Tag Archives: manual scavenging


By Ingeborg Krukkert, Lead Asia Programmes | Sanitation and hygiene specialist, IRC

Human beings are being used to plug the gaps in failing sanitation systems – Bezwada Wilson.

#InDeepShit is the title of an event I attended on Saturday 22 April 2017. Talking about toilets and who is able to use one – or not; talking about who cleans them and how – sometimes literally with their hands deep in shit. I know this does not sound like an event a sane person would like to join on their day off. But you are mistaken! And I was not the only one. Around 80 young and critical people in the room showed that this was an event important enough to spend their free Saturday morning on.

I was triggered by the quote on the invitation saying: “Any human cannot clean somebody’s shit for the sake of roti. This is Independent India?”. The quote is from Bezwada Wilson, an Indian activist against manual scavenging. He was one of eight very interesting speakers invited to address the meeting. They covered a wide range of challenges: from barriers disabled people face when wanting to use a toilet (“we can’t hire you because we do not have a toilet for you”), to safety issues for transgender people (“we have progressive laws on paper, but this is not what I encounter in real life”), to accountability and manual scavenging.

Nine years

Almost nine years ago Bezwada Wilson was an inspiring and eloquent speaker at the IRC Symposium on Urban Sanitation for the Poor. Nine years and the same problems still need to be addressed. At that time he said: “sanitation is much broader than simply toilets. Effective sanitation also requires hygiene education – people have to change their practice as well as get access to toilets. It is inevitable that the main focus is on the early part of the chain (building toilets), but there is increasing awareness that the most difficult problems relate to the removal of faecal sludge […]. In many cities, treatment, disposal or reuse is not managed” and – as Bezwada Wilson put it so eloquently in his presentation during the symposium: “human beings are being used to plug the gaps in failing sanitation systems”.

Bezwada Wilson

Bezwada Wilson

Nine years later, this is exactly what is happening with the Swachh Bharat Mission. With the hard deadline of 2019 to reach the target of a toilet for every household, state and districts seem to have no choice but to focus on constructing toilets and on doing it fast. More than 700 million toilets to go…. There is no time to focus on use, no time to focus on what is happening with all that human waste after using the toilet, no focus on what happens when the pit is full, and no focus on who is emptying the toilet or how it is done.

Nine years of activism and there is still manual scavenging. Bezwada Wilson has not changed; he seems more motivated than ever. And with reason! It’s not only about dignity, safety is a huge issue too. Workers are dying, even in 2017, he points out referring to the recent sewage plant accident in Noida.

Chief Executive VK Madhavan from WaterAid India, however, also sees positive developments. He acknowledges that we cannot change where we are born, or in which family or caste. So true and yet so easy to forget: that privilege – or not – is no contribution of us as individuals, no contribution at all. What we can do is provide a space to those who are denied to speak up or to interact with the government. That is why WaterAid India together with Youth Ki Awaaz organised this event. Youth Ki Awaaz is India’s largest platform where young people can publish their stories to drive impact.

And this is what Bezwada Wilson has also done. He is founder and National Convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), a national movement committed to the total eradication of manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of all scavengers for dignified occupations. SKA was instrumental in eradicating manual scavenging in as many as 139 districts in India since 2009. He created a change of perspective. And he is not alone. Mrs Lali Bai, a former manual scavenger, also shared her experiences with us. She is now an activist and founder of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a national campaign for dignity and eradication of manual scavenging. For a long time many of us, including government officials, ignored or even denied the existence of manual scavenging. But there are many examples that manual scavenging is still going on as this picture from Cambodia shows.

Manual scavenger in Cambodia (photo by Danny Dourng)

Manual scavenger in Cambodia (photo by Danny Dourng)

Any shortcuts to change?

In India more and more authorities start to acknowledge the problem. Our role is to provide space to make this happen. It all goes terribly slowly though and I asked the panel if there is no shortcut to change. Nobody could answer that question. Can you?

The blog was originally posted on 24 April 2017 on the IRC website.

India: former manual scavengers demand apology from government

Women scavengers gather during the 'Samajik Parivartan Rally' in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: S. Subramanium, The Hindu

Hundreds of former manual scavengers rose as one at New Delhi’s Constitution Club to demand an apology from the government for the wrongs done to the community. “Apologise now for the violation of our dignity,” they said.

In late September 2010, the former scavengers had left Delhi in five buses heading out to cover 20 states on a Samajik Parivartan Yatra (National Rally for Social Transformation). Their aim was to promote the eradication of manual scavenging. The rally was organised by the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), whose activities had helped to eradicate manual scavenging in the five states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Haryana over the past two years. “We are hoping to add Punjab and Rajasthan to the list soon”, said SKA convenor Bezwada Wilson.

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India: plan to abolish scavenging [again]

The [Indian government] has appointed an expert committee to achieve the “impossible task” of abolishing manual scavenging in the country after failing to meet the deadline thrice.

