Manual scavenging & why it’s still an option

By Brinda Das

Imagine yourself driving past an open sewage drain in your luxury car. Most certainly, you will be forced to shut the windows due to the unbearable stench and turn on your AC. Now if you multiply this smell by a magnitude of 1,000, you’re still likely to fall short of what it actually is. This is something which is not ideally suitable for humans to be exposed to.
However, even in the 21st century where people use machines and gadgets to carry out the most trivial tasks in their daily life, jobs like manual scavenging still continues to exist in society. By definition, manual scavenging refers to the practice of handling, managing and treating human excreta and other waste products using bare hands or with most common tools such as brooms and buckets. It is undoubtedly the most disgraceful job to be involved in and very little has been done by the government and authorities concerned in our country to ease the process of doing it. Although laws have been passed in 1993 and 2013 to ban manual scavenging, the practice still continues and no strict action has been taken to curb it.
Normally, workers involved in these jobs get inside sewage or septic tanks and take out all the filth in bulk with their bare hands, bearing the foul smell and coming in contact with several types of germs, toxic gases and other lethal contaminated substances. This makes them prone to various water and air-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria, hepatitis and cardio-vascular diseases which cause death at a young age. Every year hundreds of manual scavengers die of such health complications.
Manual scavenging is mostly carried out by Dalits and it is not just associated with caste but also a gender-based issue — 80-90 per cent of manual scavengers are women who work for a bare minimal wage which is humiliating.
Although manual scavenging is not a choice considering the utter lack of hygiene and health hazards associated with it, it cannot be eliminated completely either. So what are the potential alternatives that we can look for?
New mechanised machines and equipment should be designed and introduced which can clean filth from sewages, septic tanks, manholes, railway tracks and so on. If huge investments could be made on other infrastructural developments such as multiple lane highways, bridges, etc there could be no reason for which we cannot come up with innovative solutions to overcome this problem. All we require is the will and attention it deserves.
Development of infrastructure to set up sewage pipes and septic tanks of good quality is also very important so that there is no leakage and to ensure that machines and equipment could be easily used for cleaning them.
Sanitation workers should be made to use proper equipment and oxygen masks while working so that minimal manual intervention is required while cleaning and also making sure that they are unaffected by the lack of hygiene in such places. Also, awareness should be promoted among them about the ill-effects of such jobs.
People should be freed from discrimination based on caste and gender and alternative livelihoods should be provided to them irrespective of their social strata.
To conclude, manual scavenging certainly is not a choice and concrete steps should be taken in the right direction to adopt more effective ways to manage wastes so that people involved in it can take up better and respectable ways to make a living.
The country needs to rid itself of inherent casteism. As a progressive youth, I believe giving up my surname would take away my privilege and lessen the persistent caste discrimination in the nation.
One of the most astonishing legacies of Hinduism which began centuries ago since the advent of our society and continues till date impacting every aspect of our living is casteism.
Caste-based discrimination is primarily a practice based on which people in our society are broadly categorised into four groups, namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras and a number of other sub-castes. This division was made based on people’s occupation but it continues to affect several areas of our life and deprives us of future prospects in terms of career and job opportunities irrespective of our talents and skills.
The Brahmins, being at the top of the hierarchy are generally considered to hold the topmost positions whereas the Sudras and the Dalits are meant to do the most menial of occupations such as manual scavenging, daily wage labourers and so on.
Since independence, the Government of India has taken several measures for uplift of the lower caste people such as introducing quotas during admission in premier educational institutions, reservations in jobs applications and many other forms of subsidies. However, little has been done to eradicate this system completely and this is indeed the need of the hour now. Due to the caste based preferences, many students and job seekers do not get the opportunities that they truly deserve even if they outperform the candidates falling under the categories who can avail of the reservation system.
As a prospective youth, I firmly believe that giving up my surname and using only my first name in any form of application will go a long way to overcome this problem. Instead of giving preferences based on caste, the privileges should be given based on family incomes as a lot of people are unable to afford the fees to study in premier institutions.
The youths have every right to get the opportunities they deserve. So using only the first name and ignoring the surname will help in minimizing the favouritism involved in the preferences that some people get and many others don’t merely based on the caste or the sect they belong to.
Caste-based discrimination promotes inequality and people belonging to the lower caste have to face a lot of humiliation. It’s one of the stunning examples of human rights violation. Hence a system needs to be introduced according to which the caste of the people cannot be determined easily. Perhaps, giving up the surnames and using only the first name for any enrolment can help in doing away with this age old system.

(The author is senior copy
editor, The New Indian Express)

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