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

Manual Scavenging: The Only Sector With An Unstated 100% Reservation For SCs

More from ginju mathew

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.

Yes, we are in 2021! Still waste management remains among the serious nuisance in society. Regardless of modernisation, waste management remains one of the most underpaid and menacing jobs in the country. There have been a number of cases of significant occupational morbidities that put sewer workers at a great deal of risk.

Manhole is a 2016 Indian Malayalam film directed by Vidhu Vincent that depicts the pathetic situation of a manual scavenger and his family. In the film, the sanitation worker had died during his work and his daughter was fighting a legal battle to get justice for all sanitation workers.

Many newspaper reports have shown that sanitation workers can die by inhaling hydrogen sulphide gas while cleaning drainage systems, sewage treatment plants or septic tanks. Apart from this, there are associated co-morbidities that have long-term effects. In the following paragraphs, I would like to refer to a few facts associated with the sanitation sector.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment stated that 110 deaths had occurred in 2019 while cleaning septic tanks and sewers. In 1993, the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was enacted with the stated objective of declaring the employment of manual scavenging an offence. Later, in 2013, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act was passed and intended to fill the existing loopholes in the previous Act. One significant improvement in the 2013 Act is its focus on reforming the working conditions of sewage workers. Then why is there an absence of safer technological/mechanised alternatives in the sanitation sector in many places?

There are around 30,000 sweepers employed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, all of whom are Dalits and have an average life expectancy of 45 years. Recently, the Indian government announced Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) Phase II with a prior focus on sustaining the Open Defecation Free status of many regions across the country. But the fact is that many people still practice open defecation and reject regular toilet use. This is because a majority of them believe that having toilets inside or near their houses is a source of pollution that can affect the purity of their house.

But the real dirt exists in the societal structure. India has many clean public spaces, like its streets, markets, hospitals, malls etc. But the nation is still sinking in the social issue of caste discrimination that sets apart a group who are forced with the responsibility of cleanliness for others.

The need of the hour is to end this hierarchical system and extend the responsibility of lower social groups from occasional supervision to periodic supervision, along with financial support. Many surveys show that the practice of removing human excreta manually persists in society even today. The Central government has implemented many plans to amend the 2013 Act and mechanise cleaning, but none of them addresses the issue of labour safety.

The impact of Covid-19 has only increased the workload of sanitation workers by serving in Covid-19 wards. Unlike other labour forces, sanitation workers do not have a separate rule book that carries guidelines for their work-related matters, including their safety.

When India imposed a lockdown to control the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, sanitation workers were at the forefront to maintain the hygiene services. A study conducted in June 2020 showed that 93% of all sanitation workers didn’t get access to personal protective equipment kits and training on how to stay safe from Covid-19 infection.

This points to a dark reality: even though Covid-19 created many disparities in society, the beliefs associated with the caste issue has aided these disparities. Along with their exposure to health risks, professionally, the sanitation workers are getting waived based on their caste status.

In India, most sanitation workers belong to the Dalit community and have been linked with the caste system since their birth. Wherever there was a shortage of sweepers and scavengers in urban areas, municipal authorities looked for Dalits from rural areas to meet the shortage. This bolstered caste oppression into a reserved occupation. This is the only sector with an unstated 100% reservation for those belonging to scheduled groups. Once a sanitation worker retires, the work will be passed on directly to their children and thus, to the whole generation.

Another issue is the contractualisation of sanitation work that not only lowers their wages but also offers them poor working conditions. No authority from the local self-government has taken responsibility for this.

The Social and Behavioural Change Communication (SBCC) activities by Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) should address the caste-based practice of manual scavenging. Can India claim to be a nation with a self-cleaning system? How can safer technology be designed to replace manual work? Could it be that the Central government is neglecting the real crisis by promoting the positive facet of SBM?

An IndiaSpend report pointed out that only one in four people in households with toilets actually use them. If the SBM refuses to take cognisance of these inequalities and incorporate measures to address them, then effectively, it cannot accomplish the goals that it has set for itself. There are many who lead an unhygienic life in the eyes of others, but they are working ultimately to make society cleaner. It is time to demolish certain activities that have been going around in the name of swachhata (cleanliness), which is boosting caste discrimination.

About the author: Ginju Elsa Mathew is a young professional at UNICEF, Chennai.

You must be to comment.

More from ginju mathew

Similar Posts

By Prityush Sharma

By Parveen

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, 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