A+| A| A-

Life and Work of Manual Scavengers

‘When You Start Doing This Work, It Is Hard to Eat Dal’

In 2013, manual scavenging, or the cleaning of “dry” latrines with unprotected hands, was abolished in India. Yet, millions of dry latrines are still manually serviced by Dalit labour. The Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission has put little effort into the health and dignity of sanitation workers relative to its efforts on subsidising and encouraging latrine-building. A few days spent with the Valmiki community in Lucknow are recounted.

It has been almost four years since, invoking the name of Mahatma Gandhi and declaring that India needed toilets over temples, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Its overarching goal is to eliminate open defecation; building new latrines, increasing their use, and raising awareness are the cornerstones of this significant initiative. Though the SBM (Urban) guidelines clearly call for either connecting toilets to sewers or constructing on-site treatment, these guidelines may not be enforced locally. Millions of existing, and even some new latrines, remain “dry.” Household-level dry latrines in India, despite the abolition of manual scavenging, continue to be serviced by scavengers.

Much has been written about the dehumanising conditions of their work, and the stigmas they face in their lives. It is not clear how the SBM will mitigate their conditions; it is not clear if the demand for their labour will increase or decrease in its wake. It is clear, however, that India’s ambitious sanitation initiative has to put as much effort and financing into the dignity and health of its sanitation workers, and into enforcing its toilet design guidelines as it is putting into eliminating open defecation. This article describes a slice of life in one community of manual scavengers from the Valmiki caste in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in December 2014. We tell the story in the voice of C S Sharada Prasad.1

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Updated On : 14th Aug, 2018

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Intellectually fearless, never one to shrink away from a debate, baiting others to challenge his analysis, C P Bhambri was a formidable presence...

The COVID-19 pandemic has landed firms across the globe in an unfamiliar terrain.

The goods and services tax (GST) was rolled out across the country on 1 July 2017.

Early in the lockdown, India had relative control over curbing the potential spread of COVID-19, and may have prevented as many as five times more...

The National Education Policy, 2020 unveiled finally seeks to usher in major structural reforms in higher education. Among many measures,...

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown led to the closure of all markets in Manipur, including the Tribal Market Complex in Imphal East...

Coherent national strategies, backed by regional cooperation efforts, offer a way forward for economic recovery in South Asia, which is rapidly...

Sections 357 and 357-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 lay down the procedure for granting compensation to the victims of crime. Under the...

The COVID-19 pandemic has provocatively challenged the extant paradigm of development whose theoretical underpinning is derived from the...

The first report of the Fifteenth Finance Commission has allayed many fears that arose after the notification of the terms of reference of the...

Back to Top