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Manual Scavenging: Black Spot On India’s Economic Development – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Manual scavenging, in India, is a caste-based-forced occupation, and due to this Scheduled Castes (SCs) have been associated with the menial task of cleaning human excreta more than an occupation it has become a social norm that continues persistently despite all the available technology and alternatives. Despite a restriction on this practice manual scavenging is still prevalent according to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011, there are about 1.8 lakh Indian households that rely on manual scavenging for their survival; and Maharashtra has the highest number of manual scavengers (i.e. 63,713), followed by Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, and Karnataka.

Bhanvi

Introduction

Manual scavenging, in India, is a caste-based-forced occupation, and due to this Scheduled Castes (SCs) have been associated with the menial task of cleaning human excreta more than an occupation it has become a social norm that continues persistently despite all the available technology and alternatives. Despite a restriction on this practice manual scavenging is still prevalent according to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011, there are about 1.8 lakh Indian households that rely on manual scavenging for their survival; and Maharashtra has the highest number of manual scavengers (i.e. 63,713), followed by Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, and Karnataka.

To curb this menace the Act “Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 introduced that defined manual scavenging as manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or an open drain or pit’, and its existence is a crime of genocidal proportions. Moreover, manual scavenging has been rooted in India’s ancient caste-based hierarchy as Dalits were considered lower caste and hence polluted, due to which they are pushed to do menial jobs. Though Manual scavenging was banned in India in 1995, it is still prevalent due to income inequalities, lack of skills, the prevalence of the traditional legacy of following the same occupation, and lack of proper reporting and its implementation.  

Critical Issues Associated with Manual Scavenging

  • Economic Deprivation- Due to discrimination associated with the socially marginalized castes, particularly Dalits, they are on the verge of economic exploitation as manual scavenging ensured them meager two times meals a day paving the way for health issues and social deprivation.
  • Health Deterioration- Continuous exposure to open human excreta makes them more prone to chronic health diseases such as constant nausea, skin and respiratory problems, trachoma, anemia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and diarrhea and due to poverty, they are deprived of proper healthcare treatment violating the Sustainable Development Goal 3 of Good Health and Well Being.
  • Social Discrimination- Article 21 ensures the Right to life and Personal Dignity to individuals but due to social inclusion  Dalits, face social exclusion and violence across the country owing to their caste identity no place in the world sends people to gas chambers to die but to their caste identity they are compelled to dirtiest jobs and face social humiliation.
  • Income Divide- According to the study conducted by S. Dubey and J.Murphy titled “The Systems of Oppression”, it was concluded that despite Mumbai being the financial capital and more developed as compared to other parts of India Manual Scavengers are at the mercy of the contractors due to unregulated contract system and the resulting disparity in income, so the immediate actions should be taken in their rescue and government officials should critically investigate this critical issue and ensure upliftment of the scavengers.

Need to End Manual Scavenging

According to the Ministry of Social Justice, there are a total of 530 districts in India that have reported themselves to be free from Manual Scavenging. To the dismal according to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis in the past 30 years total of 989 members have died in this menace and after that Supreme Court passed the judgement of giving 10 lakh compensation to family members of the deceased but still there are states where compensation has not been realized that makes their livelihood conditions more vulnerable and pathetic. Around 58000 Manual Scavengers have been rehabilitated by the government and have been given compensation of about Rs 40,000.

However, the practices adopted by the government have proved to be fatal due to a lack of technology and investment in appropriate infrastructure. The Act provides for transforming dry latrines into sanitary latrines so that manual scavenging can be completely banned and technology-related techniques are adopted to clear excreta but no steps have been taken to achieve this. So due to the existence of dry latrines which machines cannot clean, the task has to be done manually and septic tanks are not designed such that machines can clean them, and thus require manual scavenging to do so.

Initiatives taken by the Government to Curb Manual Scavenging

  • Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) 2017- it has been merged with the National Action for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem ( NAMASTE) scheme that assists safety devices to sanitation response units and encourages health security as well has been implemented in the year 2023 and will be assessed after four years.
  • Swachata Mobile App- The app was launched in 2016 and has registered more than 6,000 complaints against manual scavenging and ensures transparency and faster delivery of Justice. Accordingly, Most of the insanitary latrines have been converted into sanitary latrines under the Swachh Bharat Mission implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation in urban and rural areas respectively. The country has been declared open defecation-free.
  • District Sanitation Committees- In the budget of 2023, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has ensured that every district should declare itself free from manual scavenging and point out locations of insanitary latrines and associated manual scavengers. 
  • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013- has banned the practice of manual scavenging and the government is taking necessary steps in this field.

