”I have seen the men of my neighbourhood die doing this. They have slowly vanished in the sewer one after the other. One goes and the other follows. I saw Ravi die in front of me.”
“This neglect always existed, even historically, because we are Dalits … No one is bothered about the unhygienic and undignified working conditions we have to bear… We should never have to touch waste with our hands. However, while earlier we had to fight for gloves, raincoats, gumboots, today, we have to fight for PPE kits.” Amnesty India has launched an appeal for signatures to urge the government to ensure the dignity and protection of India’s sanitation workers – who are predominantly Dalits.
In Pakistan, descendants of lower-caste Hindus who converted to Christianity centuries ago still find themselves marginalized, relegated to dirty jobs and grim fates.
Indian waste pickers are struggling to obtain information or equipment to inform and protect them during the coronavirus pandemic. Thomson Reuters has run this article by IDSN Ambassador Aidan McQuade and IDSN’s Ritwajit Das, looking at the current challenges faced by Dalit waste pickers in India. While this article looks at India, similar situations are found in other South Asian countries.
Born into a Dalit family that had been engaged in manual scavenging for generations, Bezwada Wilson channelled the outrage that stemmed from witnessing the injustice faced by his community to launch a movement to end this abhorrent practice. India Development review details this story on the Feminism in India platform.
In the last five years of the Modi government, there has been no movement even on assistance and rehabilitation of manual scavengers. In fact, in the interim budget, the Centre has reduced by more than half the allocation for rehabilitating manual scavengers.
“The Cost of Cleanliness” is based on the deaths of Dalit workers engaged in cleaning sewers and septic tanks and was release to coincide with the report Justice Denied – Death of workers engaged in manual scavenging by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan
Report by NGO Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, looking at the caste inequities underpinning manual scavenging in India and the many Dalits dying while cleaning septic tanks and sewers with no proper equipment. The findings, outlined in this summary, point to an urgent need for action to end this practice. Read the full report here. An event was held to release the report where the documentary “The Cost of Cleanliness” based on the deaths of workers engaged in cleaning sewers and septic tanks was also released.Read the summary of the report findings here.
The Wire speaks to rehabilitated manual scavengers as identified by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and finds their condition and profession unchanged
The International Movement against All forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) delivered a joint statement with IDSN, Jan Sahas and the Movement to end Manual Scavenging, in response to the Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation. The statement thanked the Rapporteur for his country report and echoed the Rapporteur’s concerns regarding the vulnerability of Dalits to physical assault, violence and discrimination. This statement stressed the dire situation of Dalit women who are “often subject to sexual violence including rape due to their lack of access to safe sanitation facilities”. IMADR, IDSN, Jan Sahas and the Movement to end Manual Scavenging are concerned about the pervasive culture of impunity and the continuing practice of manual scavenging. The joint statement urged India to “secure safe access to water and sanitation for Dalits and ensure justice for Dalit victims of violence”.
Dalits in India have for centuries been forced into working without proper tools or protective gear to clean dry latrines, sewers and septic tanks, a practice known as ‘manual scavenging’. This is not only demeaning but also extremely dangerous work and activists have been campaigning for many years for the proper implementation of laws banning the practice and rehabilitating those who have been engaged in it. This past month it has been uncovered that in the Delhi municipality alone, there has been an alarmingly high number of deaths of sanitation workers lowered into the city’s sewers with no equipment to protect them. Activists are sending the message that India must #stopkillingus and that the caste-based practice must end now.
Bezwada Wilson from the organization SKA, which fights to liberate manual scavengers, and Beena Pallical, from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, explain why the Government flagship sanitation drive is failing when it neglects to address the role of caste and manual scavenging.
The UN Expert on Water and Sanitation, Léo Heller, has stated that the failure to end the practice of manual scavenging in India coupled with the construction of more non-flush toilets, is contributing to an increase in the discriminatory practice of manual scavenging, where the lowest castes are made to undertake the duty of cleaning excrements from non-flush toilets by hand. The statement forms part of Mr. Heller’s official statement on his November 2017 mission in India.
Special feature by NDTV we meet some of the Dalit women that IDSN member Jansahas have supported to break out of the dangerous and humiliating practice of manual scavenging. See the video report here.
Rights defenders in India are calling on the Indian Government to outline a concrete action plan within one month to end the dangerous and demeaning practice of manual scavenging. The call comes following the death of 27 manual scavengers in India within the span of one month, outlined in a press release by rights NGO Safai Karmchari Andolan (SKA).