Author: Sehaj Sarin, Student at University: The Law School, Jammu University
Manual scavenging, is a term which manually cleaning or disposing the waste, handling the human excreta in a sewer or an open drain or an insanitary latrine. This is the basic meaning of manual scavenging and manual scavengers are the people who do this. As caste plays a major role in our country, this activity of manual scavenging is also linked with caste in here, which is really sad. Despite of such modernization and technological advancements, various laws and education, most of the people of the country still believe in caste system and prioritize it more, while ignoring everything else. Various social reformers tried to eradicate this evil of caste system from our society, but it still finds its roots in here. In this paper, the relation between manual scavengers and caste system would be discussed. Also, the various problems faced by them are also mentioned. This paper focuses on the abovementioned aspects only. It provides an outlook of the pathetic condition of manual scavengers in the country. The main aim of the paper is to change the viewpoint of people, who relate manual scavenging to the caste system and also educate the people about this, so that this problem of caste system will get removed from the society.
Manual scavengers are the people, who manually clean or dispose of the waste and also handle the human excreta in a latrine or anything else. They do it with the help of brooms or baskets, but rarely got any of these, and then after carrying the human excreta, they have to dispose it off to the locations, which are sometimes near and sometimes quite kilometers away. The main purpose of their work is to keep the environment and the places clean, but their work is addressed as a dehumanizing practice.
Manual scavengers, the people who clean and dispose of the waste consisting of human excreta for making the surroundings clean, no doubt, do one of the toughest job and we regard this as a dehumanizing practice. Just because we don’t find that job worthy and address it as dirty, we don’t treat those people as normal beings like us. The job of manual scavenging is regarded as one of the worst violations of Human Rights. Manual scavenging is as dangerous as its dehumanizing. Since 1st January 2017, one person has died every five days, while doing manual scavenging. From this data, we can have an idea that how dangerous is scavenging as it takes away the lives of people. It is also against the Right to Equality and the Right Against Exploitation.
HISTORY OF MANUAL SCAVENGING
To the back in ancient times, manual scavenging existed and it was done by some particular castes in India. In Naradiya Samhita, there were mentioned 15 duties of slaves and manual scavenging was one of them. It continued during the Buddhist and the Mauryan period. Mughal women were under purdah and their toilets were enclosed, which therefore needed to be cleaned. The first Municipalities which were inducted under the Britishers, employed manual scavengers to collect human excreta from the public toilets. Toilets equipped with flush systems were then introduced a century later and then, houses had dry latrines which again required manual scavengers for cleaning. As the roots of manual scavenging lies deep in the caste system in India, the lowest caste in the caste hierarchy, the Dalits were employed as manual scavengers. And this job was given to the lowest caste in the Dalits. They were the Phakis in Andhra Pradesh, Bhangis in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, Sikkaliars in Tamil and Balmiki in Haryana. The pay was negligible, which, in turn, turned the job into slavery.
At present, the salary of a manual scavenger varies from Rs.40-Rs.100, as this practice of manual scavenging is banned, the pay scale varies. For cleaning about 50 dry toilets, the money they would be getting, would be around Rs.100. Also, if a worker dies on the job, there is no monetary compensation for him. Though the government is expected to pay around 10 lakh rupees to the family of that worker, who died during the job, that is, while cleaning the sewers but in reality, nothing happens like that. A manual scavenger in Delhi died during cleaning a deep sewer and the rope that was holding him snapped and he died. The cause of his death was inhalation of toxic gases and asphyxiation. More 5 workers died in the same week and they didn’t have any proper protective equipment with them for their safety. 
MANUAL SCAVENGING AND CASTE DISCRIMINATION IN INDIA
The people performing the duty of manual scavengers are usually belong to that caste groups, which are placed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. This occupation is caste- designated and it literally reinforces the social stigma that the manual scavengers are untouchable and thus, this thought supports discrimination. People who perform the activity of manual scavenging clean the dry toilets and collect human excreta from gutters, defecation sites and drains, cleaning of sewers and septic tanks are also done by them. We cannot regard manual scavenging as a job as carrying of human feces manually is not a form of employment, it is a prominent form of discrimination against the Dalits. Manual scavenging is also a violation of Human Rights.
The job of Manual Scavenging is closely related with the caste system in India. People believe that the lowest of the lower castes do this job and they are not clean and are untouchable. Manual scavenging can be regarded as a ‘MODERN FORM OF UNTOUCHABILITY’ in India. Manual scavengers are not respected in the society, they are not even treated well in their community. They are literally treated as untouchables. They hardly get a mere amount of money for their work. They don’t get any respect in the society and are rather treated as untouchables. Nobody likes to talking to them, to listen to them, to feed them and are ousted from their own community. There are a lot of problems that are faced by manual scavengers.
In Uttar Pradesh, in Etah district of kasela village, women from 12 families cleaned toilets manually and after cleaning the toilets manually, they returned to the houses where they cleaned the toilets and collected the leftover food as their payment. They didn’t receive any cash as their salary. A woman named Munnidevi decided to not to clean the human excreta of the houses, which didn’t give her any food, but she was warned by them. If she didn’t continue to clean their latrines, she will not be allowed in her community land to collect the firewood or for grazing her livestock.
