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7 Decades And This Generational Cycle Of Oppression Continues To Live On

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This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

I clean toilets in 20 houses every day. I use a tin plate and broom to remove the excrement that has collected in the toilet, I collect the excrement in a basket, and then I take it and throw it away. This work is so awful I do not feel like eating.Manisha, Manipuri district, Uttar Pradesh, January 2014[1]

Manual scavenging is the worst surviving symbol of untouchability. —National Advisory Council resolution, October 23, 2010.

We have often heard/read news on media, we come across various topics, but do we ever try to talk about what remains a deep-rooted issue? Why is the ultimate cause? Where, as a nation, are we lacking? Where is implementation lacking or what is the solution? Well, the nation also demands to know is how we can change the current narrative going in the country to stop this generational cycle of social oppression between caste, class, gender etc.

Dear fellow young Indians, there is not much sensitisation about such social issues which leaves so many of us normalizing what is not normal.

Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers. The practice is driven by caste, class and income divides.” The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act in 2013 put a ban on the practice including any manual cleaning, carrying, disposing, or handling of human waste.

But according to a national survey conducted in 18 States, a total of 48,345 manual scavengers have been identified till January 31, 2020. As per data collected in 2018, 29,923 people are engaged in manual scavenging in Uttar Pradesh, making it the highest in any State in India.

74 years of independence and still, as a nation, we have failed to break the generational cycle of oppression and maltreatment and most importantly we as Indians collectively have failed to realise what sensitivity and dignity is.

Every citizen of India has the right to live with dignity this is an integral part of the fundamental rights which is guaranteed to every citizen under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The constitution under every circumstance prohibits the inhumane practice of manual scavenging.

Wait, there is more to it. A young change maker in his years of civil society service shared a fact that “A few years back, the government introduced schemes where they had increased the salary of the sanitation workers, so people regardless of caste, applied for the job. After the appointment, people belonging to the ‘ upper caste’  put a Dalit in their place to do the task, making the upper class earn a big of money without doing anything and the Dalit earning something to fulfil his family needs.” This was Divyanshu Chaturvedi young activist from a civil society organisation ‘DEHAT’.

He says “Only sensitisation, better policies, implementation and our role can bring a change.”

The 2021 Goal

India has struggled to enforce laws banning this unsafe practice. Under the new measures, sewer and septic tank cleaning will be mechanized, with funds directly transferred to sanitation workers to buy cleaning machines. Under the campaign, sewers, and septic tanks in 243 cities will be mechanized and a helpline will be created to register complaints if manual scavenging is reported. Cities which reach the result will receive prize money.

Meanwhile, the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry said that it would directly transfer funds to ‘sanitation workers’ to buy cleaning machines, instead of contractors or municipal corporations.

“We want the workers to own these machines so that these can be used by the municipalities when there is a requirement,said R Subrahmanyam, the secretary of the ministry.

Representational image.

The Question Here Is About Implementation!

We humans talk about evolution, but does evolution happen only for the privileged? Watching Scoopwhoop’s video made me question whether we are developing as a society or only a certain section of society keeps on developing day by day and the gap and accessibility of resources increases.

Talking to a karamchari (worker) makes me realise the horrific condition in my own city. There is no denying the fact that manual scavenging still exists, the machines provided by the government are hardly used by the middleman i.e., the supervisor.

Many times, the workers must buy their own broomsticks and buckets because they are not being provided with any to do their job.

The sanitation workers say that most of the time the person who goes inside to clean the pothole is not even provided with basic facilities. It was mentioned that at least hygiene products such as soap or savlon or proper rope system could be provided but I think people forget “with power comes great responsibilities.”

I questioned a worker if they are aware that this practice is prohibited. I must say that I was not shocked when I came to know that the sanitation worker was not aware of this. Most of them do this to fill their stomachs. The worker also shared there are many others who are not even timely paid. The worker had hope that the government sends all the stuff but it is the middleman who mismanages!

Recently the Karnataka high court quoted, “We have found that there is hardly any implementation of the provisions of the Manual Scavengers Act and the Rules in the State of Karnataka. Therefore, this is a case where continuous monitoring will be necessary and the power of issuing continuing mandamus will have to be exercised.

The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry said that it would directly transfer funds to ‘sanitation workers’ to buy cleaning machines, instead of contractors or municipal corporations.

My question here is who is going to take accountability for all this? Who is responsible? Who is responsible for if a death occurs or a sanitation worker is infected with some disease? It will all go unnoticed because no concrete data is maintained. We are all busy in the glories of our own joys and privileges.

Dear fellow human beings and institutions,

It is high time we start caring and start sensitising the society about such issues.

Every life is important and most importantly, it is also our responsibility as humans, as institutions to help the ones who need it the most right now. So that they feel dignified, they feel at par with others, they get their basic constitutional rights. Let’s recognize our privilege, make use of it and taking responsibility for our own actions. As far as the government is concerned, a change must take place to reduce this gap of inequality, they must make sure that policies are not limited to paper and become the ground reality too. All this so that the deprived sections come forward and use their rights and to live a life that they too deserve.


Another fellow human.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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