This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

By The Age Of 10, I Was A Manual Scavenger. This Is My Story

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

WaterAidEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #InDeepShit, by WaterAid India and Youth Ki Awaaz to understand the reality behind the inhumane practise of manual scavenging in India. You can speak up against this form of discrimination and share your views by publishing a story here.

As told to Abhishek Jha:

“My name is Lalibai and I didn’t burn my neighbour’s house.”

My name is Lalibai and I didn’t burn my neighbour’s house. I don’t know who did it. Perhaps, those who came to burn my house. Yet I was accused of burning the neighbour’s house and his livestock.

I know why they want me dead. For 15 years I cleaned their excrement with my bare hands, kneeled before them for payment, and begged for food. I accepted their orders.

When I challenged this power, I knew they would retaliate. If they had their way, I would still be a manual scavenger. The government may have made a law against manual scavenging, but it doesn’t care. They still hold the cards.

But I refused to bow down. I quit manual scavenging in 2002. I refuse to do this filthy work and have vowed to not let anybody else do this demeaning work either. I am 40 now but I have new dreams. This is my story.


I was born in a Dalit family in Teela, a small village in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan. The practice of manual scavenging didn’t exist in my village but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any discrimination. My brother was beaten to death by his teacher for using a glass to drink water. After that my three siblings and I were too scared to go to that school. My parents were too poor to send us to any other. We remained illiterate.

One mouth too many to feed, and as custom demanded, I was married off when I was around eight to a stranger in Dhariyakhedi, Madhya Pradesh. By the age of 10, I was a manual scavenger several hundred kilometres away from home.

Between me and 10 others, we cleaned dry toilets in the homes of upper-caste people of the entire village. I cleaned 15 toilets on an average each day. It was a hereditary occupation.

We barely got a chapati to eat in a day. My family of 25 was perpetually hungry. We were not allowed inside temples. If we had to go out, we had to wear a veil. They didn’t even let us wear slippers! This profession, if one can call it that, brought its own shame. Not just for me, but also for my children. When my children’s classmates would see me coming, they would tell my kids, “Look, there goes your mother with a basket of faeces on her head.” They would hurl casteist abuses at them. They always sat at the very back in class.

Sometime in 2002, all this changed. Ashif Shaikh, an activist, visited us from Dewas and told us to give up manual scavenging. We were reluctant at first. It was a matter of livelihood after all. What would we eat? Nobody would give us any other work, we feared. The Thakurs would probably not even allow us to live in the village.

Over the course of 2002, we met Ashif sir again. We told him about the discrimination we faced. After a couple of such conversations, we decided to give up manual scavenging. The repercussions followed soon. We were told we couldn’t live in the village anymore. “Why won’t you let us live in the village?” we asked them. “We don’t want to do this work and we will not,” we told them.

Gradually, perhaps because of Ashif’s visits or fear amongst upper castes of legal action, we started getting work in the village. We may only work in farms and earn about Rs. 150 for a day’s work, but we get work in our village. However, it took more than staunch determination. No one was willing to give us work in the village. So we started travelling to a place that was 12-20 kilometres away from our village to work as daily wagers and farm-hands. In 2006, they tried to burn down our house by pouring kerosene around it while we were asleep. Fortunately, our house was saved but my neighbour’s got burnt in the process. They told the police that I had gone mad and burnt the neighbour’s house. That case is still in court.

After securing work, my women friends and I – 11 of us – decided to organise ourselves. We formed a group called Garima Shakti Sangathan and visited nearby villages. We spoke to the women in these villages and made them give up manual scavenging. So far, we have freed 165 women in Mandsaur from the clutches of this demeaning work.

“Organising ourselves has empowered us and given teeth to our fight.”

Organising ourselves has empowered us and has given teeth to our fight. We now feel capable of fighting for our rights on our own. If somebody is beaten up, we go to the police station without fear. We know our rights. If somebody wants to demand something from the panchayat, we call all Dalit women and then go the panchayat.

I can only write my name but if we need to write applications for a ration card or to the collector, we ask the educated women among us for help. They draft the application, all of us sign it and we give it to authorities.

This new life – that of an activist – has changed some things already. Unlike my children, children from our community now sit in the front row in the classroom if they so desire. We eat better. When we quit manual scavenging, they used to taunt us. “Where are you going? Who will do our work?”, they would ask. Now we tell them off without hesitation. Either build a sanitary toilet or your women can go outside, to the jungle, we tell them. It’s is not our concern anymore, we have made it clear to them. This is possible now because we don’t depend on them. “Earlier we had to beg you for bread. Now we don’t need to ask for even a crumb from you,” we say.

We have settled village disputes, but our daily struggles continue. I have gathered strength from fellow women of my organisation to continue fighting. They respect me for the work I do. When I think of the future, I hope nobody in my family has to ever do the work I was forced to do. I wish that they all find employment at a good place and make us proud. I wish that they are respected in life. This is my dream.

The practice of manual scavenging is illegal as per the Constitution of India, with specific Acts passed such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955, The Employment of Manual Scavenging and the Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993 and The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013. And that’s not all. Read more here.

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By pratyush prashant

By Srishti Sharma

By Prashant Kumar Dubey

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below