India has always had a prejudice against the lower-class community. While the upper class has been creating an illusion of a developed and harmonious nation, these people are subjected to the most inhuman and barbaric work of manual scavenging. Manual scavenging is the utmost violation of human rights. It is the degrading practice of manually removing and cleaning excrement from private and public dry toilets by hand. Hundreds of sanitation workers have lost their lives in these septic tanks and sewers.
Many marginalized communities in India have been a victim of this caste-based occupation, and have always been exploited by this bigoted and elitist society. No Nation can prosper if they belittle their own people and force them to do derogatory tasks for less than minimum wage. Even now in 2020, where we claim to have a progressive society, a huge part of the population is not only socially excluded but they are a victim of untouchability.
Many acts have been introduced to prevent the practice of manual scavenging. The Employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993 was introduced to provide for the prohibition of employment of manual scavengers as well as construction or continuance of dry latrines and for the regulation of construction and maintenance of water-seal latrines. Even after that, this vile practice did not only go on but also saw many deaths because of it. This act was later replaced by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. This act had wider scope and higher penalties than the 1993 act.
National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993 was made up for the establishment of National Commission for Safai Karamchari. This commission was set up to monitor the implementation and non implementation of PEMSR Act, 2013. But not only these acts did nothing much in stopping the practice, according to reports, around 302 people have died between 1992 and 2018. 2018 alone reported 68 deaths, while that number jumped up the next year with 2019 reporting a total of 110 deaths.
In 2014, with the launch of Swach Bharat Abhiyan and the promise of building 2 crores toilet in the country, there was a chance that sanitation workers will be relieved from working on dry toilets but sadly that was not the case. Even after 6 years of Prime Minister’s cleanliness drive, their misery is far from over. While Swach Bharat Abhiyan was all about building new toilets, it failed to tackle the issue of manual scavenging. Even now toilets are being built with septic tanks rather than bio toilets. These septic tanks make sure that the plight of manual scavengers never ends.
The question that needs to be asked is why is it so unfathomable for people of this country to understand that a person has a right to live with dignity. That a person should not be subjected to a task as atrocious and sadistic as manual scavenging. It should not be this difficult for us humans to understand the agony of another human being.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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