Sanitation in India- Cultural stigma

Context- The problem with sanitation in India is not lack of infrastructure but the social and cultural stigma attached to it.

What is the state of sanitation in India?
  1. Lack of proper toilets– the lack of proper restrooms makes long distance journeys an ordeal for women.
  • However, NHAI maintains one restroom every 40-50 Km, but their hygiene standards are not monitored.
  1. A high proportion of the population does not have access to “improved sanitation”.
  • Improved sanitation is defined as facilities that “ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact”.
  1. Work related discrimination-Sanitation workers are compelled to travel to their workplaces in garbage trucks, standing next to the very garbage they clean and collect.
  • Neither users nor the sanitation workers feel equal.
  1. In spite of a well-funded programme such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in operation, little attention is devoted to this aspect of sanitation.
What are the issues related to scavenging in India?
  1. Caste system– Caste hierarchy still exits and it reinforces the caste’s relation with occupation.
  • Only country that not only differentiates spaces as pure and impure but also its people.
  • The social status of this section has been permanently fixed.
  • Government discussions and policies hardly address this stigma.
  1. Lack of physical resources– Adequate machinery to clean septic tanks, protective gears and flush toilets are not available.
What are the steps taken by the government to address this problem?
  1. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act
  2. Prohibition:The act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment, and the construction of insanitary latrines.
  3. Rehabilitation:It seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide for their alternative employment.
  • The act ensures the rehabilitation of manual scavengers to be identified through a mandatory survey.
  • Mechanized cleaning of septic tanks is the prescribed norm.
  • The act also directed the government to pay a compensation of 10 lakh rupees to the family members of those killed in acts of manual scavenging since 1993.
Way forward-
  • Adopting technology to end manual scavenging– Government’s move to use machines is a first step towards according dignity and respect to sewer workers.  However, technology’s emancipatory powers will be realized at their fullest only when the states stop living in denial about manual scavenging.
  • Direct allocation of funds– Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry said that it would directly transfer funds to ‘sanitation workers’ to buy cleaning machines, instead of contractors or municipal corporations.
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