97.25% People Stuck In Manual Scavenging Belong To SCs: Ministry Data

According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s most recent data, 42,594 of the 52,098 manual scavengers are from Scheduled Castes (SCs), 421 are from Scheduled Tribes (STs), and 431 are from Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

What Is Manual Scavenging?

The term manual scavenging refers to the practice of removing untreated human excreta from dry latrines, pit latrines or sewers. The process involves no high-tech machinery to aid the scavengers but the most basic tools to move the human excreta about, such as shovels, buckets, brooms.

This practice is extremely hazardous and has led to several deaths over time. Though the government had banned this practice in 2013 through landmark Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, yet the practice continues. Under this Act, if any agency or person is found to be employing people as manual scavengers, they are liable for a punishment of up to 5 years of imprisonment or a 5 Lakh fine or both. And if human intervention is extremely necessary, then proper safety gear has to be provided to the worker.

Accept It Or Not, Caste Is The Factor

The people that have continued to be employed for the scavenging mostly belong to the poorest and lowest strata of the society and this has a lot to do with India’s caste system.

According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, 97.25% of the manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Castes. The so-called untouchables were/are expected to do this job and therefore, it was officially prohibited by law in 1993 due to it being regarded as caste-based and its dehumanising character.

Around 80% of the scavengers die before they even turn 60 years due to the various viral and bacterial infections they encounter as they work in the pits and the sewers without any proper safety gear. These infections affect their eyes, skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory systems and various other body parts. They even die due to asphyxiation i.e. the lack of oxygen in certain cases. This profession is hereditary in India and therefore, the children of these scavengers are swallowed in it against their wills, making it impossible for them to continue with their education to make their lives better.

Since this activity is performed by people belonging to the lower caste communities these people even today face a lot of social inequality and discrimination as they are not allowed to enter into public places of worship, sources of water etc.

When Will The Menace End?

It is a very logical belief that as we will progress this practice will go away but here it seems contrary. With the increase in urbanisation, the need for people to clean up the sewers is increasing and also, as long as there exist unsanitary latrines the need for manual scavenging won’t go away.

Another reason for this inhumane practise to continue is the social aspect of it. Even if they leave the scavenging, the tag of untouchability and unhygienic conditions pasted to them makes it hard for them to find a job elsewhere. The lack of awareness, no education, hierarchy, lack of empathy from the government, the employers, no proper enforcement of the existing laws as well the absence of unity and any organised behaviour amongst the human scavengers makes it difficult for their plight and woes to reach the people and the government structures thus, making their problems seem not that important and necessary.

Youngsters Can Be The Ray Of Hope

On the brighter side, there have been a lot of initiatives in the advancement of technology on the part of students and certain groups to make the working conditions of the scavengers better and safer.

Also Read: A Heartfelt Note From Mallika Dua On Father Vinod Dua’s Demise

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