“I used to throw up all the time because I could not take the smell,” says Sevanti Bai, recalling the many decades she worked as a manual scavenger in Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh. Convinced by others in her community and the law which prohibits manual scavenging, she quit in 2007. Since then, she and her family have struggled, making ends meet, through odd jobs, working in the fields and cleaning grains.
Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. Since 1993, key legislations have been enacted prohibiting employment of people as manual scavengers, banning the construction of dry latrines and providing rehabilitation. Yet, a significant proportion of an estimated 2.6 million dry latrines in India continue to be cleaned manually.