Scavenging is the practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from service/ dry latrines. The scavengers crawl into the dry latrines and collect the human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose it off.
A caste based and hereditary profession, which is handed down, as a legacy from one generation to the next; “manual scavenging” has been an age-old routine for this community, which is untouched by technological advancement in sanitary practices. Not only does the prevalence of this culture seem antediluvian, but what is worse is the fact that those born in this community are considered agents of pollution due to their background of social hierarchy, based on birth. They are the most oppressed and suppressed class of Indian society – hated, ostracized, vilified and avoided by all other castes and classes. The appalling hardship, humiliation and exploitation they face, have no parallel in human history. The practice started in the Pauranic period continued in the Buddhist, Mauryan, Mughal and British periods.
Scavengers come in direct contact with human excreta and his/her hands are completely soiled. In a congested locality, the scavenger has to crawl through a narrow passage, pushing the basket with one hand, resting his body weight on the other to make his way up to the latrine chamber through a narrow opening. In the latrine, where the seat is deep inside, he/she has to stretch his hand to the fullest and thrust his/her head into the hole to clean the toilet. The scavenger has to bend forward into the narrow space to clean excreta from the toilet antechambers. In latrines, which have no receptacles, human excreta drops directly on the floor, which, with passage of time, wears the brickwork that becomes patchy and uneven? In most cases, the sidewalls are also without cement plaster; with the result, the excreta get stuck up everywhere on the sidewalls and also on the floor. The scavenger, while cleaning, has to scratch the floor and sidewalls to do maximum cleaning. It is a common sight to see scavengers, mostly women, moving with excreta on the head, stored in bamboo-baskets, or in leaking drums, with the muck trickling down over face and body. Passers-by avoid such persons. If a scavenger comes in close proximity, he or she is showered with a hail of abuse. In many places, latrines are so constructed that the users do not even see their own excreta. They simply squat, perform, and go away without even caring to know who cleans their toilets. No human degradation could be more cruel and inhuman than the one suffered by scavengers.
Current laws on Manual Scavenging
The current laws had not proved adequate in eliminating the twin evils of insanitary latrines and manual scavenging. The Parliament has enacted the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’. The law has come into force on Dec 6th 2013 in whole of country, except Jammu & Kashmir. The act intends to
- Eliminate the insanitary latrines.
- Employment as Manual Scavengers
- Hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
- Survey of Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation
The act also has provisions for the following measures for the rehabilitation of the identified manual scavengers
- An initial one-time cash assistance
- Scholarship to the children of manual scavenger
- Allotment of residential plot and financial assistance for house construction of a ready built house
- Training in a livelihood skill with payment of stipend of at least Rs 3000 per month
- Provision for subsidy, along with concessional loans, to at least one adult member of the family
India’s invisible manual scavengers
Data given by States show mismatch between number of dry latrines and workers who clean them
Is it possible that hundreds of thousands of dry latrines across India have been cleaning themselves? That was the embarrassing question senior State government officials had to face at a review meeting held on July 21 by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC).
The meeting, attended by the Secretary and DG-level officials of all the States and the Union Territories, required the States to share the latest data on the total number of dry latrines and manual scavengers in their jurisdictions. But the data they submitted to the NCSC, which was accessed by The Hindu, had wild mismatches between the number of dry latrines and the number of manual scavengers.
Telangana, for instance, reported 1,57,321 dry latrines as of December 31, 2015, but zero manual scavengers. The survey results submitted by Himachal Pradesh, too, showed 854 dry latrines but “nil” manual scavengers. Chhattisgarh reported 4,391 dry latrines but only three workers. “A manual scavenger can at the most clean 30 or 40 latrines. How can three of them clean 4,391 latrines,” asked an official at the meeting.
Government data claims there are only 12,753 manual scavengers
According to the information provided by Vijay Sampla, the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment in the Rajya Sabha last week, manual scavengers are found in 13 states. The minister provided a table of state-wise data – contested by activists – which claimed there are 12,753 manual scavengers in India and over 10,000 of them in Uttar Pradesh alone.
The state/UT data as per the latest information available on the basis of survey undertaken in the States/UTs from 13 states is as follows:
Manual scavenging still a reality
Startling facts emerge from census; Maharashtra tops the list
The practice of manual scavenging, officially banned since decades in India, continues with impunity in several States. The latest Socio-Economic Caste Census data released on July 3 reveals that 1, 80, 657 households are engaged in this degrading work for a livelihood.
Maharashtra, with 63,713, tops the list with the largest number of manual scavenger households, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and Karnataka, as per Census data.
Bindeshwar Pathak, founder, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, told The Hindu that when compared to the 1961 census, in which 3.5 million manual scavenging households had been found and roughly 8 lakh persons were engaged in manual scavenging, the present census findings show the great reduction in the numbers of people engaging in this degrading practice.
He said that despite their request six months ago to increase the amount of money given to panchayats to build toilets to Rs. 15,000 (it is currently Rs. 12,000) no steps have been taken yet by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, to respond to this. As a result toilets built under the government’s flagship Swacch Bharat Abhiyan continue to be of a poor quality. “The UPA government built 5 crore 40 lakh toilets during its regime, but because of the poor quality of construction and inadequate amount of money disbursed for it, the issue of modernising sanitation practices in rural areas has not been achieved,” he said.
Mr. Pathak further said that the legal crackdown, using existing provisions of the law, do not offer a long-term solution to the problem and it is only through modernising sanitation facilities and sustaining a campaign to change the mindsets of people who support these practices that the practice can be eradicated.
Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot told The Hindu that under the new 2013 law to ensure the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, 2500 manual scavenger families, who clean human excreta with bare hands, had been identified so far. “The government has given these families Rs. 40,000 aid money and is also given them skills training so that they can pursue alternative jobs. The Safai Karmachari Vitt Vikas Nigam is also extending credit to them so they can go for permanent jobs. We have started intervention work in Lucknow, Haridwar and Varanasi, and will be extending intervention to other States,” he said.
Source: The Hindu, 09 July 2015