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

9 Kinds Of Work Missing From The Definition Of Manual Scavengers

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.

The definition of a manual scavenger is too narrow to include millions of these above-listed sanitation workers in the government’s database.

“Poop” – A morning routine for one and all but the occupation of some unfortunates. Imagine someone involved in working with human fecal matter every day of their life, an occupation they didn’t even choose for themselves. The occupation imposed upon them by the caste stigma and most probably will be imposed upon their children too. These socially banished groups of people are generally termed as ‘manual scavengers’.

Efforts are being made by the government to improve sanitation but it seems the government is much focused on infrastructure development and has turned a blind eye towards the plight of millions of sanitation workers in the country.

Representational image.

The definition of manual scavenging in legal corrective actions in India is too narrow.

Due to the untiring efforts of organizations like Safai Karmachari Andolan and other ally activists, the government introduced laws like ‘The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act,1993’ and ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’.

The 2013 act defines Manual Scavenging as “A person engaged or employed by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner human excreta in an insanitary latrine or an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government or State government may notify before the excreta fully decomposes in such a manner as may be prescribed..’.

But this act fails to expand the scope of manual scavenging and makes it confined to one homogenous category of work. A study conducted by Dalberg Advisors found that of the 5 million people employed as sanitation workers, there are nine different types of work under the umbrella of sanitation workers. The nine categories listed in the study called The Sanitation Workers Project are as follows:-

  1. Sewer Cleaning: It includes the work of unblocking and cleaning sewer and wastewater drains. The people are employed on a contractual basis in urban and semi-urban areas to address complaint-based cloggings and seasonal preventive maintenance.
  2. Public and Community Toilets: The scope of work includes maintaining public/community toilets which are mostly unsanitary daily. These toilets are mostly located in slums and public convenience centres which include both rural and urban community toilets.
  3. Domestic work: The scope of work includes cleaning toilets in middle-high income households/institutions, encountering insanitary conditions at times. The location of such toilets is in urban areas.
  4. Railway Stations: The scope of work includes cleaning faecal matter from the railway tracks and platforms, railway toilets, and platform toilets several times a day across the rail network and railway stations.
  5. Unsanitary latrines: The scope of work includes emptying of dry/single-pit latrines primarily in rural areas and also daily collection and transport/emptying of faecal matter in rural areas.
  6. Sewage Treatment Plants: It includes maintaining and operating sewage and faecal sludge treatment plants daily in approximately 527 STPs/FSTPs across India.
  7. Septic Tanks: The scope of work includes emptying, collecting, and transport human waste from septic tanks on an on-demand basis. The de-sludging frequency varies greatly ranging from 6 months to 10 and even 15 years in some cases. These septic tanks are mostly located in unplanned urban localities.
  8. School Toilets: The scope of work includes operating and maintaining school toilets in rural as well as urban areas daily.
  9. Sweeping and Drain Cleaning: This includes cleaning open drains and road sweeping, often encountering faecal matter due to open defecation and insanitary latrines connected to drains. These are mostly in urban areas where drains run alongside roads.

The definition of a manual scavenger is too narrow to include millions of these above-listed sanitation workers in the government’s database. This is the reason for their exclusion from the corrective action schemes. Acknowledgement is the first step towards change and hence the government should first acknowledge the existing problems. The government must work with the stakeholders to frame effective policies for the betterment of manual scavengers. 

It is a matter of shame for us that even after seven decades of independence, our people are forced to live and work in such inhumane conditions and it won’t be wrong to say that we as a society have collectively failed them. Any human of sound mind can be moved by seeing such pathetic conditions of most vulnerable people but the fact that no one is batting an eye towards them hints that India is a nation with dead conscience.

This post is part of theJaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writers' Training Program, 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 and apply.

You must be to comment.

More from Mitesh Solanki

Similar Posts

By Parveen

By ginju mathew

By Imran Khan

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