned by animals)

Chennai – 463 latrines (Manually cleaned)

573 latrines (deemed to be cleaned by animals)

It is shocking to know that areas like Aavadi, Ambathur Estate and Ponnnamalli still uses the dry latrines even in this 21st century. Apart from this many investigative reports states that manual scavenging is still in practice in areas like Thambaram, Chengalpattu, Chrompet and Pallavaram.

Don’t we have a law on this?

Forty six years after independence a law named ‘Prohibition of employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines’ was passed in 1993. But this law was not implemented by many states. The significance this Act has is that not even a single case was filed under the Act in 20 years.

World’s largest open latrine:

The obvious answer to this question will be India. The Indian railway has the largest number of dry latrines which moves all over the country carrying 10 million people every day. More than 150 manual scavengers are employed by Chennai Central Junction alone, most of them women who works for Rs.130 a day, without any overtime pay, and holiday. In India, 96 % of the manual scavengers are dalit women.

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