Manual Scavenging : A Condemned Practice By Shubham Mishra from VIT Law School
India has always been identified as a diversified country in religious, language and different traditions being followed in every nook and corner of the country. India is commended for its culture and traditions and other countries are expressing their willingness to adopt our culture, but still there are certain practices which should be condemned and discontinued. There has always been presence of divided caste system in India and one of the practices involved is manual scavenging. The practice of forcing low-caste people in Indian communities to remove accumulated human excrement from dry latrines continues despite having legal provisions against and it should be stopped. This practice involves discrimination and untouchability. Low caste people are forced and coerced to perform this pathetic job by upper caste people and they are not given any other opportunity either. This practice is actually caste based and only dalit caste indulgence in this work is present. These people have to face a lot of discrimination due to their pathetic and condemnable job. Women have to carry human excreta and men usually have to cleanse sevage and pipelines. This unwanted practice is in continuance despite having laws but again the question of proper implementation comes into picture.
There is only one suitable solution that there should be strict implementation of existing laws and all dry latrines should be demolished and these people should be given different opportunities for the continuance of their survival in this difficult world where still in 21st century they are treated as untouchable.
Present Situation of Manual Scavenging in India
The concept of Manual Scavenging has evolved from ancient India and only dalit caste were indulged in the practice of accumulating human waste. All categories of work was divided amongst upper and lower caste people and India is a country that follows its traditions staunchly. Therefore, this practice is still continuing and no one is willing to hamper time immemorial traditions.
Manual scavenging can be understood as modern day slavery, forced labour, untouchable and a discriminatory practice. People involved in this work are treated as dirty and filthy since their job is condemnable and awful. As far as their remuneration is concerned, they are provided with left over food and a little amount of money.
The enacted legislation of parliament has a provision regarding demolition of all non-flush toilets in India but due to lack of implementation, dry latrines are still existing in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar pradesh, Haryana and Maharshtra and dalits have to do this job since they don’t have any other option. Many times due to denial of this job, they have been threatened with dire consequences by the upper caste. Youngsters due to lack of opportunity, too have to join this practice against their wishes or there are some indebted families and they have to collect human waste for redemption of their debts. Untouchables use their hands and broomstick to gather waste, which is carried by them on their heads. No precautionary measures are adopted by scavengers while doing this work and they have to confront various fatal diseases which really affects their health.[i]
The International Dalit Solidarity Network has estimated that approximately 1.3 million people are stuck in manual scavenging and in one of the reports, government has stated that 11,000 manual scavengers are from India. The number of non-flush toilets is estimated at 9.6 million and it is being cleared despite presence of laws banning dry toilets. Government claims there are only 2.4 million dry toilets. These are some gathered statistics from various resources which is indicating the truth about manual scavenging in Indian society.[ii]
Legislations Against Manual Scavenging
Number of legislations have taken place since the inception of freedom of India. The Employment of Manuel Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines(prohibition) Act, 1993. This legislation punishes the employment of manual scavengers or the construction of non-flush toilets with imprisonment for upto 1 year and fine of Rs. 2000, but for now no conviction has taken place under this law in 20 years despite the presence of large number of manual scavengers in India.
Government has passed the new legislation in 2013 called the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013. This Act focuses on complete eradication of manual scavenging from Indian Society and there are certain salient features of this statute which are quite commendable. It seems that government has fought tooth and nail in preparation of these features and government review committees have put forth some salient points.
- 15 lakh non-flush toilets have been identified till now in 7 states and the work survey is in progress.
- 11,000 scavengers have been identified in 23 states. Survey is under progress.
- The process of disbursing one time cash assistance has initiated.
The practice of manual scavenging is outlawed under India’s constitution. The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 bans the practice of untouchability as well as compelling anyone from a lower caste to remove human waste from dry toilets.[iii]
Ministry of Social Justice has adopted strictness for implentation of already available laws. It has guaranteed to make payment of Rs 10 lakh compensation in cases of sewer deaths which have occured since 1993 as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court and all the states have been strictly instructed to follow apex court's guidelines since laws regarding sanitation is in state list. Therefore, all states are supposed to make laws in order to solve this modern day slavery.
Manual scavenging is considered the job of lower class people. This practice of collecting human excrement from dry latrines has been existing since historical ages. The dalit caste people had to involve in this job, thus making it the very part and parcel of our culture, which is still continuing despite having laws regarding eradication of this condemnable and unwanted work. The Constitution of India guarantees everyone with right to equality in Indian society, so the question to be pondered is that why are these rights being infringed by people? In India, majority of the laws turn to be futile since there is no proper implementation. The Human Rights Watch Committee has some put forth some statistics which indicates the verasity of India’s current position of manual scavenging.
At this time, younsters’ involvement and awareness programmes are strictly needed for complete removal of manual scavenging. The prevailing illiteracy in the society and especially the lower caste is one of the major reasons of continuance of this practice since the ill-treated are unaware about the laws enacted against manual scavenging. They can play pivotal role by raising their voice against this banned practice by the Indian government. Thus, they could live their life with dignity since it is their fundamental and human right and no one has the authority to take their rights from them.
[i]<http://time.com/3172895/dalits-sewage-untouchables-hrs-human-waste-india-caste/> Accessed on February 5, 2017
[iii]Vibhuti Agarwal, “Untouchables” Still Pressed to Work Disposing Human Waste, August 26, 2014, <http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/08/25/indias-untouchables-still-pressed-to-work-disposing-human-waste-despite-legal-prohibitions/>
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article or any other publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Educoncours or its members.