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

Manual Scavengers: Robots, Red Tapism And Hypocrisy

More from Nishtha Gupta

Manual Scavenging refers to the inhumane practice of cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. The term is almost always used in the Indian context because it’s a practice that has been in place for some time now. It is so common in the country, especially in tier II cities or lower, that one can hardly tell if it’s abolished!

Manual scavenging has been abolished in India, and The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, made employing a manual scavenger a cognizable offense with imprisonment and fine. Even though manual scavenging resonates with issues like casteism, since most people engaging in it belong to the SC communities, it never became a hot political issue. The numbers are grossly underestimated and the grievance redressal mechanism is wrapped in red tape. Well, this completes the loop of misfortune for the poor folks, who are then left with no option but to go back to where they were promised to be saved from.

Image result for indian government expenditure on manual scavengers

Why is even a single worker allowed to go into a manhole and risk it all? The answers are straight and simple. Firstly, India needs to set its scientific priorities straight. Even a layman would choose sewage cleaning technology over a space expedition to any planet. The government’s expenditure is also haywire. Recently, millions were spent on construction of an extremely tall statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. I’m pretty sure the Iron Man of India won’t be happy to see this money being snatched from poor people who are being forced to clean dry toilets and sewers with the most primitive tools.

Bezwada Wilson, a winner of the Magsaysay Award and head of the Safai Karamchari Andolan, told the Times of India recently, that over 200 workers died in drains in 2017 and 2018. “We must mechanise sewage cleaning. Our sewer systems vary from one city to another. Some are over 150 years old.”

The technology and machinery for the purpose have been in place for years, with moderate costs that make them affordable by most governments. However, when the political will is lacking, there is only so much that can be done. The talks of mechanisation of sewage cleaning and random startups with fancy names came up in the past months because this harmful practice claimed another set of innocent lives.

Secondly, the red-tapism inherent in grievance redressal mechanisms and ignorance of the government results in almost every disadvantaged person to be excluded from beneficial schemes. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, made the states responsible for identifying and rehabilitating manual scavengers by providing them training, giving assistance, loans and even houses. It is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the panchayat or the municipal corporation to find the manual scavengers in the locality and give them identity cards and benefits as mentioned under the law after mandatory verification.

So far, only 13 states have been able to identify 12,742 manual scavengers. This comes to around 7% of the 2011 social economic census figure. There are 22 states where not a single person has self-declared to be a manual scavenger, according to data, from the ministry of social justice and empowerment. State governments allegedly indulge in trampling data in order to avoid charges under contempt of court.

Last, but not least, is the hypocrisy of the government evident from the policies like Swachha Bharat Abhiyan. Dry latrines are primitive forms of toilets which require the excreta to be disposed of manually. Their existence is linked to manual scavenging in that area. It is the responsibility of the local authority to identify dry latrines in the area and demolish and convert them into sanitary latrines, as per the 2013 Act.

However, when the government declared that it had spent crores in constructing new toilets, not even a miniscule amount was spared to convert the dry toilets into sanitary ones. Yet, again too much is left for States to decide and matters are allowed to go sideways. Hypocrisy also exists in the empty rhetoric of being pro SC/ST. The truth is manual scavenging is never seen as discriminatory caste practice. The people subjected to this inhumane practice are indeed the ones belonging to the lowest of the ‘lowest ranks’ in society. Even the more politically active groups belonging to SC/ST communities seem to ignore their plight.

The plight of these helpless people is not new, but one that’s rarely noticed. This year in January, a poor worker was killed cleaning a drain in Delhi because the contractor had not provided him with safety gear. The workers had to clean out the muck with their bare hands. After one of them died, the police registered a case of manslaughter against the contractor.

In March itself,  a daily-wage worker died when he slipped into a manhole when he was asked by authorities of a school to clean out the drain without being provided with any safety equipment. It is shocking indeed that it happened in a school that is supposed to teach children about such practices as social evils and that they must be discouraged at all times.

Here, we suddenly have all the media giving opinions about the situation, because recently a fresh set of lives was claimed by this age-old primitive and backward practice of manual scavenging. I do not know what it will take for those in power to realise that it is the desperation of the poor and the ignorance of the accountable that feed this practice.

In the end, we can conclude by saying that the reason why robots managed to remain absent while red-tapism and hypocrisy prevailed is that the society couldn’t care less and the government could never bother to be politically invested in the cause of underrepresented and disadvantaged.

You must be to comment.

More from Nishtha Gupta

Similar Posts

By Mubashir Naik

By Rigya

By Rafia khan

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        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, 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.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below