“Everyone Must be his own Scavenger”
Onset from The Civil Rights Act of 1955 protects anyone from being forced to engage in manual scavenging. Followed by The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, all the insanitary latrines across country must be replaced by sanitary latrines. Subsequently the enactment of Prohibition of Manual Scavenger and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 was another legislative attempt to eradicate the social evil of manual scavenging. In process of eradicating the Manual scavenging the above mentioned laws are enacted but it will be naive to presume that manual scavenging has been abolished by the stroke of the pen.
Sad State of Affairs
The practice and death due to manual scavenging are inseparable and have been entangled together for centuries. It seems to be an interminable crisis as a never ending tragedy. Recently, hazardous cleaning has claimed eight lives in Gujarat between March 22 to April 26, 2023 and two dalit men in Tamil Nadu on May 03,2023. The deceased entered the sewer lines to clean them manuall without the proper protective gears and died of inhaling poisonous gas augmenting to the death table of 1054 lives till December 31st of 2022. According to ministry of social justice and empowerment 308 deaths have been caused between 2018-2022 Tamil Nadu topping with 52 cases followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana 46 and 40 respectively.
Unfortunately in a recently exposed Dharmapuri incident, videos of a man squatting in a clogged toilet and scooping out the human faeces in a dry latrine by a sanitation worker is recorded to show it as proof of work done to the supervisor to get paid a meager amount as a only means of subsistence.
“Caste is merely a division of labour”
It is crucial to understand the socio-economic circumstances of a person to understand as to why does one take on this last inhuman job putting their life in risk to get paid a maximum of 20,000 rupees per month on permanent basis and rupees 8,000 per month if working as a seasonal labour on a contractual basis. In the modern India following the globalisation various practices have changed. Trade and business are no more entitled to Vaishya, ruling and warfare are no more entitled to Kshatriya, teaching and intellectual practices are no more entitled to Brahmins, although most inhuman practice of manual scavenging is enforced on the schedule communities. Around 95% of manual scavengers belong to scheduled caste and the rest are from scheduled tribes contradicting against the rhetoric prevailing for centuries “Caste is merely a division of labour” as it’s prominent role is to maintain the social equilibrium an explicit justification of the caste system against the nature of “Caste is not just a division of labour it is a division of labourers”. Scheduled communities are socially, economically and geographically secluded by the society for centuries in the name of caste system and vulnerable to exploitation by the oppressors in hierarchy sometimes oriented to do, sometimes threatened by oppressors to perform the caste biased job violating all the aspects of human rights. Economically as an only means of subsistence when they are deprived of education, employment, social support and all other necessary means for a dignified life.
Steps Taken to Mitigate
Insanitary latrines, age-old drainage, gutters, manhole and sewer systems are identified to be the most common materialistic reasons enabling the practice. The widening scope of technology along with Modernised drainage and sewer systems are expected to vitalise the eradication of manual scavenging. The Kerala based start up inventory bandicoot robots, IIT Madras inventory HomoSEP have come to usage in few parts of the respective states and the Uttar Pradesh government made available three bandicoot robot scavengers to prayagraj, nagar nigam and jalkal department. These cleaning and desludging machines have the ability to bring a progressive change and every civic administration must be equipped with these but till date many major cities are not equipped with the facilities. Additionally, subsidising and incentivising the insanitary free and robotics equipped civics will render a better outcome so it must be proliferated without any budget constraints. In simple words eradication of manual scavenging can be assisted by improved and modernised sanitation facilities thereby taking forward the country towards the Sixth Sustainable Development as proposed by the United Nations Development Programme.
Embracing the technology may stop the killing of workers but the real liberation solely relies on rehabilitation. On 26th February 2023 The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India directed the government to place on record within six weeks of the steps taken by the government to eradicate the evil of manual scavenging.
Transparency and accountability in implementation of rehabilitation should be ensured which shall intensify the education and awareness against this sinful job amongst the workers and civil society.
Educational scholarships to their children without any discrimination and sincere commitment to the same is the need of the hour. Further, implementation of the rehabilitation must be well documented, scrutinized and assisted with an appropriate livelihood skill training with equitable stipend. Females constitute more than 50% as the only ‘bread winners’ and hence their rights shall be safeguarded with special emphasis. They must be assisted with more dignified employment or provisions for self employment approval of subsidised loans without any hindrances by the authorities. Since there is a dearth of conviction for those who abuse the rights of the manual scavengers, stringent proceedings against the perpetrators must be inflicted. Multifaceted changes entrenching the technology, education and social liberty is the only way to get rid of this inhuman practice.
“It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks ” shall be our goal as a country of few privileged and more underprivileged citizens to help fight the scourge of this age-old menace.