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Manual Scavenging: A Terrifying activity

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

Abstract: The official definition of a manual scavenger in Indian law from 1993 is as follows:"Manual scavenger" means a person engaged in or employed for manually carrying human excreta and the expression "manual scavenging" shall be construed accordingly.

According toSection 2(g) of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 defines manual scavenger as “a person engaged or employed by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premise, as the central government of a state government may notify before the excreta fully decompose in such a manner as may be prescribed”

Even after the decade of India’s independence, some sect of caste-based people is pushed into manual scavenging.The Scavengers mainly fall under the category of the lowest hierarchy of the caste system i.e. The Dalits or Shudras which perform all type of unhealthy practices risking their lives to serve the society by cleaning clogged gutters. This research paper aims ata detailed depth study about the scavengers, policies by government, current scenario, caste discrimination.

Keywords: Manual scavenging, Caste-based differentiation, Government initiatives, Social discrimination.


India is the only country in the world where a particular section of the society is responsible for keeping the habitation clean by removing the waste products of the society including the human excreta despite being unacceptable and illegal it’s still an ongoing process because of the struggle to survive due to low employment rate. The cleaning of dry toilets and carrying the waste to point of disposal is generally done by women while men are involved in the cleaning of septic tanks and sewers. Scavengers risk suffering from respiratory disorders, typhoid, and cholera. Scavengers may also contract skin and blood infections, eye and respiratory infections due to exposure to pollutants, a skeletal disorder caused by the lifting of heavy storage containers, and burns due to coming into contact with hazardous chemicals combined with waste. Although Article 17 of the constitution of India prohibited the practice of "untouchability" but that has been neglected in a greater sense by society. Despite so many laws like the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act,1993, Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act of 1988, Manual Scavenging act,1993etc., it did not show any effect on the condition of the weaker section. Even today caste remains a major source of occupational and class division. While India’s constitution and other laws guarantee equal status for all citizens and outlaws untouchability practices, various forms of discrimination persist. Even under existing law, Muslim and Christian Dalits are not included as Scheduled Castes and thus are eligible for the same protections as Hindu Dalits under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The persistence of untouchability has been condemned. The Indian government has passed laws and adopted policies aimed at ending caste discrimination, much to their dismay, it was poorly implemented.

Society by cleaning the clogged gutters "the sewer lines", manually handling the human excreta, removal of dead animals on the streets, villages, and cities.


Recently the government of India, on the occasion of World Toilet Day has announced to end the year-long practice of dehumanizing manual scavenging and initiated AUTOMATED CLEANING of tanks and sewage systems. The ministry of social justice will amend the law to make machine cleaning mandatory. The term "manhole" will be replaced with "machine hole". The government plans to eliminate manual scavenging by implementing key changes to the law across the country by August 2021. Despite laws prevailing in the system, we can witness the poor implementation of the law. Scavenging is mostly carried out by a sub-group of the Dalits, an outcast community also known as "untouchables" within India's ancient system of caste hierarchies. "Untouchables" are often impoverished, shunned by society, and forbidden from touching Indians of other castes, or even their food. The stigma attached to manual scavenger will pass on generations to generation till the casteism exist. Even though a law to ban manual scavenging was passed in 1993, people are dying every month while cleaning clogged gutters. More than 54,130 people from 170 districts in 18 states are engaged in this job where thousands of sewer deaths are reported in India from 1993-2019 with maximum deaths in Tamil Nadu. Scavenger’s dignity, health and rights are violated daily. The manual carrying of human feces is not a form of employment, but an injustice akin to slavery.

Safai Karmachari Andolan & Ors. V/s. Union of India

(Writ Petition decided on March 27, 2014) is the case with regards to the prohibition of manual scavenging and rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Following are highlights of the case. A writ petition filed by the petitioners as a public interest under Article 32 of the constitution of India praying for issuance of a writ of mandamus to the respondent Union of India, State Govt. and union territories to strictly enforce the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 seeking for enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 17, 21 and 47 of the Constitution of India.


1. Legislation

The first-ever local body to banned manual scavenging officially was GOBICHETTIPALAYAM MUNICIPALITY chaired by G.S. Lakshman Iyer in 1950.Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 deals with the issue of work-related discrimination and promotes equality in employment and occupation and also this convention also states the government to establish a national agency on equal opportunity along with the repeal of inconsistent laws and practices.

2.The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955

Initially, the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955, had been enacted to abolish the practice of untouchability and social disabilities arising out of it against members of the scheduled castes. It was amended in 1977 and is now known as the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Under the revised Act, the practise of untouchability was made both cognizable and non-compoundable offence and stricter punishment was provided for the offenders.

3.The Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, came into force on January 31, 1990. The Act, specifies types of offences as atrocities, provides for the imposition of stricter penalties for the guilty and setting up special courts for speedy trial of such cases. The main objective of the Act is to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes, to provide for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences and matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

4. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act,1993

After six states passed resolutions requesting the Central Government to frame a law, The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, drafted by the Ministry of Urban Development under the Narasimha Rao government, was passed by Parliament in 1993. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 punishes the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of Rs. 2,000. No convictions were obtained under the law during the 20 years it was in force.

5. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013

The broad objectives of the act are to eliminate unsanitary latrines, prohibit the employment of manual scavengers and the hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks, and maintain a survey of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation.

6. National Commission for Safai Karmacharis Act, 1993

The Act established the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis to study, evaluate and monitor the implementation of various schemes for Safai Karmacharis as an autonomous organization and also to redress their grievances. The Act is welfare legislation enacted for the welfare of persons engaged in cleaning and plumbing jobs in various state departments.


Manual scavenger’s caste-designated occupation reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or “untouchable” and perpetuates widespread discrimination. We can conclude that even after the existing laws and newly enacted law on manual scavenging, it is still prevalent in the country.The International Labour Organization (ILO) distinguishes three forms of manual scavenging: 1) removal of human excrement from public streets and latrines, 2) cleaning septic tanks, and 3) cleaning gutters and sewers. The supreme court of India clearly stated in Safai Karamcharis Andolan & Ors. Case (supra) that it is the duty of the state to implement the act, if not then one can approach the High Court of the respective state. State Govt. should come up with a concrete strategy to implement the law on manual scavengers, the poor implementation of law received many criticisms. But it is not the law alone that is to be blamed for the existence of this practice. One of the main reasons that this practice continues even today is the failure of the government to prevent the illegal employment of manual scavengers by private households. Most manual scavengers are employed by people in villages for cleaning dry toilets. Even though the government data shows that a large number of dry latrines are still prevalent, no measures are taken to stop this practice.


1. National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, 1993

2. Bhasha Singh(author), Reenu Talwar(translator), Unseen: The Truth about India’s Manual Scavengers, 2014.

3. A STUDY ON THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS of manual scavengers in India by SaiPrashanth V and Kirubagaran K

4. Cleaning human waste: manual scavenging, caste and discrimination in India‟. Human Rights Watch, 2014. [English]

5. The Hindu

6. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Constructions of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993

7. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

8. Wikipedia

9. Manual scavenging: Intersection of caste and labour by SM Aamir Ali



13. Report of the 2nd Labour Commission.

14. Manual Scavenging and Technological Solution to Eradicate It. (Turning Scavengers to Engineers) Mr Rajesh Pant, MrMayankUniyal, MrPrashantRatodi (Asst Professors) Bhawesh Mehta TarunKumar, Zaki-ur-Rehman, Gurpreet Singh (Students).

15. MANUAL SCAVENGERS: ‘UNTOUCHABLES’ IN THE MODERN ERA Written by VanisreeRamanathan* &AlphonsaNeethu Alex**

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