These past months have seen a flurry of activity to support the struggle to end the abhorrent practice of Dalits being employed to remove human waste from dry latrines manually which persists despite having been officially abolished by law in India since 1993. In India, the ILO has organised a conference to address this problem, a National Public Hearing has been held by the National Campaign for Dignity and Eradication of Manual Scavenging, reports have been released and media have reported widely about the persistence of the practice.
In February the International Labour Organization (ILO) organised a National Conference on Elimination of Manual Scavenging. Participants at the Conference included a broad spectrum of agencies involved in the elimination of manual scavenging, including Government representatives, trade unions, academia, judges, and representatives from the manual scavenging community. The conference wasorganised to make and scale up strategies to address manual scavenging and to develop a roadmap for the total elimination of manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of manual scavengers.
On the 28th of March a National Public Hearing on “Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers and their Children in India”, was held by the National Campaign for Dignity and Eradication of Manual Scavenging at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi. Ahead of the hearing the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment was approached and following the hearing a report on the “Uncompleted and unsuccessful rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their children in India,” was released.
The hearing generated a good amount of media attention to the issue with articles highlighting the persistence of manual scavenging in several states in India and the lack of rehabilitation of scavengers. The Times of India reported on Manual Scavenging in Uttar Pradesh, The Indian Express from Gujarat, and DNA from Madhya Pradesh, while The Hindu reported on the hearing in their article entitled “A blot upon the Nation.”
In a book released by the UN Special Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation, who also paid a visit to India in March 2012, manual scavenging is also highlighted and it is stated that,
“The degrading nature of this work is an extreme case and is very much tied up with the inequalities of a deeply ingrained caste system and the lack of choice in finding other types of work. In many settlements, the practice was so prevalent that even government offices inevitably employed manual scavengers in areas where there was no sewerage connection.”
These initiatives, alongside the many that have gone before them, are an important part of building pressure on authorities to finally put an end to this dehumanizing practice.