India is almost at the Diamond Jubilee of Independence. But manual scavengers are yet to be liberated. The daily misery of the manual scavenging act is the zenith level of social exclusion and injustice
Tamil Nadu, the state which tops in healthcare records, also has the highest number of sewer deaths. The main reason for these deaths is the fact that all manual scavengers are not properly identified. Identification of manual scavengers is extremely important for the elimination of this cruel practice. As reported by National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation, only 42,303 manual scavengers were identified in the country. While there are 718 districts in the country, the survey has been conducted in only 170 districts. Meanwhile, some states viz. Manipur, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and J&K says that no manual scavenger and insanitary latrines exist in the state, which is arguable.
According to ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’, setting up of state monitoring committee and district vigilance committee is crucial to obliterate manual scavenging. Even after 8 years of implementation of the Act, only 27 states/ UTs and 23 states/ UTs have formed the state monitoring committee and district vigilance committee respectively.
Rehabilitation schemes also lack a holistic approach. For instance, an RTI filed by Egalitarians, seeking beneficiaries details from the Rehabilitation schemes, to which the data received shows that only 38% benefitted under skill development training and 2.9% benefitted under capital subsidy for self-employment projects. Another RTI filed by Egalitarians, seeking the information on bio-toilets in Indian Railways, to which it has responded as ‘All coaches are installed with bio toilets’ and the Indian Railways also says that it has ‘restored dignity to those who spent lives carrying the burden of being a manual scavenger’. On the other hand, the plan of recovering risk allowance from low-level staff including manual scavengers shows its lack of accountability. The government has also brought a new bill on manual scavenging for its eradication. The bill, ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill 2020’ ensures the education for the children of manual scavengers. But the bill also has multidimensional drawbacks viz., failing to address the proper identification of manual scavengers, the safety of sanitation workers and health assistance. Whatever, the new bill still awaiting cabinet approval puts more pressure on the manual scavengers.
As Bezwada Wilson quoted that ‘Since Dalits don’t have strong political recommendation, their voices are never strong in manual scavenging issue’. As a civil society, if do not adequately acknowledge, address and duly redress the manual scavenging issue this is going to remain as a blot in our collective conscience.