[Answered]What do you understand by manual scavenging? Why does it still persist in India? Do you agree that state governments have failed to stop manual scavenging altogether?

Demand of the question

Introduction. What is manual scavenging?

Body. Discuss reasons for manual scavenging in India. Explain why state governments have failed to stop manual scavenging?

Conclusion. Way forward.

Manual scavenging refers to the practice of removing human and animal waste from dry latrines and carrying it to dispose off. It has been officially prohibited by the anti-manual scavenging Act in 1993 being dehumanising practice. Unfortunately, manual scavenging still persists. According to Socio Economic Caste Census 2011, 1.8 lakh households are engaged in manual scavenging for a livelihood. The 2011 Census of India found 7.9 lakh cases of manual scavenging across India. It not only violates fundamental rights to live with dignity, but poses a great threat to the life of the individual.

Reasons for manual scavenging:

  1. Caste based division of labour: Manual scavengers are usually from caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and confined to livelihood tasks viewed as deplorable or deemed too menial by higher caste groups.
  2. Law implementation: First anti-manual scavenging Act was passed in 1993. No conviction was ever made under the Act. In 2013, Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act was passed which reiterated the provisions of 1993 Act. The offences were made cognizable and non-bailable. These provisions are not implemented effectively. Only when fatal cases come to light, laws are referred to and mostly settled with negotiated compensation with no action on the culprit.
  3. Unemployment: Unemployment rate is high in India. India’s unemployment rate is7% according to data released by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Availability of cheap labour promotes manual labour as a job in India. Due to lack of jobs manual scavengers go for such menial work to earn for their existence.
  4. Lack of waterborne toilets: The major latrine used in urban areas is the dry toilets which are a major cause of manual scavenging. In India, for example, there are approximately 26 million insanitary toilets. Moreover, in rural areas, there are no strategies put forward to convert dry toilets.

 A state failure:

  1. Persisting in various states: Recent examples from communities engaged in manual scavenging in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh highlight the failures of government to end manual scavenging and eliminate the entrenched attitudes and discriminatory practices that still bind members of affected communities to this degrading and unnecessary occupation.
  2. Failure of laws: India’s Constitution bans the practice of untouchability, and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, prohibits compelling anyone to practice manual scavenging. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 declared the employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry toilets to be punishable with fines and imprisonment. Still its persistence shows failure of law and state.
  3. Deaths: The Safai Karmachari Andolan, reported 1,269 deaths due to manual scavenging during 2014-16. Reports of death of workers engaged in cleaning and repairing manholes, in the times of ‘Swachh Bharat’ reflects inability of state to end the practice. Recently, three people died each in Bangalore and Cuddalore, while working in underground manholes. Inhaling toxic gases was the major cause.

Way forward:

  1. Involving all stakeholders: In order to tackle the problem, it would be necessary to involve all the major skate holders involved. The inclusion of the community around the areas that are most affected into the program is very important. Seeking information from officials and the community will help in coming up with an informed decision as the best way to prevent such crime.
  2. Creating Awareness: It is important to educate the community on the devastating effects caused by dry toilets. Government officials should inform on the legal implications that are related to engaging in scavenging and having dry toilets. The sanitation workers should be informed about their rights and the laws that protect them from abuse by their employers.
  3. Rehabilitation and Reintegration: Creation of more employment is one of the most important rehabilitation processes. The jobs created would aim to offer equal opportunities to the locals. The jobs created also act as a means to assimilate manual scavengers into the community. Other areas that are associated with social inclusion should also be established for instance the loaning schemes.
  4. Enforcement of law: The government should enforce the law strictly that prohibits scavenging. Governmental institutions are reluctant to act and go to great lengths in denying the existence of manual scavengers. People subjecting others into such inhuman activities should be arrested.
  5. Taking responsibility: Every person should realise their role in preventing manual scavenging. For instance, garbage should be thrown in proper bags and not thrown in sewers or septic tanks as they cause the blockage. People with blocked toilets can seek services from the right sanitation institution and desist from using manual scavengers for cheap labor.
  6. Education: Children whose families are involved in scavenging experience a lot of social discrimination that affect their education. The child ends up dropping out and joining their parents in the same line of work. Implementation of schemes that would help these children finish their studies would be an effective strategy in ending manual scavenging.

Manual scavenging is regarded as inhuman and a violation of the law. It constitutes problems thatencompass health and occupation, human rights and social justice, gender and caste, and human dignity. This practice is prevalent and needs collaborative efforts of government, civil society and every individual to end it.

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