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Manual Scavenging: An Overbearing Run of Ruthless Atrocities

Pratiksha Priyadarsini, Student, New Law College, BVDU, Pune

"I may not be born again, but if it happens, I will like to be born into a family of scavengers, so that I may relieve them of the inhuman, unhealthy, and hateful practise of carrying night soil." - Mahatma Gandhi

Introduction

Democracy of India and rapid market-driven economic development, the magnificence of law and the potency of the nation has still not been able to quench the unfortunate dishonourable inheritance of centuries – a dehumanizing and inhumane practice called 'Manual Scavenging'. It is an obnoxious job of cleaning and disposing of human excreta manually from dry latrines and sewers, and the people who do this job are called 'Manual Scavengers'. These manual scavengers are considered as modern era's untouchables. It is a caste-based occupation which is typically done by low caste people – the Dalits. The provisions of the Indian Constitution like Article 17, which abolishes the practice of untouchability and Article 21 with gives the right to live with human dignity, unfortunately, fails to give a lease of new life to them. They are still mired by the scums of society like social discrimination and exclusion. Men, women and even children get entrapped in this disgusting occupation by dint of the fact that they are born into a low-caste family. This abominable task is passed on from their predecessors like a family heirloom. Only, in this case, it is not an object of affection but an overbearing compulsion. Ages of social and economic deprivation have closed all the doors for opportunities for them. The individuals who attempt to challenge the circumstance are compensated with social exclusion, social shunning and in uncommon yet not unfathomable cases of physical thrashing and coercion to return to work. They are introduced into such loathed and mortifying occupation of evacuating human excreta from an individual or community dry toilets with their bare hands, brushes or metal scrubbers in wicker baskets or buckets. These manual scavengers then carry these human excretory waste products on their heads, shoulders and against their hips into dumping locales or water bodies. The scavenger slithers into the compartment of dry latrines and voids out the repository, a procedure wherein foulness may plunder their garments and smear their bodies. They get affected by severe respiratory and other health problems.

Similarly, others are employed to clean, clear and dispose of human excreta from sewers, drains, septic tanks and railroad tracks. What is agonizing is that a nation with more than a billion of the populace and with several laws and welfare schemes, a sect of the populace is compelled even today to take part in such an obnoxious job of Manual Scavenging, notwithstanding legal prohibitions. Ironically, where all the attention was drawn towards sanitation of the nation, least attention was paid to the health and dignity of the sanitation workers who clean the drains and dry latrines. The essential issue out of all of these is to 'recover the human dignity' of people entrapped in Manual Scavenging – a fundamental human right and a right that is guaranteed under Preamble and Fundamental Rights of Indian Constitution. This menace could only be curbed with proper implementation of laws.


Manual Scavenging: A Brief Analysis

It is impossible to say about the exact no. of manual scavenger in the whole nation. There is no official information that is accessible on this issue, and even if it is there, one negates the another. As per a report in The Indian Express, in 2018, the inter-ministerial team represented on an astounding number of 53,000 manual scavengers in India. It was four times greater than the last overview that was directed in 2017. Besides, this number records just for 121 regions out of 600 or more regions in the nation[1]. There is no clearness in the eyes of the government with regards to what establishes to being viewed as manual scavengers. Ironically, lawmakers are the greatest violators of the law. For example, in the case of September 2018, a manual scavenger employed by Delhi government died while clearing and disposing of the deep sewer. Not just a few days passed to this case, five more death cases of these scavengers were reported, and they too were employed by the same Delhi government. Furthermore, what is more shocking is that none of these labourers was provided with any protective or any defensive equipment. Another case is of Indian Railways, where it dumps human excretory products legitimately on railroad tracks each day and employs manual scavengers to clean those tracks. Only by burrowing through the layers of manual scavenging in India, one can understand the social marks of shame attached to it. Like many other problems, this too has an enormous casteist point to itself. Again, in a report by The International Dalit Solidarity Network guarantees that 99 per cent of those associated with manual scavenging are Dalits. Out of that 99 per cent, 95 per cent of them are women[2]. This occupation is very similar to 'forced labour' or even it can be named as 'modern-day slavery' since these scavengers seldom get an opportunity to change their profession and opt for some other. Furthermore, all doors of opportunities are closed for them.

Health Hazards and Other Problems

Without even an iota of doubt, it can be accepted that the work of manual scavenging is disparaging, despicable and dehumanizing. Apart from the inhumane working culture and social discrimination, the workers also face various health hazard issues. The foul odour that comes out while cleaning or disposing of human excretory products from dry toilets is not utterly intolerable but also toxic. Workers are debunked to harmful gases like hydrides of sulfur and nitrogen and oxides of carbon and many other gases which is pernicious to their health. They also suffer from skin related problems.

And what is more contemptuous is that seldom do they get any protective or defensive equipment. They use their bare hands or a scoop to clear the waste and carry the heap on their head or shoulder in tin or wicker baskets. In the rainstorm, water permeates through the feed and the leaks in the wicker baskets shower excreta on their faces, heads, shoulder and even on other body parts. The human excretory product carries various types of harmful microorganisms like Hepatitis A, pinworms, Rotavirus, and E. coli causing the labourers to expose to various kind of health diseases like cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, tuberculosis, and a large group of other illnesses[3]. Exclusive of antagonistic working conditions, the wages paid to them for a living is also very less. The pay scale ranges from Rs 40 to Rs 100 for clearing or disposing of about 50 dry toilets. The meagre amount they get out of doing this disgusting job deprives them of taking care of themselves and their family. There is no fixed pay for these sanitation workers. Supplementary to that, if any scavenger dies during work, no monetary compensation is paid to the members of his/her family.

