Twenty former manual scavengers from Dewas, Madhya Pradesh formed a self-help group, leased a local village pond and began fish farming, increasing their incomes fivefold.
Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. It often involves using the most basic of tools such as buckets, brooms and baskets. The practice of manual scavenging is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes were expected to perform this job. Manual scavengers are amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in India.
In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers. In 2013, landmark new legislation in the form of the Manual Scavengers Act was passed which seeks to reinforce this ban by prohibiting manual scavenging in all forms and ensures the rehabilitation of manual scavengers to be identified through a mandatory survey.
Despite progress, manual scavenging persists in India. According to the India Census 2011, there are more than 2.6 million dry latrines in the country. There are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed in open drains, 7,94,390 dry latrines where the human excreta is cleaned manually. Seventy three percent of these are in rural areas and 27 percent are in urban areas.
According to the House Listing and Housing Census 2011, states such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal account for more than 72 percent of the insanitary latrines in India.
The Government of India has adopted a two-pronged strategy of eliminating insanitary latrines through demolition and conversion into sanitary latrines, and developing a comprehensive rehabilitation package for manual scavengers through a survey.
However, while manual scavenging for many may have ended as a form of employment, the stigma and discrimination associated with it lingers on, making it difficult for former or liberated manual scavengers to secure alternate livelihoods and raising the fear that people could once again return to manual scavenging in the absence of other opportunities to support their families. Correctly identifying manual scavengers remains a key challenge. A comprehensive rehabilitation package has recently been put together that includes livelihoods and skill development, access to education for children of former manual scavengers and alternate livelihoods.
Legislation in search of dignity
In 1993, the Government of India enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act which prohibited the employment of manual scavengers for manually cleaning dry latrines and also the construction of dry toilets, that is, toilets that do not operate with a flush. It provided for imprisonment of upto a year and a fine. In 2013, this was followed by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which is wider in scope and importantly, acknowledged the urgency of rehabilitating manual scavengers.
Key features of the Act :
- Prohibits the construction or maintenance of insanitary toilets
- Prohibits the engagement or employment of anyone as a manual scavenger
- Violations could result in a years’ imprisonment or a fine of INR 50,000 or both
- Prohibits a person from being engaged or employed for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank
- Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable
- Calls for a survey of manual scavengers in urban and rural areas within a time bound framework
There remain several challenges in implementing the legislation to ensure that manual scavengers can work and live with dignity. These include :
- Time frame within which land is to be allotted as part of the rehabilitation package for former manual scavengers as provided for in the 2013 Act
- Correct and timely identification of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers
- Implementation of provision regarding prohibiting ‘hazardous cleaning’ of sewers and septic tanks
- While the Act is encouraging in that it focuses on the responsibility of officials to ensure its implementation, it does not outline administrative measures beyond conduct rules that can be imposed if officials do not implement the Act
Towards comprehensive rehabilitation
Manual scavengers are at a double disadvantage. They are members of lower castes and as such, face enormous discrimination in society, and second, are disadvantaged because they are manual scavengers who clean human excreta. The challenge of rehabilitation is urgent, and requires a comprehensive approach that moves beyond expanding income generation or providing loans, to focus on various aspects crucial to secure the future of the next generation of liberated manual scavengers.
A comprehensive rehabilitation package could:
- Ensure discrimination-free, secure and alternate livelihoods by providing skill development and livelihoods training to women, linking them to government employment schemes and entitlements as well as ensuring their land rights. Vocational training linked to employment for young people, and support to liberated manual scavengers in building alternate livelihoods could go a long way in ensuring steady, stable livelihoods for the future.
- Create a favourable environment through community awareness and sensitization of local administration.
- Build the capacity of the community to promote rehabilitation efforts and self-reliance and also build leadership in the community with a particular focus on Dalit women
National Consultation on the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers’
The Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a national campaign working for eradication and rehabilitation of manual scavengers, supported by UNWOMEN organised a National Consultation on the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers’ on 04 September in New Delhi. Women from the manual scavenging community, liberated women, community leaders, representatives from the Government and civil society participated in the consultation to deliberate on the challenges of rehabilitation, including promotion of alternative employment opportunities, education for children, skill development and accessibility of rights and entitlements. At the consultation, participants reviewed the existing rehabilitation policies and provisions and provided recommendations. The aim of the consultation is to build a national level platform for stakeholders to promote comprehensive rehabilitation.