The social justice ministry, which has vowed to banish the “worst violation of human rights” several times, would be in charge of the committee along with the labour ministry.

The committee, which has a representative each from the Union ministries of social justice and empowerment, urban development and railways and one from the Planning Commission, has been asked to frame legislation and submit its report by September 30, [2010].

The first deadline for eradicating manual scavenging was December 2007. It was then moved to March 2009 and again to March 2010. No deadline has been set after that.

“We have failed several times to meet the deadlines. But the ministry is only partially responsible for the failure. Primarily, sanitation is a state subject. Enforcement of the act lies with state governments. A lot depends on the urban development ministry too as it has to build the necessary infrastructure,” a social justice ministry official said.

The government has admitted that the problem exists in Meghalaya, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Delhi. According to estimates, 1.17 lakh [117,000] manual scavengers are eligible for rehabilitation.

As far back as 1993, the government had introduced the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, under which no person can be engaged in manual scavenging and construction of dry latrines is prohibited.

The government had then lined up several alternatives for manual scavengers, including selling fruits, setting up paan shops and watch repair shops (up to a cost of Rs 25,000 = US$ 530) or bicycle hire/repair shops and STD/PCO booths (up to a cost of Rs 50,000 = US$ 1060).

Other alternatives were automobile repair shops, PCO/photocopying booths, provision stores, beauty parlours and music stores (up to a cost of Rs 1 lakh = US$ 2,120).

There were also options to be barbers, tailors or autorickshaw drivers.

The scheme, however, failed to take off.

The National Human Rights Commission recently termed manual scavenging one of the worst violations of human rights and asked the government not to shift the deadline any further.

Source: Cithara Paul, The Telegraph, 16 Jul 2010

India – Dry latrines exist in four states

New Delhi, March 8 : Even as the cabinet put March-end as deadline for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers in India, a minister said Monday that four states continue to have dry latrines.

“Dry latrines exist in four states, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik informed the Lok Sabha.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibtion) Act, 1993 prohibits manual scavenging. According to law, no person should be engaged in manual scavenging or construct or maintain dry latrines.

“So far the act has been adopted by 23 states and all union territories. Manipur and Mizoram have reported they have no dry latrines or are scavenger-free. Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have their own acts, and Jammu and Kashmir is yet to adopt the act,” Wasnik said.

“Sanitation is a state subject. Enforcement of the act lies with the state governments,” he added.

The cabinet reviewed implementation of the Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) last month – originally intended to cover all beneficiaries by March 31, 2009 – and approved a revised time-frame for coverage of “remaining beneficiaries” by March 31, 2010.

Wasnik further said that the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation was implementing the Integrated Low Cost Sanitation Scheme which aims at converting dry latrines into pour flush latrines.

According to reports from states, 1.17 lakh manual scavengers are eligible for rehabilitation under the SRMS.

Source: http://www.littleabout.com/news/78338,dry-latrines-exist-states-minister.html

India: government announces that four more states have no dry latrines

According to Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja, within the last one year, the states of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Nagaland and Assam have announced that they have no dry latrines, implying that manual scavenging has effectively been abolished.

The government claims there are only four states left with dry latrines: Bihar, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. This contradicts a May 2009 news report that the Supreme Court had sent notices to the governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan seeking an explanation for their failure to demolish dry latrines and prosecute the owners.

Under the revised guidelines of the government’s “Integrated Low Cost Sanitation” (ILCS) scheme, a total of 241,931 dry latrines are being converted into pour-flush latrines and 32,305 new pour-flush latrines are being constructed during 2008-2009 and 2009-10 (up to 31.08.2009).

The ILCS scheme was initiated in 1980-81 through the Ministry of Home Affairs and later through Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. The scheme was transferred in 1989-90 to the Ministry of Urban Development & Poverty Alleviation and from 2003-2004 onwards to the Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation/Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (UEPA/HUPA). The scheme has helped in constructing/converting over 2.8 million latrines to liberate over 60,000 scavengers so far. To improve the programme’s performance revised guidelines were introduced in January, 2008.

The main objective of the Scheme is to convert low cost sanitation units through sanitary two pit pour flush latrines with superstructures and appropriate variations to suit local conditions (area specific latrines), but 25% of the funds of the scheme are also made available for construction of new latrines where economically weaker section (EWS) households have no latrines.

Under the Scheme, the central subsidy is 75%, State Subsidy 15% and beneficiary share is 10%. The upper ceiling cost is Rs.10,000/- (US$ 214) for the complete unit. For the States falling in the category of difficult and hilly areas, 25% extra cost is provided.

The Scheme is scheduled to end in 2009-10.

Source: PIB, 10 Nov 2009

“No human being should carry someone else’s shit”

Harriette Bentil of Water Cube.tv interviews Mr Wilson Bezwada of Safai Karmachari Andolan, a national campaign movement working for the eradication of manual scavenging in India.

Manual scavenger in New Delhi. Photo: Safai Karmachari Andolan

Manual scavenger in New Delhi. Photo: Safai Karmachari Andolan

His movement is working in 18 states in India, where around 1.2 million people have “to carry someone else’s shit”, the worst job in the world and a social crime.

