Manual scavenging: The harsh reality of India

The caste system has prevailed in India for years. This concept was made by the man but what makes people want to abide by it, knowing that it is just another notion created by the man himself? It is most uncertain that we can find the answer to this.


A manual scavenger working in a sewer without any safety equipment

The caste system was just an abstraction that was created to group together people of certain classes until it was used officially and is still being used. This has forced people to work in certain fields, depending on which family they were born into, and this work includes cleaning human waste. What makes a human go into a sewage hole to clean the waste of thousands of humans? It’s because of the family you are born into. That decides your future and your privilege, your caste. The lowest in the hierarchical order of the caste system are the “untouchables” or “Dalits”.

People belonging to this community have been made to clean latrines and sewers. The government calls them “manual scavengers”. The workers scoop out a handful of muck into their bare hands while standing in the sewage coming up to their waist. Without any safety equipment, the workers inside the manhole are exposed to very harmful gases that could prove fateful.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, these gaseous products are collectively termed as “sewer gas” which is a complex mixture of toxic, for example, Hydrogen Sulphide, Carbon Monoxide, Methane, etc. and non-toxic gases that can be present at varying levels. Not only chemical gases, but there are biological dangers as well, for example, blades, Sanitary Napkins, needles, etc.

It contains different types of viruses, bacteria, and parasites that could prove fatal for the workers. Official reforms were made to stop this profession. On September 6, 2013, the Indian Parliament passed The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, another attempt at ending manual scavenging.

On March 27, 2014, the Indian Supreme Court ordered state intervention to end the practice of manual scavenging and rehabilitate all people engaged in it. This meant not only ending the practice but also ending the abuse faced by communities who were involved in this particular practice. It was made an illegal offense and is punishable by up to two years of imprisonment. However, so far no convictions have been made under the law. The repeated reforms have shown no progress as such. Manual scavenging is the worst symbol of casteism and we have to put an end to it.


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