End the scourge of manual scavenging now

Please circulate and share this note widely on Facebook for further endorsement (and signing). Feel free to include others who may possible endorse this statement (if they agree) by signing the petition at http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/end-the-scourge-of-manual-scavenging-now.

This statement is based on a Seminar attended by representatives of Safai Karamchari Andolan, Republic Trade Union of India, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front; Advocates, Doctors and Health Activists; Faculty and Students of MIDS, IIT-M, New College, ACJ, MSE, Madras University among others. The discussion was one among many incidents happening across the country to support the struggle for abolishing manual scavenging and rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

Please sign the petition if you agree with the views expressed here. The online petition can be accesses here: http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/end-the-scourge-of-manual-scavenging-now

More than a million people (mostly Dalit women and children) in India are still being ordained by the caste-ridden social order to clean the refuse of society with their bare hands. They are systemically forced to sell their labour-power, at a minimal price, to perform this inhuman task – what is termed as “Manual Scavenging”. People from particular Dalit communities, cutting across region and religion, are vulnerable to early death due to fatal infections, disease and exposure to toxic gases that manual scavenging entails. Further, age old casteism, continues to stigmatize and humiliate manual scavengers suppressing them to the status of “lesser humans”.

Be it in Uttar Pradesh or in Tamil Nadu, the work of cleaning human excreta or burning corpses are imposed on Valmikis (or Lal Begi) or Arundhathiyars, who have been ordained as among the lowest rung in the caste ladder. With the prevalence of such mindsets and institutionalized casteism – for example even young students from such communities are forced to clean toilets by their teachers in schools – it is not surprising that India remains far away from millennium development goals (MDGs) on basic sanitation.

From having to clean primitive ”dry latrines” to labourers entering manholes for the purpose of cleaning modern drainage and sewage system, manual scavenging continues unhindered, despite rules and laws to stop this dehumanizing practice. At a time when India, along with rest of the world, is aspiring for Moon and Mars exploration missions; it is unpardonable for the nation to allow for the continuation of these kinds of abominable practices by hiding behind excuses such as “lack of technology” or “lack of funding”.

This is nothing but a deep rooted social corruption which is being kept alive by the casteist mindset of the general citizenry, government officials and departments, especially Indian Railways (the largest employer of manual scavenging in India).

Social and political mass movements have been launched against these forms of untouchability that are still being practiced. Yet, it’s pitiable that till date not a single case has been registered by the authorities under the 19-year-oldEmployment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine (Prohibition) Act, 1993 despite the extant practice.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012 has been introduced in the Lok Sabha on 3rd September 2012. As it awaits discussion, we raise the following demands –

  • The Union Government, on behalf of entire society and all past governments, must apologize to these most oppressed of Dalit communities and especially the women among them, who have been forced to depend on Manual Scavenging as their only source of livelihood even after 65 years of independence.
  • The Act must come up with a clear and holistic definition of manual scavenging to avoid any possible misinterpretation.
  • The Act must declare manual scavenging in any form as illegal, under the Indian Penal Code and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) act, with stringent punishment for anybody who employs and abets such practices. However, the manual scavengers themselves should not be punished under this Act.
  • The Act concerned must contain a comprehensive rehabilitation package, including permanent government jobs, educational opportunities, training, long term health benefits, subsidized loans, housing and land rights, for existing manual scavengers and express total intolerance towards existence of manual scavenging in any form.
  • The Act must be adequately gender sensitive and must provide a holistic solution to decades of suppression of women of this community. Any rehabilitation measure must have specific enabling provision for women and girl child involved in any form of manual scavenging.
  • The Act must have a pension and compensation provision for anyone, especially the elderly, who have worked as manual scavengers prior to the implementation of this act.
  • The central/ state Govt., local bodies and the departments within the executive must be made fully accountable for the implementation of the Act within a stipulated time limit.In case of any non-implementation, the Act must affix responsibility and impose sanctions on state functionaries who allow the practice to continue in abdication of their duty to stop it.
  • The Union and all State Governments must allocate adequate resources and employ enough personnel for the purpose of abolishing manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of existing manual scavengers as a mission within a short span of time.
  • All sanitation workers (under the assumption that they will not be engaged in any form of manual scavenging) must be provided with modern equipment, technological training and it must be ensured that technological up-gradation is provided to sanitation agencies for workers to do their work with dignity.
  • The Government must take adequate measures to ensure that sanitation work is treated on par – legally, economically and socially – with all other kinds of work so as to disentangle it from casteist tentacles.
  • The Government must end privatization and contractualization of sanitation work. All sanitation workers must be employed as permanent workers.
  • The Government must come up with a clear policy on development and promotion of research and technology for an eco-friendly sustainable sanitation in the country.

We, the students, take a pledge to fight this social corruption and raise our voice in unison against this practice to realize our demands. We also appeal to larger civil society, organized and unorganized, to be vigilant against this derogatory ‘tradition’ and to offer minimal necessary assistance to the concerned authorities for the identification and abolition of manual scavenging in all its forms.

Released by Some concerned students of MIDS, Chennai; IIT, Chennai; ACJ, Chennai; TISS, Mumbai; HCU, Hyderabad; JNU, New Delhi; Princeton University, New Jersey; Durham University, Durham.

In Consultation With: – Dr. Deepthi Sukumar (National Core Member, SKA); Dr.C.Lakshamanan (Faculty, MIDS); Dr. T. Swaminathan (Faculty, Chemical Engineering, IIT-M); Dr.Sultan Ismail (Head, Biotechnology, New College); Mr.Anbuvendan(RTUI); Mr.Krishnamurthy(CITU); Mr. Neethi Rajan(TNUEF); Dr.Shanthi (Medical Practitioner and Health Activist); A.Narayanan (Social Activist); R.Kubendran (Ex-Chief Planner, Chennai).

To endorse the petition and to see the list of those who have endorsed, please visit http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/end-the-scourge-of-manual-scavenging-now


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