He puts out a strong call for action to Indians and global community to stop this inhuman practice by December2010. He is also calling on the countries coming to the Commonwealth games scheduled to start in New Delhi in September 2010 to put pressure on the Indian government to stop postponing solving this problem.

See also Harriete’s story on Wilson’s presentation in the afternoon on 18 August 2009 during the 2009 Stockholm World Water Week.

India – Court notice to Delhi government on anti-scavenging law

New Delhi, May 8 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday asked the Delhi government to explain its failure to implement a central law against manual scavenging that provides for elimination of dry latrines and rehabilitation of scavengers.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan issued notice after the petitioner Safai Karmachari Andolan (Sanitary Workers’ Movement) was able to demonstrate that there were at least 15 dry latrines existing in Delhi’s northeast district with at least five people still engaged in manual scavenging.

The petitioner, in fact, through a government’s reply under transparency law on the number of dry latrines in Delhi, demonstrated that the state government itself has acknowledged existence of 1,085 manual scavengers in Delhi.

The petitioner earlier had told the court, on the basis of its own survey, that there were 14,479 manual scavengers to be rehabilitated in Delhi after their job loss following elimination of dry latrines.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed by the Union Government in 1993 with an aim to finish the demeaning profession of carrying night soil on head and rehabilitate the scavengers.

The law also provided for appointment of an executive authority for prosecution of the owners of the dry latrines.

As per the petitioner, though most of the states have already adopted the law and are striving to achieve its aim and objective, Delhi, apparently under the impression that it has no dry latrines or manual scavengers in its territory, have shown no hurry in adopting the law.

In fact, an affidavit filed by the Delhi government in March 2008 “categorically denied existence of any such latrine from where scavengers lift night soil manually and carry on their heads to the sites of disposal.”

The government, however, had admitted in its affidavit that there are latrines from where night soil flows into open drains and scavengers push the night soil with the help of brooms and also sludge in wheel-barrows up to the disposal point.”

Upset by the revelation that the Delhi government considered demeaning only the task of carrying night soil by scavengers on their heads and apparently treated pushing it with broom in the open drain as acceptable, the court issued notice to the Delhi government for its failure to implement the anti-scavenging law till now.

Earlier on April 30, the court had also sent to district magistrates the details of over 2,000 dry latrine owners in over 25 districts all over Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan seeking their explanation for their failure in demolishing the latrines and prosecuting the owners.

The Safai Karmachari Andolan has been waging a relentless legal battle since 2003 seeking implementation of the 1993 law against scavenging and elimination of the profession, undermining human dignity.

Read More – Thaindian News

India – Manual scavengers given a new lease of life

USHA Chaumar was seven years old when she began collecting human excrement with her mother in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan.

By the age of 10, she had married and, with her mother-in-law, continued going from house to house performing this demeaning task.

“They used to call me Bhangi (part of the lowest of Indian castes) and treat us badly,” says Chaumar, now 33.

She was one of the country’s estimated 700000 so-called human scavengers on the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, who for centuries have had the wretched task of cleaning toilets and collecting human excrement.

Many Indians today still treat the waste collectors as “untouchables” and don’t let them approach their villages, schools or temples or come into contact with their food and drinking water.

“If I was thirsty, they would give me water but would avoid touching me,” says Chaumar.

Five years ago, her scavenging days ended when she joined the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, a non-profit group working to improve sanitation in India and the conditions for this marginalised segment of society.

More – The Times, South Africa

India, Tamil Nadu: Manual scavenging continues in State: SKA

Murugamma and Thirupalamma leave their homes early morning to clean human excreta. They are safai karamcharis, who are permanent employees of the Chennai Corporation and perform this daily chore at the dry latrines in Gandhi Nagar, Pallavan Salai, near General Hospital.

Inspite of earning Rs 6,000 per month, they are still looked down upon and treated as untouchables. For them, the international year of sanitation does not make much difference.

The Safai Karamchari Aandolan (SKA), in its survey of 19 districts, identified 171 manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu [excluding] unofficial manual scavengers. {…] Bezwada Wilson, national convener of SKA, said that not a single person had been prosecuted for violating the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 by the State.

Source: Nalini Ravichandran, Express Buzz, 23 Oct 2008

India, Tamil Nadu: Human entry into manholes barred

No human being should be allowed to get into sewerage and drainage lines to clear blocks, the Madras High Court said on Monday [13 Oct 2008].

Passing interim orders on a public interest litigation petition[…] said if any drain was choked, it was the responsibility of the authorities to get the block cleared, using mechanical devices. The court posted the matter for October 15.

In his petition, A.Narayanan of Virugambakkam, a managing director of a private firm and founder of PAADAM (People Against Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Merchandise), said employing manual scavengers for removing human excreta had been made illegal [with the introduction of] the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act.

Source: The Hindu, 14 Oct 2008