A social evil we have failed to address- Manual Scavenging
Recently, a question was raised in the Rajya Sabha about the number of deaths due to manual scavenging. The data received says that a total of 282 people have died due to the cleaning of sewers and septic tanks. These deaths have taken place in the period between 2016 and 2019.
Among states, Tamil Nadu has recorded the highest number of deaths- 41. Haryana has recorded 31 deaths, Gujarat and Delhi have both recorded 30 deaths. 27 people have died in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh each.
The data also states that the maximum number of deaths have taken place in 2017 and 2019 (till November) – 83. 66 deaths in 2018 and 50 deaths in 2016.
What is Manual Scavenging?
Manual Scavenging as the name suggests is a work performed by people who manually remove untreated human excreta from tanks, sewers or pits. They use their bare hands and most of the times, they have to crawl into the tanks to remove the excreta with no safety equipment whatsoever.
It is usually seen as a caste-based profession performed by people belonging to the lower rungs and involves more women.
What are the legal provisions about this in India?
“Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013″ (MS Act, 2013). This act prohibits the construction of insanitary latrines, employing anyone as a manual scavenger and also discharges anyone employed as a scavenger.
It also provides that an unsanitary latrine is converted to a sanitary one. The act has also laid down rules about rehabilitating the manual scavengers and providing them with skills so that they can be employed in any alternative jobs.
What is the current status?
According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, currently, a total of 14812 people are still employed as manual scavengers. The maximum number of people are employed in the state of Uttar Pradesh- a shocking of 12402!
Check state wise click here
What is the issue?
Even though the act came into force in 2013, such a huge number of people have not been provided with alternative forms of livelihood and continue to work under highly unsanitary conditions. The act of manual scavenging is not only dehumanizing but a very unsafe one in terms of health. Contact with human urine without protection can lead to diseases like Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, E. Coli, etc. Toxic and poisonous gases that one breathes in the tanks have also led to a lot of deaths.
What also needs to be addressed is the social stigma that these workers face, they are often seen as polluted and untouchables and are treated horribly. The men and women who are usually employed in such places, continue to work even though the risk is high because they have no other livelihood option and for them, the merged amount of money they get is what their family survives on. The presence of a law is never enough until and unless it is followed through with full vigor and the government takes strict actions. There also needs to be a focus on making the sewers and waste disposal system of the country in such a way that there is a safe way to get rid of the waste by using machines and not humans.
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