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.
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.
“My identity is of a Hindutva Wadi (one who follows Hindutva ideology), but I say build toilets before you build temples.”
These are the words of our Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But even after 6 years of his government, India is witnessing deaths due to manual scavenging. Recently, the central government launched an app called “Swachhata Abhiyan” developed to Identify and Geotag the data of Insanitary Latrines and Manual Scavengers. The government is also planning to procure machines like ‘Bandicoot’ for cleaning the manholes. But are these efforts really enough to systematically end the practice of manual scavenging?
It is worth noting that the government is keen to eliminate manual scavenging. But there are various loopholes in the policies they implement.
What we really need to push for is the ‘will’ of the local administration and the ‘finance’ needed for the large scale construction of sanitary latrines and for purchasing the scavenging machines which cost nearly 30 lakh Rs.
The government launched the ‘Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge‘ across 243 cities. “Under the campaign, sewers and septic tanks in 243 cities will be mechanized and a helpline created to register complaints if manual scavenging is reported. Cities which reach the end result will receive prize money,” The Wire reports. The government is planning to transfer the funds to buy the cleaning machines directly into the bank account of the sanitation workers.
As a result of this, the workers will own the machines and the concerned municipalities will use them when required, as per the report. Durga Shanker Mishra, Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary of India, announced that the terminologies related to the ‘manual scavenging’ would be changed, for e.g., the term man-hole will be replaced by ‘machine -hole’.
These measures are a mere band-aid on the inability of the seven years old law which is supposed to end manual scavenging and safeguard the rights of individuals while recognizing their right to life.
But the law has not done much on the ground as we see people entering the sewer without the protective gear and dying of asphyxia. According to the government, the existence of insanitary latrines is the main reason for manual scavenging.
The government which has failed to buy the protection gear for all the sanitation workers is now promising them a costly machine to clean the sewers.
This seems strange. Because had the government machinery implemented the 2013 law in letter and spirit, this step would not have been necessary. The government has failed in the full implementation of the law as even today people have died and violators are not punished.
It doesn’t end here. But municipal corporations play the blame game and pass the buck to the contractors for the deaths and the violation of the law and vis-a versa. Even if there are violations, how many contractors and government officials responsible for the sanitation department are behind bars? How many families of manual scavengers have received compensation for death? How many manual scavengers have been rehabilitated by the government as this is largely a hereditary occupation?
Just by changing the terminologies, buying machines for sewage cleaning and announcing populists campaigns, the condition on the ground is not going to change. Before opting for the machination of the cleaning process, the government should form a regulatory body which will be accountable to the Ministry of Housing as well as the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare. Training should be given to all the sanitation workers who would be operating the machines.
The focus should also be put on ensuring the immediate rehabilitation of those who are found scavenging manually. The government should ensure that if someone is found manually cleaning the insanitary latrines, legal action should not be taken on those who are cleaning but on those who are appointing them to clean the insanitary latrines.
The regulatory body should ensure that the municipal corporations are using the machines to clean the sewers and also giving adequate remuneration to the sanitation worker. The bureaucratic resistance should be checked out from time to time by the regulatory body because most of the municipal corporations use manual labour rather than using available technology to clean the sewer as they are available at a cheap rate.
Unless social conscience rises for the sanitation workers, unless the imbalance in education is reduced, unless there are alternatives and more employment opportunities available in the country, there will be suppression of Dalits by the privileged castes.
The sanitation workers are not demanding lavish lifestyles, big mansions and a mammoth salary. They just want the constitutional values to be implemented. They just demand a life with dignity where they are not isolated and are given respect by a society that has humiliated and suppressed them for centuries.
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!