Manual Scavenging: A Shameful Practise That Has Outgrown Its Existing Numbers

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As per the data revealed by the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry, only 340 deaths have occurred due to manual scavenging in the past five years. The practice itself raises many eyebrows rather than the number of deaths.

Fully submerged in domestic sewage and unclogging human faeces- that’s what manual scavengers do. Time and again this so-called ‘practice’ has been considered abysmal and looked “down” upon (no pun intended). In 1993, India passed an act to ban manual scavenging while in 2013, the act of engaging someone for cleaning septic tanks and sewers was made a punishable offence. However, has the scenario changed? If yes, then why has technology still not substituted the deep ingrown human use for sewage excavations?

A Tussle Between Rights And Work

Prakash Shankar, a prominent human rights lawyer at Allahabad High Court mentions “Most of the people are forced into doing manual scavenging due to poverty and lack of jobs. The government has identified nearly 58,000 scavengers and provided them with better alternatives.” But the reality suggests otherwise. According to the Rehabilitation Research Initiative, currently, there are around 15 lakh manual scavengers out of which nearly 71% are females. “In certain cities, sewer cleaning is done by Jal Nigam which suggests that the majority of these jobs are being done by persons recruited by the government,” says Jyotika Rani, a human rights activist from Helping Hand Welfare Society in Lucknow. 

The number may have reduced as per the government data but the people still remain indulged in the malpractice.

The Causes

Some can blame it on the lack of funds while others can blame it on corruption at grass root levels, but undeniably the cause is a lack of synchronization between the use of technology by the government bodies and dilution of sanctioned finances. “Nobody deliberately wants to enter a sludge of domestic waste. Even if it’s for money, there should be more opportunities for women and men which would abjure them from working under such conditions,” explains Jyotika. The use of technology for local civic bodies like Nagar Nigams and Jal Nigam has increased but not to a level that could bring a change or cause a rippling positive impact. Either the technology is outdated or its use is limited to certain posh localities. The reason might be the lack of accessibility of these machines in dingy areas.


Read more: Chennai’s 12-Member Band Is Playing Tunes Against The Caste System


“Extracting” The Solution

“Yes you can blame the government, but the contribution to manual scavenging is 50% on people’s part”, states Shankar. On society’s part, most of them allow manual scavenging without any revolt. Some societies even hire private scavengers for the purpose, which also adds to the growing misery. “As citizens, a simple no to this practice would make the local government bodies more aware”, adds Jyotika. A confluence of the government’s efforts and awareness of the citizens would clearly erase manual scavenging and implement the use of technology for the same.

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