Humanity: Manual scavenging is the removal, disposal of human excreta of a person by another person, in the most bold terms. It involves cleaning of sewers, dry-latrines, gutters, drains, septic tanks, etc. manually.
The people who do this work are called ‘manual scavengers’. Manual scavengers are those unfortunate people who have been doing this work since centuries basically on caste lines. Most of the manual scavengers belong to the Dalit category. The ‘Valmikis’ are found more in manual scavenging. It is also found that people from other castes too have taken up this work due to unforgiving poverty.
Manual scavenging is a shame on the face of India. The very existence of this practice tells a lot about our mindsets, values and morality as a country. Manual scavengers still face untouchability in the country because they are considered impure and unhygienic.
A country aiming for a 5 trillion dollar economy having manual scavengers to clean its drains is very unfortunate and devastating. Manual scavenging is a life threatening work which must not be allowed on any grounds. It promotes social and moral inequality. Uttar Pradesh leads the country with the largest number of manual scavengers. Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar too have manual scavengers working.
Manual scavenging is done manually by hands or by using brooms, plates, buckets. Workers in India do not use any protective equipment like gloves, head gear, etc. they come in direct contact with the contents of sewer and drain. They completely go inside the drains many times. Consequently, every year deaths due to manual scavenging are reported across India. A lot of diseases are associated with this work. Direct contact with faecal matter causes skin diseases, jaundice, anemia, Hepatitis A, Rotavirus and what not. Deaths take place due to asphyxiation as toxic gases like hydrogen sulphide are found inside septic tanks and oxygen is also absent.
Just like we have law for everything, we have a law which prohibits manual scavenging. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry latrines (prohibition) Act of 1993 have made employment of these workers a punishable offense.
Although such a law is present which, not only prohibits the employment of manual scavengers but lays down procedures to provide them with alternate jobs and training, still this practice can be seen. Especially in small towns, villages, manual scavengers are very common.
The resident communities are so dependent on them that they cannot think of any other substitute. This proves that having laws won’t help unless the mindset is changed. It is also telling of the fact that values are significantly absent in our education.
There are alternatives. Machines. We are working to make machines learn to make decisions, however we are unable to use machines for crucial things like cleaning sewers and still rely on manual scavengers. Machines must be designed according to the space requirements of localities. There can be machines of different sizes, ones which can go in narrow lanes and clean the drains.
They can also be intricately designed to reach difficult areas inside the tanks or sewers. Technology must be used with sensors and cameras to get the view of dark portions. Everything that a scavenger does must be done by using a machine. It is equally necessary on a common person’s part to not clog drains by throwing solid wastes. Every household must practice waste disposal in sustainable ways.
Septic tanks, sewers in India are built with a lot of design faults. Proper research must be done to make the required changes and also build new ones with new biotechnology so that waste disposal happens without much effort. Local authorities must take responsibility for proper management and cleaning of drains, sewers with proper machines and equipment.
Moreover, alternate jobs and training must be provided to these workers so that they can lead their life with dignity, in a healthy way. Appropriate policies need to be made for achieving this.
Certain helplines can be made operational so that anyone who forces these workers is punished or if a worker as such is spotted can be provided aid. It is equally necessary that planned settlements take place with sewers, drains of certified design because unchecked laying of sewers is a menace of all.
Social inclusion of such workers is a very difficult task even if they are provided with other jobs. Therefore, it is required that society as a whole change its poor mentality and help in development of all people. Women workers, especially need to be empowered more through the means of Self help groups as it is happening slowly in some areas.
To conclude, India which talks about Right to sanitation through its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan must not overlook the rights of sanitation workers and more importantly the basic human rights of these people. Development for all must prove development of these human scavengers as well!
Humanity will never forgive manual scavenging
AUTHOR:- SURAMYA SHARMA
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