PROBLEMS FACED BY MANUAL SCAVENGERS
Manual scavenging is banned in India. On 6th September 2013, the Parliament of India passed The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act,2013. The Supreme Court of India on 27th March 2014, held that the Constitution of India requires state intervention to end this ugly phenomenon of manual scavenging and also, rehabilitate the manual scavengers, that is, the people that were engaged in manual scavenging. It focused on not only ending the manual scavenging but also ending the various abuses that are faced by the communities which are involved in manual scavenging. The government showed concern about the injustice being faced by the communities who perform manual scavenging and also talked about the failures which were there in the Implementation of the previous laws, which were executed to address the problem of manual scavenging.
At present, there are certain communities which face the discrimination and thus, highlighting the failures of the previous attempts of the government to end manual scavenging. Recent examples are from the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, where there is a need to eliminate the discriminatory practices and the attitudes, that still binds the members of the affected communities to this degrading occupation. For instance, women who left the job of manual scavenging were threatened by the households that they served. They were evicted from their own community and were also denied from using the land and the resources.
No doubt, the Central Government enacts various laws for removing the problem of manual scavenging, but, the state representatives in Municipal Corporations, Panchayats, and elected village councils, often fail in implementing the laws and thus, have failed a lot of times in implementing the prohibitions on manual scavenging and also perpetuates this ugly practice of Manual Scavenging. For instance, in Maharashtra, the Panchayats have recruited the people to manually clean the dry toilets and the open defecation areas. These people were denied the regular wages and were even warned that they will be evicted from their own houses and if they will refuse to do the job of manual scavenging. Also, the Panchayat in the Nhavi village in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, hired men and women to manually clean up the open defecation sites. Many women didn’t like to work as manual scavengers and really wanted to quit the job but still continued to do so because they feared that their family will be thrown out of the houses where they lived.
Not only this, some women also told that they even faced threats of violence when they decided not to do manual scavenging and refused it. In November 2012, in the Parigama village of Uttar Pradesh, in the Manipuri district, Gangashari, along with 12 other women stopped cleaning the dry toilets voluntarily. After that, some men from the dominant Thakur caste came to their homes and threatened them. They said that if these women will not continue to clean the toilets, their grazing rights would be taken and they will be expelled from the village. When the women, after these threats, still refused to work as manual scavengers, their husbands were called by those Thakur men and they said that if your women will not continue to work and clean our toilets, we will beat them up and we will beat you too. They also said that they will not let these people live peacefully.
Now, we can have an idea that how many problems are faced by manual scavengers and even when they want to get rid of this dirty job, they are not allowed to leave and are threatened by the higher sections of the society. Such kind of threats have been effective in binding these communities to manual scavenging. These communities are even facing difficulty in securing the protection of the Police. They are the vulnerable to the police refusal to register the complaints, reason being the caste bias by the Police.
Manual scavengers not only face the problems of being manual scavengers but also the caste discrimination. It further worsens the condition of manual scavengers. While cleaning the human excreta, they rarely have any proper equipment and face severe health consequences, most of the people who were manual scavengers, lost their lives due to improper safety equipment. On the other hand, discrimination that they face, extends to all the facets of their life, from the education of their children to their future. Their children don’t have any access to education, which leaves no choice for them and the only thing that they are left with is to opt manual scavenging to earn.
LEGISLATIONS FOR MANUAL SCAVENGING
- The Indian Constitution has banned the practice of untouchability and the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, prohibits compelling anyone to practice manual scavenging. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 was specifically aimed at ending the problem of manual scavenging. It declared the employment of the people working as manual scavengers and the construction of dry latrines to be punishable with imprisonment and fines.
- After the 1993 Act, The Prohibition of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation 2013 Act goes beyond the prohibitions on dry latrines and also, outlaws all the manual excrement cleaning of open drains, insanitary latrines and pits.
- The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020: – This bill called for a complete mechanization of cleaning the septic tanks and sewers. There were a lot of people who died during cleaning the septic tanks and sewers due to unavailability of protective equipment for them.
There have been a lot of laws introduced by the government to eradicate this ugly problem of manual scavenging from the society, yet there are certain elements due to which, manual scavenging still finds its roots in the country. Manual scavengers are the most vulnerable section of the society till now as they are prone to the diseases caused by performing manual scavenging and also face the discrimination from the society, both in relation with their caste and for the job they are doing too.
Manual scavenging is a social evil in the society and it can be removed not only by the legislations of strict laws but also by the effective implementation of those laws.
Manual scavengers are not treated good in the society. They are subjected to harsh treatment and are literally treated as untouchables, because of the work that they do and because of the caste that they belong too. That is why, manual scavenging is regarded as the ‘Modern Form of Untouchability’. Manual scavenging needs to be stopped, it violates the Human Rights of the people, who perform manual scavenging. The practice of manual scavenging still continues because there is a lack of awareness about the rural and semi urban sanitation. Manual scavenging prevails in the areas where there are dry toilets, where there is lack of the sewage systems and there is explicit caste hierarchy.
Manual scavenging needs to get removed as it is extremely dangerous. The people who perform manual scavenging are subjected to two types of violence: Social violence and Violence associated with the caste discrimination. Also, manual scavengers get serious health related problems and some even led to their deaths. This ugly practice of manual scavenging has engulfed the lives of manual scavengers and it needs to be stopped. Strong and effective implementation of laws can help in eradicating the problem of manual scavenging from the society.