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The Scourge of Manual Scavenging

  • Manual scavenging refers to the practice of removing human and animal waste/excreta using brooms, tin plates and baskets from dry latrines and carrying it on the head to disposal grounds some distance away.

  • A manual scavenger is the person who does the job of carrying this filth.

  • This job is mainly done by Dalit women and young girls.

  • There are 13 lakh persons from Dalit communities who continue to be employed in this job in India.

  • Manual scavengers are exposed to subhuman conditions of work and face serious health hazards. They are constantly exposed to infections that affect their eyes, skin, respiratory and gastro-intestinal systems.

  • They get very low wages for the work they perform.

  • Though untouchability has been abolished by the Indian Constitution, manual scavengers are still considered ‘untouchables’. They often live in separate settlements on the outskirts of the village and are denied access to the temple and public water facilities.

  • In 1993, the government passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act. This law prohibits the employment of manual scavengers as well as the construction of dry latrines.

  • In 2003, the Safai Karamchari Andolan and 13 other organisations and individuals, including seven scavengers, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. The petitioners complained that manual scavenging still existed and it continued in government undertakings like the railways. The petitioners sought enforcement of their Fundamental Rights. The court directed every department/ministry of the union government and state governments to verify the facts and if manual scavenging was found to exist, the government department has to actively take up a time-bound programme for their liberation and rehabilitation.


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