The misery of manual scavengers is just not restricted to their personal life. It deliberately interferes in the life of their children and other members of the family, too. Children of manual scavengers face grave discrimination in society. They are usually ill-treated and taunted by their teacher and classmates. It results in high drop-out rates of children of this community. The women who are engaged in this work often face the problem of sexual harassment. Their plight does not end here. The saga continues in every sphere of their life, be it social, economic or political.


Legal Frameworks

The legal provisions under the Indian Constitution guarantee various rights to its citizens as well as non-citizens of the country. However, this smudged and inhumane job of manual scavenging, which is practised widely in the country robs away most of the fundamental rights from them, including their basic human rights. Article 14 - Right to Equality; Article 17 - Abolition of Untouchability; Article 21- Protection of life and personal liberty; Article 42 - Just and humane conditions of work, and Article 46 - Promotion of educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and weaker sections; of the Constitution of India, mostly gets violated while dealing with this issue. To protect the rights of these workers, several legal provisions have been made and amended. They are as follows:

· The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955: At the beginning, the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955, had been passed to abolish the practice of untouchability against the Scheduled Castes. Later, in 1977 it got amended with the name of The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 which made the practice of untouchability cognizable and non-compoundable offence and stringent punishment was provided for non-adherence of the law[4].

· The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989: It was enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Stringent punishment was provided to the offenders of the law[5].

· The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act,1993: It was enacted to check and evaluate the implementation of various schemes for the sanitation workers and addresses to their grievances[6].

· The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 (MS ACT,1993): It prohibits the employment of manual scavengers and construction or continuance of dry latrines. This act made it a punishable offence with fines and imprisonment[7].

· The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act,2013: This act goes beyond prohibiting employment of manual scavenging and construction of dry latrines as provisioned under MS Act,1993 and outlaws all manual cleaning of human excretory products from insanitary latrines, drains or pits. Besides, it provides rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families.

Recommendations

Despite all these laws, enactments and welfare schemes established, complete eradication of this humiliating occupation of manual scavenging and refurbishing the manual scavengers to a life of dignity is still a big challenge. However, it cannot be eradicated instantly if proper steps are taken; it can be minimized to a greater extent. Providing a few recommendations here which might help in curbing the menace:


· The intervention of technology will help to a great extent to curb the issue. Cleaning of sewers and septic tanks and disposing of human excretory products with the use of the technology is the most viable solution for the problem. For instance, in Kerala, robots are designed to clean sewers and septic tanks.


· It is researched and investigated that anaerobic bacteria can be exploited for the treatment of human excreta. More funding should be done on such research projects.


· Workers should be provided with protective equipment and safety gears. They should be trained well enough to use and handle them.


· Stringent punishments should be given to the employer and the institution who do not abide by the provisions under The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and other related laws.


· For better management of waste disposal at the domestic level, the public should be sensitized about the adversities these worker's face. This might help in lessening their burden.


· New employment and education opportunities and other rehabilitation schemes should be opened for the families liberated from the occupation of manual scavenging.


· Different job sectors are it public or private should always keep their door open for these workers who wish to stop manual scavenging job and get into some other better profession. Participation of women should be encouraged.


· If any worker gets injured or die during employment or any such mishap happen due to the negligence of the employer, neither any compensation is paid to the worker, nor his/her family nor the employers get convicted or punished for such crimes. Such crimes are often relegated to secondary status and are treated as accidents. It is crucial to sensitize authorities about the provisions under the MS Act, 2013 so that the worker gets proper compensation and justice. In March 2014, the Supreme Court passed a judgement declaring a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of the aggrieved who lost their lives due to disobedience of law.

Conclusion

After having loomed over the sensitive issue of manual scavenging; the significance of the discussion of this topic is crystal clear. History is evident in the absolute truth of how casteism has been a deteriorating factor in both the pre-independence and post-independence period. The practise of manual scavenging is a caste-based occupation in which 99 per cent of the cases, it is done by the lower caste people – the Dalits. The manual scavengers are gravely discriminated and socially excluded from mainstream society. The brutality of the discrimination is far more extensive and more profound than what has been shrouded in this article. It is a big hurdle in the path of socio-economic development of the nation. In defiance of several legal provisions, enactments and welfare schemes for guaranteeing a fair and casteless society and to curb the menace of manual scavenging, the condition of these people has remained the same miserable. It is indispensable to have standardized discussions and conversations on and around the issue to draw the minds of the legislative and executive bodies and then afterwards progress in the direction of executing laws that aim to eradicate and boycott manual scavenging. In the wake of this modern nation's financial and social advancement, it is presently relevant that manual scavengers are freed from this belittling, toxic and dehumanizing occupation and are provided with rehabilitation. A nation cannot grow and breakthrough social stigma unless we bring the unheard and the unseen to the front line.

[1] 53,000 manual scavengers in 12 states, four-fold rise from last official count, The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/53000-manual-scavengers-in-12-states-four-fold-rise-from-last-official-count-5218032/, last seen on 18/05/2020 [2] Manual Scavenging, International Dalit Solidarity Network, https://idsn.org/key-issues/manual-scavenging/, last seen on 18/05/2020 [3] Swagata, Manual Scavenging in India, Terra Green(6/01/2019), available at http://terragreen.teriin.org/terragreen/TGJan19/TG_CoverStory/files/downloads/TG%20January_2019_Cover_Story_LS.pdf last seen on 18/05/2020 [4] The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, Legislative Department, http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1955-22_1.pdf, last seen on 18/05/2020 [5] The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, Legislative Department, http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1989-33_2.pdf, last seen on 18/05/2020 [6] The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act,1993, Legislative Department, http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1993-64_0.pdf, last seen on 18/05/2020 [7] The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act,2013, Legislative Department, http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1993-46_0.pdf, last seen on 18/05/2020

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