Sanitation workers in India have started a march to stop the practice of manual scavenging in the country. The practice, which involves cleaning the dry latrines and carrying human excreta, is still prevalent in many parts of the country, and is seen as a crime against humanity.
The organisers of the protest rally, called Bhim Yatra, say it aims to tell the country and the government to stop manual scavenging in dry latrines, sewers and septic tanks.
“It is a journey to protest this intolerance, this violence and discrimination against this forgotten section of our society. It is a cry for the Constitutional and Fundamental rights of Manual Scavengers,” the rally’s organisers have said.
The Bhim Yatra will criss-cross across the country for 125 days passing through 500 districts in 30 states.
The rally, which started on International Human Rights day from Delhi on December 10, 2015 and will end back in the capital, on April 13, 2016 – the event of the 125th birth centenary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (April 14, 2016).
According to Asian Human Rights Commission, around 180,657 rural households are engaged in manual scavenging in India, despite the inhuman practice being repeatedly outlawed by the parliament and judiciary.
On March 27, 2014, the Supreme Court passed a judgement and issued specific directions to prevent and control this illegal practice as also to prosecute the offenders.
However, two and a half years after the judgement of the Supreme Court that directs that such deaths in sewer holes and septic tanks should be stopped immediately, its implementation has remained far from reality.
The Safai Karamchari Andolan has reported 1327 sewer and septic tank deaths in the period since the judgement was passed in March 2014. It has claimed that less than three percent have received compensation.
“In our view, it is necessary to take expeditious steps to implement the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, coupled with the directions of the Supreme Court in letter and spirit promptly,” the Madras High Court has said on a petition filed by Change India director A Narayanan in June 2015. The court is now reportedly monitoring the implementation of manual scavenging laws in the state.
According to a question answered by Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla in the Lok Sabha, Maharashtra has more than 63,000 households dependent on manual scavenging, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and Karnataka.
Although there is no official recognition of the employment of manual scavengers, they are hired as “cleaners” in Maharashtra.
When the Delhi High court asked about the extent of manual scavenging in the capital, the Ministry of Railways told the court that it can’t be completely eradicated until stations get washable aprons and sealed toilet systems.
“While the (railway) ministry denies employing manual scavengers officially, the affidavits it has submitted in the court in the past nine years suggest that barring a few trains, the railways does not employ any technology to keep its 80,000 toilets and 115,000 kilometres of tracks clean,” according to Down To Earth magazine.
Indian Railways is believed to be one of the biggest employer of manual scavengers as they don’t have a proper system of disposing of excreta.
Looking into all the facts, it is right time that the government should turn its focus towards spending money to mechanise the processing of waste rather than using human beings.