Challenges

  • Economically Deprivation- It has been estimated that manual scavengers earn less than Rs1 and they are paid less than minimum wages due to which they are forced to borrow money from upper caste people pushing them into the vicious cycle of debt trap. Due to economic constraints, they are deprived of good health, education, and standard of living and remain in poverty throughout their lives.
  • Social Injustice- Manual Scavenging being a hereditary occupation, Dalits are not allowed to take up other jobs than manual scavenging and they are forced to face discrimination regarding their caste and occupation. 
  • Double Exploitation- Dalit women are on the verge of double exploitation of caste-based discrimination along with incidents of sexual exploitation and violence. To add more misery to this situation children are also pushed into this occupation of manual scavenging. As a result, many have lost their lives due to unsanitary conditions at work. So, this issue requires the utmost attention of both the government and the general public.
  • Unsuccessful Implementation of Legal Measures- Several laws have been implemented to ensure social transformation but there needs to be more social conscience. The nation as a whole lacked the political will and hence, the legislation to abolish this practice could not be converted to social justice for millions of manual scavengers.

Way Forward

To curb this menace government should play an active role in implementing its policies at ground levels by properly monitoring its outcomes and accordingly making desired changes. Moreover, campaigns should be launched to spread awareness against manual scavenging and skill upgradation programs should be implemented especially for the Dalit community as Article 46 provides state power to protect weaker sections particularly SCs and STs from social injustice and all forms of social injustice.

At least the media can also play a significant role in bridging the gap between policy implementation by making people aware of ground reality and steps taken by the government. Moreover, NGOs can also play a crucial role by implementing integrated sanitation programs under Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) actors and preparing detailed and monitored analyses of reports on manual scavengers so that their numbers can be tracked. 

References

Shankar, S., & Swaroop, K. (2021). Manual Scavenging in India: The Banality of An Everyday Crime. CASTE / a Global Journal on Social Exclusion, 2(1), 67–76. https://doi.org/10.26812/caste.v2i1.299

Gupta, A. (2023). Taking Dignity Seriously to Protect Manual Scavengers in India: Lessons from the UN Human Rights Committee. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4391142

Koonan, S. (2021). Manual scavenging in India: state apathy, non-implementation of laws, and resistance by the community. Indian Law Review, 5(2), 149–165. https://doi.org/10.1080/24730580.2021.1905340

Gupta, P. (2021). Manual Scavenging in India. International Journal of Political Activism and Engagement, 8(1), 30–40. https://doi.org/10.4018/ijpae.2021010103

Shahid, M. (2015). Manual Scavenging: Issues of Caste, Culture and Violence. Social Change, 45(2), 242–255. https://doi.org/10.1177/0049085715574187

Guglani, A. (2019). The Annihilation of Manual Scavenging in India. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3434963

Deumert, A. (2015). Entrevista com Ana Deumert. Working Papers Em Linguística, 16(2), 239. https://doi.org/10.5007/1984-8420.2015v16n2p239

A STUDY ON FACTORS INFLUENCING EXISTENCE OF INHUMAN PRACTICE OF MANUAL SCAVENGING IN INDIA WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO TAMIL NADU: THE CONTINUING CHALLENGE. (2021). Journal of Xidian University, 15(3). https://doi.org/10.37896/jxu15.3/014

Kashyap, P. (2021). Review of article 17 and practice of manual scavenging in India. ACADEMICIA: An International Multidisciplinary Research Journal, 11(12), 139–144. https://doi.org/10.5958/2249-7137.2021.02633.1

Bruns, A., & Taubert, N. (2021). Investigating the Blind Spot of a Monitoring System for Article Processing Charges. Publications, 9(3), 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/publications9030041

Gupta, A. (2023). Taking Dignity Seriously to Protect Manual Scavengers in India: Lessons from the UN Human Rights Committee. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4391142

Shahid, M. (2015). Manual Scavenging: Issues of Caste, Culture and Violence. Social Change, 45(2), 242–255. https://doi.org/10.1177/0049085715574187

Manual Scavenging. (n.d.).

https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1778858

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Vaishali and Aasthaba Jadeja for their kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.

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  • IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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