When you drive past an open naala or sewer, it forces you to shut your windows and turn on your AC. Magnify this feeling by a hundred times and you will still not be close, because this is exactly the environment where the sewer workers work.
Despite the fact that manual scavenging has been officially abolished by law in our country as a dehumanizing practice, it is still considered a task which can only be performed by the Dalit community.
It was the need of the hour for someone to step in. The Enactus Chapter at Delhi’s Kalindi College took on this responsibility by starting Project Rehmat.
Enactus Kalindi, operative since 2017, has been actively coming up with sustainable projects. Our battle against manual scavenging was taken a notch higher by organizing campaigns under the name Sadda Haq and Stop Killing Us with Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) with an urge to the government to completely mechanise the process.
To truly understand the problem to the core, our team interacted with the people in the slums of Delhi and concluded that even after the establishment of Manual Scavenging Act of 1993 which bans this inhuman occupation, it is still being practiced. Even in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
The major problem we noticed was that more than 95% of existing manual scavengers are not provided with any kind of safety equipment and are forced to enter into deep manholes without any kind of protection.
This is where Project Rehmat came up with Kit Jeevan.
Kit Jeevan was introduced with the idea of providing basic safety equipment including gumboots, hand gloves, eye protection goggles, safety mask and a bodysuit at a nominal cost.
Project Rehmat aspires to create a nation free from manual scavenging. Since, it is difficult to convince the people to move out of this occupation, we ensure to provide them with alternative employment opportunity. During the training period, if they wish to work as manual scavengers under any emergency, they are provided the kit so as to ensure their safety.
The kit includes basic safety equipments like hand gloves, face mask, gumboots, eye protection goggles, soaps, etc. “Earlier people used to die while working in the sewer, Kit Jeevan has been a life saviour.” said Dilawar, 45, a private contractor in Rohini. Kit Jeevan is provided to the scavengers on a 3-month contractual basis which makes it mandatory for them to learn a new skill under our rehabilitation aspect. 37% of the total cost is charged from the scavengers as usage fee. The initial funding of the kits was done through pooling in money from the college.
Kit Jeevan has been able to impact the lives of manual scavengers through minimizing the risk of deaths.
When we asked Rakesh, a manual scavenger, how unhappy he is with his work, he said, “Madam, kisi aur ki gandagi saaf karke kisko achcha lagta hai?” (Who can be satisfied when you clean other people’s dirt for a living?)
The story of Rakesh and lakhs of others like him forced us to think of an alternative employment opportunity for them. Subsequently, we have been successfully able to rehabilitate 12 manual scavengers in the fields of labeling, packaging and compiling products.
Project Rehmat has a mission – a mission to completely rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide them with a life of dignity.
Earlier, these manual scavengers earned a mere income of Rs. 6000 per month by carrying on this inhuman and hazardous occupation which has officially been abolished by law as a dehumanizing practice. The intervention of Project Rehmat provided them with better living standards by providing them the training required to work into various manufacturing units. They have higher social standards and now earn Rs.10,500 per month.
“My wife now smiles more, my kids they go to their schools with more pride.” says Sia Ram, a manual scavenger, 32 years old. He further added, “Aap bhagwaan ban kar aaye hain humari zindagi mein.”
In areas in Delhi where Project Rehmat is active, the local administration has been working for the eradication of manual scavenging for decades now. They have been releasing different policies from time to time to cater to the needs of the scavenging community. One such policy is Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS).
We, under Project Rehmat also ensure to make the scavengers aware of these schemes so that they capitalise the benefit. By far, we have not been recognised by the local administration. Enactus Kalindi’s team would be only too keen to work with the administration on the issue concerned.
Being a female student body, we truly believe in the fact that there is no tool as effective for societal development as the empowerment of women.
Keeping in mind the various kind of socio-economic barriers the women of manual scavenger community face, Project Rehmat in collaboration with Etasha Society has also provided these women with the skill of soap-making, converting them into self-sustained entrepreneurs.
While Enactus Kalindi has been able to successfully identify 78 more manual scavengers, we wish to continue expanding our work on the rehabilitation of manual scavengers.