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Will Manual Scavengers Be Liberated And Rehabilitated? [Part-3]

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By Dr. Amrit Patel:

Part 3 of a three part series on liberation of manual scavengers.

Disputed Numbers: Despite the country has the “Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993” there are reports that about 13 lakh manual scavengers are still being engaged in this occupation in the country whereas the States have reported existence of 1.16 lakh manual scavengers. And only about 80,000 scavengers were identified as eligible to the benefits under the Central scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Though the Karnataka State has banned manual scavenging in 1970 the NHRC reports still 8000 persons have been in this occupation. According to figures released by the Government in 2011, there were 1,18,474 manual scavengers or their dependents identified under the Self-employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of manual scavengers [SRMS] launched in 2007. The 2011 decennial census reveals that over 26 lakh households still have insanitary latrines which are serviced by manual scavengers. Every day 1.3 million people in India (comprising more than 80% Dalit women) are forced to clean human excrement, a practice called manual scavenging. Recently, the Union Government has announced at a review meeting with senior government officials on eradication of manual scavenging to undertake a survey of the number of manual scavengers in the country with a view to understanding the extent of the problem and efficiently solving it by facilitating them to avail benefits of various schemes meant for them.

Action Plan: The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill, proposed to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament is once again a renewed attempt of the year 1993 to prevent employment of people in the cleaning, handling or carrying of human excreta. In order to remove any kind of doubt about the political will, Governments’ concern and commitment and law enforcing authority’s ability, transparency and accountability to end this dehumanizing activity once and for all Action Plan must be formulated which include, inter alia, [i] It is necessary to identify manual scavengers and dry latrines jointly by designated teams of Government officials and community members so that the Governments cannot deny the fact which often is the case [ii] Technological changes that can render the occupation humane, dignified and safe avoiding any direct human contact with excreta are prerequisites to liberate manual scavengers [iii] The new law should make the village panchayat and urban local body as well as the district magistrate of the district concerned responsible to ensure that no household constructs or maintains an insanitary latrine or employs a manual scavenger [iv]The poor sanitation in rural India where dry latrines remain in use must be improved to eliminate manual scavenging. In the absence of networked sewerage facilities, even urban local bodies engage workers to manually clean septic tanks. Manual scavenging can, therefore, be eliminated by significantly improving overall sanitation in the countryside [v]In case scavengers are employees of municipalities, Government, semi-Government or private companies the law should specifically provide for a clause/section “no termination from the jobs but should be confirmed in regular employment in a task not at all connected with scavenging”[vi] Government programs for promotion of flush latrines in place of dry latrines; livelihood rehabilitation including health of freed manual scavengers; and education of their children can effectively be implemented by local bodies and NGOs in which case administrative officials and elected representatives should be made accountable for targeted outcomes.

Their children of existing and freed scavengers should be guaranteed government-funded free school education right up to college or vocational training to transfer technical skills necessary to seek employment[vii]Manual scavengers must be empowered to fight collectively to change this centuries-old practice [viii] Legislators must demonstrate their political will to pass the new Bill assigning top priority during the ensuing monsoon session and the Government must show concern and commitment to make it a law within three months and direct all concerned authorities to enforce without delay [ix] Panchyats at village level and local bodies at urban centers must identify manual scavengers and put in place a Development Action Plan to liberate and rehabilitate all manual scavengers during the Twelfth Five Year Plan [x] At Block level, monitoring committee chaired by the Block Development Officer should review the performance village & urban center-wise every month [xi]At district level monitoring committee chaired by the District Magistrate/Collector must review the performance Block-wise quarterly.

District Magistrate must be accountable to ensure that targeted numbers are genuinely liberated and rehabilitated [xii] At State level the monitoring committee chaired by the Chief Minister should review the performance district-wise half-yearly [xiii] At national level the committee chaired by the Home Minister should review the performance annually and present in the parliament.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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