An Inhuman Way

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Nov 2018 11:42:43


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By ANSHUMAN BHARGAVA,

Deaths have been occurring thick and fast and nobody took notice all these days. No one bothered about the human rights violation manual scavengers and their families were subject to and are still facing.

Most manual scavengers in India work without the mandatory safety gears and this exposes them to several kinds of infections and ailments. They are paid a pittance for the kind of work they do and there is no organised body to oversee their welfare.

 


THE National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) has ensured payment of mandatory compensation of Rs 10 lakh to 100 families whose members died as a result of manual scavenging, NCSK chairman Manhar Valjibhai Zala speaking at the launch of a report on deaths of manual scavengers, said nearly 600 cases involving deaths of manual scavengers had been reported during the past one and a half years.


“We managed payment of compensation of Rs 10 lakh to 100 affected families. The commission will intervene and ensure payment of compensation to the families in more such cases,” he said. The report based on a survey between March and July this year by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a coalition of civil society organisations, said not one family in 51 incidents involving 97 deaths due to manual scavenging was rehabilitated in the alternative job, forcing them to become manual scavengers.


Interviews of family members and survivors in the 51 cases in 11 States also revealed that compensation was paid to the affected families in only 16 cases. It highlighted that in most of the incidents of deaths of manual scavengers during cleaning of septic tanks and sewers, no FIR was registered, more so not a single case was prosecuted.
Between 1992 and 2018, the report identified “a total of 140 incidents across 27 States with 205 deaths.” Among the States, Gujarat reported 62 deaths, followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, 29 deaths each, and Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, 24 deaths each.


“The number of deaths reported by us is lower than that reported by NCSK because we were not able to cover more States due to logistical reasons,” said the convener of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan. Zala claimed the commission had no data on deaths of manual scavengers prior to his joining it as chairman in March last year.
He said the commission, in collaboration with the Delhi Government, was making efforts to introduce mechanised cleaning to prevent manual scavenging. Two hundred machines would soon be made available for cleaning of septic tanks and drains, he said.


This is a very unfortunate reality of India that despite having all the technological wherewithal to end this obsolete practice, even seven decades after Independence, we are still sticking to it.


Deaths have been occurring thick and fast and nobody took notice all these days. No one bothered about the human rights violation manual scavengers and his or her families were subject to and are still facing. This sad state continues from a long time and we have failed to root out this inhuman practice.


Most manual scavengers in India work without the mandatory safety gears and this exposes them to several kinds of infections and ailments. They are paid a pittance for the kind of work they do and there is no organised body to oversee their welfare.


There was no deliberate design to hem them in, but it was simply a case of negligence and ignorance about their fate that let the practice continue. In no developed and civilised country of the world manual scavenging is prevalent anymore. There are far better technical ways to handle it.
It is an inhuman way of cleaning up. Proper faecal sludge management is a priority area India should target. If the sewerage and drainage facilities are in place and maintained properly much of the problem of regular cleaning automatically ends.


It is only poor upkeep of the extant systems and dependence on obsolete and archaic drainage networks established a century ago that problems keep cropping up. What we need in relaying of a fresh and smart network of sewerage lines to streamline the sewage management in our cities.


But lack of funds and logistic handicaps often keep such projects shelved for decades. In India, the process of changing the practice has only started now and been in a nascent stage, it will naturally take years before manual scavenging can be completely rooted out.
The law is there to stop such a dehumanising practice but no one cares. In fact, the practice was outlawed way back in 1993 and in 2013 more injunctions followed to give the law more teeth.


But we can very well see around, manual scavenging continues. A whole community is engaged in this profession for years and across generations and rooting out scavenging will also mean finding suitable occupations for all those who would be rendered jobless in the process, which may not be that easy for the Government given the current job scenario in the country.
There are no less than 2-5 lakh households engaged in scavenging for their livelihood. This apart, proper coordination with States and cooperation of the States with the Centre’s policies to reach the common objective will be a difficult task. Respective States may have different priorities and agendas and their own pace of working, which can delay and scuttle many projects.
The Government needs to get more involved in bringing a change and launch a time-bound national scheme to ban scavenging and rehabilitate the community members through skilful engagement after imparting them vocational training. There has long been a demand to end the practice and off and on steps to have been taken but the larger picture remains the same due to the lack of proper guidelines and ancillary legal, a logistic and economic support system to streamline the process.
There are several odd ends which have to be tied up for the scheme of banning to succeed. General awareness of the ills of scavenging also plays an important role and this is still low in our society, which indirectly promotes and sustains the practice.
By the way, scavenging in India is thus related to several socio-economic factors shaped by history which is not thus just an administrative failure per se. Yet, the administration and the Government machinery will need to use their power and influence to change people’s mindsets and tweak the socio-economic coordinates to facilitate the scavenger and get him out of the dung pit.