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Jul 19, 2012

Can Manual Scavenging be flushed from our country?

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By Jyoti Parida

Every day 1.3 million people in India (of which more than 80% are Dalit women) are forced to clean human excrement with their bare hands for little to no wages, a practice called manual scavenging. It was introduced during the British rule in India perhaps in the late 19th century when municipalities were organized. The toilets often used a container that needed to be emptied daily or in the other ways we can say it as the dry (non-flush) latrines. This dehumanizing job was basically given to the lower caste or the untouchables. Basically with a very few exception, all the manual scavengers are from the schedule castes. These scavengers are rarely able to take another occupation due to discrimination related to their caste and are thus forced to remain scavengers.

In 1970, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak introduced his “Sulabh” concept for building and managing public toilets in India. This was a hygienic and well-managed public toilet system. But still then manual scavenging still survives in many parts of India. From a survey it was found that the more number of manual scavengers are in the Uttarpradesh then Bihar then Uttrakhand and so on. On June 17, 2011, Honorable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India referred to manual scavenging as "one of the darkest blots on India's development process" and asked all state Ministers in his country to pledge to eliminate this scourge from every corner of India in the next six months, by the end of 2011.

A 36-year-old woman Usha Chaumar from Alwar, Rajasthan, who was once a manual scavenger, was invited to deliver an address at the World Water Forum in France’s port city Marseille. She told the world about the lives of hundred of women who are into this profession is very pathetic. Now because of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak Sulabh we can renew our hope and she was also rescued of by this means only. She also told that at the age of ten she was married and was forced into manual scavenging, the only livelihood her family has known for generations. It was extremely humiliating, but there was no choice as we had been doing this job for years and upper caste people insisted that we were only good for this.

In 1970s the state of Karnataka passed a law to ban manual scavengers. The employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines (prohibition) act, 1993 punishes the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000. Like wise the other Chief ministers from their respective states had given a strict warning to stop this practice and to use new engage mechanized cesspools. But the strange thing is that prevailing of so many acts or laws, the biggest violator of this law is the Indian Railways, which has toilets dropping all the excreta on the grounds/stations and they employ scavengers to clean it manually. Mahatma Gandhi in Bengal in 1901, Dr.Ambedkar and Thanthai Periyar in Tamil Nadu, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia in Lok Sabha in 1967, raised topics on this horrible working. This topic was being raised before the Independence but still now no conclusion why? Is anybody not interested in solving the most humiliating problem of our country? India is trying to advance/ is already in every fields than why not in this manual scavenging.

Many people in this country still don’t know the meaning of manual scavenging. India got Independence but manual scavenging didn’t. The manual-scavenging demon is still now attracting all the poor people towards it. Come on everybody with our bare hands we all will dump this manual scavenging into the soil by using the improved technologies instead of the old one.


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