India’s great shame by Harsh Mander (The Hindu)
“One of modern India’s great shames is the official failure to eradicate ‘manual scavenging,’ the most degrading surviving practice of untouchability in the country. Merely because of their birth in particular castes, the practice condemns mostly women and girls, but also men and boys, to clean human excreta in dry latrines with their hands, and carry it to disposal dumps or lakes or rivers. Many men also clean sewers, septic tanks, open drains into which excreta flows, and railway lines. [...]
“The 2012 Bill explicitly prohibits construction of dry latrines, and employment of manual scavengers, as also the hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank. But cleaning railway tracks has not been included, and ‘hazardous cleaning’ is defined not by employers requiring workers to manually clean sewers or septic tanks, but requiring them to do so without protective gear. Our objection to manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is not just of compromising worker safety – which is no doubt important – but of human indignity, which would continue even if such manual cleaning is done with protective gear. And it is unconscionable to let the railways off the hook.
“For sewer workers and railway workers, liberation will come by introducing technological changes which will render the occupation humane, dignified and safe, and also ensure that human beings do not have to make any direct contact with excreta. Technologies are available globally which both the Indian Railways and municipalities could invest in, which would obliterate the requirement for human beings to manually handle excreta. The fact is that central, state and local governments do not make these public investments, because human beings are available to perform this work cheaply, propelled by their birth in most disadvantaged castes and lack of other livelihood options.
“The 2012 bill places a duty of survey on all local authorities, but the past experience is that State Governments are mostly in denial. They usually reject community findings, even when backed by strong evidence. This can be prevented only if there is a continuous system of joint surveillance, beginning with a joint survey by designated teams of government officials and community members.”
New law to ban India's 'untouchable' toilet cleaners (AFP, November 20, 2012):
“The new law would prohibit the building of non-flushing toilets that must be emptied by hand, and prescribes a one-year jail term and/or a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (S$1,000) for anyone who employs a manual scavenger.
“It also requires local authorities to monitor the implementation of the law and sets out tough sanctions if municipalities employ sewer cleaners without protective gear and equipment. [...]
“Bindeshwar Pathak, of the sanitation charity Sulabh International, says the legislation could prove helpful, but that the final test will be on the ground.
“‘In India there are many laws that have not helped so far, like (the one to prevent) dowry. Dowry cases are still going on, there is child labour,’ he said. [...]
“He says there has not been a single successful prosecution under the 1993 Act. [...]
“Vidya Rawat, director of the Delhi-based Social Development Foundation, which works with scavengers, [...] says the only solution is for the government to find jobs for the scavengers, requiring an extension of a vast affirmative action programme which reserves positions for the low-castes and marginalised tribes.
“‘Rehabilitation programmes don't work,’ he added. ‘If a community woman leaves her work and opts to open a tea shop, no one will go to drink at her place.’”