We live in a society where cleaning up after ourselves is looked down upon. Like it is only meant for people of a certain gender, caste, and class. Imagine having to wake up and your only source of income is going into sewage and sleeping in the malodor because that’s the role society is forcing you to play. This blog tells you about manual scavenging, the social exclusion of people, and the laws related to it.
The practice of manually cleaning, hauling, handling, or discarding human excreta/night soil from dry latrines and sewers is known as manual scavenging. The tools used are elementary like buckets, brooms, and baskets. People employed in these acts are known as manual scavengers., “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation act, 2013, defines many terms including the term Manual Scavenger which means, Manual scavenger means a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this Act or at any time thereafter, by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or a State Government may notify before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner as may be prescribed, and the expression manual scavenging shall be construed accordingly”.
Manual scavenging has been practiced in India since ancient times. It is not a new concept. It has evolved from time to time but the basics remain the same. The scavengers go deep into sewage and risk their lives to clean, they believe if they would not clean, the whole city/ place would fall sick. According to a study, In India scavengers die of diseases 10 times more than soldiers killed by terrorists.
There are multiple reasons for manual scavenging to still persist in a country like India. Firstly, lack of incomplete rehabilitation and employment opportunities. Secondly, there’s been a social exclusion of certain castes which are believed to be hierarchically lower and are not allowed from moving to the better profession. Thirdly, ignorance about the existence of manual scavenging, government and private institutes firmly believe that manual scavenging does not exist. Government On the contrary private institutes under government contracts are seen to be engaged in these acts.
Every practice has its pros and cons, but this practice does not have any reasonable pros but just cons. The thought of one going into sewage is itself not from this century. They are exposed to potentially hazardous gases such as ammonia, Methane, carbon (IV) oxide, and hydrogen disulfide. These gases are considered not only harmful but also lethal to humans. One of the major health concerns is musculoskeletal disorders. They also come into contact with rodents which might lead to an infection of leptospirosis. In severe cases, Helicobacter pylori infection causes gastric cancer and respiratory problems.
Almost all the manual scavengers are considered untouchables. This problem becomes worse when their children are also expected to do the same. This is a solid example of the social exclusion of a caste. Most of the manual scavengers are women, the most unprivileged of all. Their voices are not ignored, there are no voices left now. They don’t want to do this job but because of society and the helpless situation, they are in they are left with no choice but to work as manual scavengers.
LAWS TO REGULATE
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, A cleaning dry latrines as well as the construction of dry toilets, or toilets that do not flush. It stipulated a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a monetary fine. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013 was passed, with a greater reach and, more importantly, a focus on rehabilitating manual scavengers. This law makes it illegal to engage or hire anyone as a manual scavenger. Violations are punishable by a year in prison, a fine of INR 50,000, or both. Many constitutional rights are violated in this case, starting with article 14 – quality before the law, Article 21- protection of life and personal liberty, Article- 42 Just and Humane conditions of work, etc.
Manual scavenging occurs in India. According to the 2011 India Census, the country has around 2.6 million dry latrines. Human excreta is flushed in open sewers in 13, 14,652 toilets, whereas human excreta is physically cleaned in 7, 94,390 dry latrines. Rural areas account for 73% of these, while urban areas account for 27%.
The problem starts when the problem is considered to be non-existent. There is a belief that these practices are abolished in society, but reports tell us something else. This practice has gradually decreased but is not yet abolished. This is a case of social exclusion and gender discrimination too. A lacuna in our society that persists and needs to be stopped. Laws have helped curb these practices to a certain extent. It has helped uplift people to a certain limit but not completely. The mentality of people has to change for uplifting the status of these people.
Author’s Name: Srinivas Deshpande (Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Hyderabad)
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- Rajeev Kumar Singh, Manual Scavenging as social expulsion, Vol 44 Economic and political weekly (pg 521-523)