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Manual Scavenging

The truth behind the outrageous acts of human caste system and inequality.

By Hiba ShaikhPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Manual Scavenging
Photo by Dobrinoiu Denis on Unsplash


India is a country of growth, freedom, unity, and tradition. It is our culture that has been binding us since the beginning of time and it still continues to do so. Our independence in 1947 gave us a will to live. To live without fear, in unity, but what has happened to the mindset of the citizens of India? Have we achieved independence from our minds or are we still trapped in the cages of untouchability, caste system and creed? The caste system during the Middle Ages of India was divided into many sects and mainly had the division of upper caste and lower caste. The upper caste was allowed to do everything that a normal human being could do but the lower caste were not allowed to even do the bare minimum and were declared as "untouchable" just because it was decided by the majority.

India was independent from 1947 but it is still opressed under the minds who once sat on the thrones to decide who would get a chance to live their life and who would not. During the formation of the Constitution of India, it was clearly stated that India would be a country that was free of caste, creed and religion discrimination by an honorable person Dr. Ambedkar but in today's world, it is still the higher castes that exploit the lower caste innumerable times.

What is Manual Scavenging?

Manual scavenging is the practice of using manual labor to clean and handle the waste of human excrete from drains or latrines. Manual scavenging was banned two times, once in 1952 and once in 1993 but many states in India still carry this practice hiding it behind the curtains of different names. This work is usually done by lower castes, mainly Dalits, who work every single day in drains cleaning waste that should be done by machines. Not only do Dalits work in insanitary places like drains, they also help collect garbage, segregate wastes and clean roads. Dalit is such a sickening name, literally meaning 'broken', that is given to people who do not have the idea of it due to the lack of education.

In 2014, scavenging was predominant in states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and more giving rise to scavengers, people who work in cleaning non-flushable latrines. In the 2013 Act, a name was given to scavengers when it was said that those who wear protective gear during scavenging are not considered to be "manual scavengers". This was neither justice to scavengers nor appropriate to legalize the act of scavenging.

The Effect

This job is very hazardous in nature and scavengers often risk their health by allowing themselves to inhale such poisonous gases and therefore leading themselves to problems like burns, respiratory infections, skin infections, blood infections and more which is a risk to the breadwinner's family. "Safai karamchari" is the word given to people who do jobs that are not meant for them but for machines. India being one of the most economically stable countries in the world does not have proper sanitation facilities or aids.

Instead of using the flush method which is usually found in other countries, India places latrines which are then manually cleaned by scavengers. The Dalits face a lot of pressure due to their status in reality. Their jobs have defined them to be classified as "untouchable". The Hathras incident happened in Uttar Pradesh where a Dalit girl was allegedly raped and murdered. On October 10, 2020, Mrs Rajeswari Saravana Kumar (47), a Dalit woman and president of the Therku Thittai village panchayat was compelled to sit on the floor on July 17, 2020, by the upper caste Hindu members of the panchayat. All these incidents make us question ourselves. Are we really human beings?

Ending Manual Scavenging

Even though Manual scavenging is a big issue, the Government is taking steps in abolishing the practice. The abolishment of Manual scavenging was announced recently on 19th November 2020. Hardeep Singh Puri was the man to make it happen. The "Safaisamitra Suraksha" was an initiative launched in flavour of ending Manual scavenging and other jobs that are unsafe and unsanitary. Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted saying "Delighted to launch Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge across 243 cities. Based on PM Modi's vision to place safety & dignity of sanitation workers at the core of Swachh Bharat, it aims to ensure that no life is ever lost while cleaning sewer or septic tanks."

This initiative will ensure that proper sanitary methods are applied to dispose waste properly and no exploitation of low caste members will take place. It has promised to end manual scavenging by the end of 2021. This is powerful and raises awareness towards the way lower castes are treated. Never having to bend their head down again, the Dalits and other low caste members will stand for their right and fight for equality.


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    HSWritten by Hiba Shaikh

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