Manual Scavenging: India’s Dirty Picture


The positive Indian story we hear every day is the mask, behind which hides the real India. It is not only shocking but also is of utmost shame for the entire country that the profession of manual scavenging still exists. Human Rights Watch (HRW), a rights group, in its latest report has documented the coercive nature of manual scavenging in India and asked the government to enforce the required laws. They have found that the concerned authorities have failed to act on complaints by manual scavengers.

As if the law, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill passed in 2012 was not enough, this year the Supreme Court had to intervene to put an end to this inhumane work. The Court ordered the abolition of manual scavenging and asked state governments to provide financial assistance and rehabilitation to those who had lost a family member to the inhuman practice.

It is extremely pitiful that there still are people who depend on fellow countrymen, usually those belonging to lower castes, to wash their dirt. The casteist mindset which, despite of the growing advancement and modernization, still feel pride in using dry toilets and leaving it for someone else to clean. This is the condition of the poor and the oppressed in India even after 68 years growth under an independent India.

It is a shame for the citizens, and more so for the administration at all levels. It speaks volumes about governance and implementation of legislations.

Such reports only leave us with one question: Where are the political parties that have risen to power climbing through pretentious claims to become representatives of the masses? There can be absolutely no valid excuse for callous indifference to human sufferings, abject poverty and degrading social conditions that still persist in many states in India. The new government has promised to address the issues that concerns India’s marginalized communities but are yet to take any concrete steps or even enforce laws like the 2012 bill which seeks to end manual scavenging.

Access to improved sanitation in India is 58 percent in urban areas and 23 percent in rural areas. Even our neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh fare better than India on this parameter. India has neglected priorities. The government has ignored issues such as healthcare, sanitation, access to water, and the like, for far too long.

Since 1993, manual scavenging has been made illegal, but still the practice still continues in India, and only so because of the casteist oriented mindset of the Indian society. The effectiveness of the law enacted in 2012 has been a huge concern from the start. It provides for rehabilitation of manual scavengers, but it still has many shortcomings.

We have laws, but only on the papers, and mere law in itself is not sufficient.

Valentina Telien Kom

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