Swachh Bharat: Why is manual scavenging still prevalent?

1,80,657 people still work as manual scavengers, highest are from Maharashtra: SECC

GN Bureau | August 3, 2015


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India has 1,80,657 manual scavengers, reveals the socio-economic caste census. Going by the SECC data it is evident that Maharashtra has the highest number of manual scavengers with 63,713 people still engaged in the practice of cleaning human excreta manually.

Following Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh has second highest number of manual scavengers.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan of building a modern day toilet for each house may help abolish this age old practice and help rehabilitate manual scavengers. But given the number of dry/open toilets and lack of proper sewage facility, the current picture is somewhat disturbing. (Only Chandigarh, Assam and Goa are the states where there are no manual scavengers, as mentioned in SECC)



What is Manual Scavenging?
It is the practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from service/ dry latrines. The scavengers crawl into the dry latrines and collect the human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose it off. It also includes manual cleaning of choked gutters and sewage pipelines.


Who are Manual Scavengers?
It is a caste based profession, which is handed down from one generation to the next. This community which is considered ‘lower-caste’ is untouched by technological advancement in sanitary practices. Their basic cleaning tools include broom, buckets and baskets.

According to Sulabh International, they are the most oppressed and suppressed class of Indian society – hated, ostracized, vilified and avoided by all other castes and classes. The appalling hardship, humiliation and exploitation they face, have no parallel in human history. The practice started in the Pauranic period continued in the Buddhist, Mauryan, Mughal and British periods.The practice started in the Pauranic period continued in the Buddhist, Mauryan, Mughal and British periods.


Fast Fact:

In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers. In 2013, landmark new legislation in the form of the Manual Scavengers Act was passed which seeks to reinforce this ban by prohibiting manual scavenging in all forms and ensures the rehabilitation of manual scavengers to be identified through a mandatory survey.

Despite the ban and technological advancement, manual scavenging is still prevalent in the country.  According to the 2011 census, there are more than 2.6 million dry latrines in the country. There are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed in open drains, 7,94,390 dry latrines where the human excreta is cleaned manually. About 73 percent of these are in rural areas and 27 percent are in urban areas.

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