MANUAL SCAVENGING AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION
Updated: Mar 15
Manual Scavenging can be understood as a term used mainly in India for "manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or sewer or in a septic tank or a pit”. Works involved in manual scavenging will include moving the excreta, using brooms and tin plates, into baskets, which they carry to disposal locations sometimes several kilometres away. The measure concern regarding the manual scavenging is related to their protection because in spite of having called number of time to provide workers with protective gears but the demand have met neither earlier nor now. In fact, repeated handling of human excreta without protection leads to respiratory and skin diseases, anaemia, jaundice, trachoma and carbon monoxide poisoning. Manual scavenging is not only a caste-based but also a gender-based occupation with 90 per cent of them being women. In facts even in the era of technology these people are forced to opt for scavenging because of their lack of accessibility of resources in public pool and it is due to numerous factor which will include deprivation them from mixing up in society for centuries. The practice is driven by caste, class and income divides. "One of modern India’s great shames is the official failure to eradicate ‘manual scavenging’, the most degrading surviving practice of untouchability in
the country." - Harsh Mander. But if we have a look at the recent situation which have rather worsen in a way that country like India which is still developing added with different factors like vast population, poverty and major issue of illiteracy which have contributed into the death of many manual scavengers. The number of people killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks has increased over the last few years. 2019 saw the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years. 110 workers were killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. There has been much news reported into the death of workers which is a gross violations of human rights of people indulged in this work because of the lack of proving safety gears to people and lack of awareness about the danger and risks involved in such a closed sphere where a lot of toxic gases and wastes are accumulated for over a long period of time. Manual scavenging is prohibited by both international instruments, and Indian law. International agencies such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (as water and sanitary issue), the World Health Organisation (as a health issue), the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organisation have all called for an end to the practice. In Indian law, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, which is the current law against manual scavenging, prohibits dry latrines and all kinds of manual cleaning of excrement as well as cleaning gutters, sewers, and septic tanks without protective gear (§7 & §9). However, the prevalence of manual scavenging is not just a federal statutory violation; it is a human rights violation too. The Supreme Court found in 2014 that there were over 9.6 million dry latrines in India which required manual emptying. The states where the practice is predominant are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Deaths arising from manual scavenging are commonplace in India, and there has been press attention turned to the scavengers’ dangerous conditions of work in the National Capital. In Safai Karamchari Andolan v. Union of India
, the Supreme Court has directed the government to completely abolish the practice and provide for the rehabilitation of people released from manual scavenging. But in spite of that, there is no positive progress into this matter rather the cases related to the death of these workers are reported periodically. There is certain news that reported the sufferings of manual scavengers are: The number of people who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the country increased by almost 62% from 68 in 2018 to 110 in 2019, according to a reply given by the Social Justice and Empowerment (SJE) Ministry to the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. In 2020, two people died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks till March 31. In 2018, 73 such deaths were reported while in 2017 as many as 93 people died while cleaning sewers, the data showed. In 2016, 55 people died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, 62 in 2015, 52 in 2014, 68 in 2013, 47 in 2012, 37 in 2011 and 27 in 2010, it said. The NCSK said the data is based on the information received by it from various sources and actual information may vary. According to the official data on manual scavenger deaths, about 920 people have died between January 1993 and 2010 while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in India. Based on the number of cases, the state of Tamil Nadu had the highest number of sewer deaths. The minister’s response showed that the number of deaths has been growing since 2013, except for in 2018, when the number of deaths witnessed a dip. In 2013, there were 57 deaths, in 2016 there were 48 deaths, in 2017 there were 93 deaths, in 2018 there were 68 deaths and in 2019 there were 110 deaths, the minister’s written response to the Lok Sabha said. According to me, we should put this to an end and deploying the machines and other technologies for cleaning so that the people are not forced to put their life at risk. The legal enactment must be implemented with full force and with honesty because the deterrence will help to stop people from exploiting underprivileged people. And overall it will help people to respect human rights of every individual for the simultaneously human growth and help in the growth of social capital all over India.