Breaking Free: Rehabilitating Manual Scavengers (English, Hindi)
Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. It often involves using the most basic of tools such as buckets, brooms and baskets. The practice of manual scavenging is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes were expected to perform this job. Manual scavengers are amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged community in India. In 1993, India prohibited the employment of people as manual scavengers.
Breaking Free: Life After Manual Scavenging
“I used to throw up all the time because I could not take the smell,” says Sevanti Bai, recalling the many decades she worked as a manual scavenger in Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh. Convinced by others in her community and the law which prohibits manual scavenging, she quit in 2007. Since then, she and her family have struggled, making ends meet, through odd jobs, working in the fields and cleaning grain.
Breaking Free: Women Champions End Manual Scavenging
Despite legislation that prohibits manual scavenging, it is estimated that a significant proportion of the country’s 2.6 million dry latrines are cleaned manually. Women comprise the vast majority of manual scavengers. Community advocates are playing an important role in ending the practice.
Breaking Free: From Manual Scavenging to Fish Farming
Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. Since 1993, key legislations have been enacted prohibiting employment of people as manual scavengers, banning the construction of dry latrines and providing rehabilitation. Yet, a significant proportion of an estimated 2.6 million dry latrines in India continue to be cleaned manually.
Implementing Laws Prohibiting Manual Scavenging
The 2013 Prohibition of Manual Scavenging Act 2013 is an important step in ending manual scavenging says Asif Shaikh from Jan Sahas, but much more needs to be done to ensure time-bound and comprehensive rehabilitation of women and vulnerable communities that are trying to break free from manual scavenging.
The challenge of ending manual scavenging
In the first of a three-part interview, Asif Shaikh, Convenor, Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and Jan Sahas outlines the challenge facing India, in ending manual scavenging.
Ending Manual Scavenging
Anoop Shrivastava, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment outlines the Government of India’s two-pronged strategy to address manual scavenging. One, to correctly identify those engaged in manual scavenging and second, to ensure they are comprehensively rehabilitated.
Improving Socio Economic Indicators
M. Nagaraj, Managing Director, National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation, says the organization offers term loans and education loans, to improve the socio-economic indicators of cleaning personnel, amongst the most vulnerable of the working population in India.
Cleaning Human Waste “Manual Scavenging,” Caste, and Discrimination in India
This 96-page report documents the coercive nature of manual scavenging. Across India, castes that work as “manual scavengers” collect human excrement on a daily basis, and carry it away in cane baskets for disposal. Women from this caste usually clean dry toilets in homes, while men do the more physically demanding cleaning of sewers and septic tanks. The report describes the barriers people face in leaving manual scavenging, including threats of violence and eviction from local residents but also threats, harassment, and unlawful withholding of wages by local officials.
Socio Economic Status of Women Manual Scavengers
This is a baseline assessment of a three year project titled ‘Dignity Campaign- Action for Liberation of Dalit Manual Scavenger Women in India,’ implemented by Jan Sahas with support from UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. The project aims to liberate, rehabilitate and empower 10,000 women manual scavengers through strengthening their economic and political rights. The baseline assessment aimed at gathering information pertaining to socio-economic status of women manual scavengers who constitute an astonishing 98% of the community.
Social Inclusion of Manual Scavengers
The Report is a compilation of the proceedings of the National Roundtable Discussion that was held to highlight the plight of manual scavengers in India and propose effective strategies for their rehabilitation including alternative livelihoods.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act
A Bill seeking to eliminate manual scavenging and insanitary latrines and to provide for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers has been enacted by the Government of India in September 2013.
Convened by the United Nations Development Programme, six UN agencies including IFAD, ILO, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women are working together to help accelerate inclusion of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes issues in national and state policy and planning processes. Read more about the theme here
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