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Sunday, January 18, 2009

'India's Shame' - Notes by Nitya Druve

Following is the presentation notes on Perspective IV Semester lesson 'India's Shame an essay by Annie Zaidi. The presentation was made for II year JPEng class by Nitya Druve in December 2008.



Annie Zaidi

Notes by Nitya Druve, II JPEng

India’s Shame’ is an investigative article by Frontline reporter Annie Zaidi about manual scavenging. It reveals the hardships faced by scavengers, the measures taken to improve their situation and just how ‘effective’ the government has been in dealing with the issue of manual scavenging.

To gain some perspective on this lesson, we must first familiarize ourselves with certain terms:

MANUAL SCAVENGING-is the manual removal of excreta from public and private dry (non-flush) latrines.

  • Manual scavengers may also be engaged in underground sewage work, disposal of dead animals or cleaning faeces from the railway systems.
  • The practice of manual scavenging started in Europe in 1214, when the first public toilets appeared.
  • It was introduced during British rule in India in the late 19th century, when municipalities were organized.
  • It still exists in parts of India and is performed almost exclusively by Dalits (95% of scavengers are Dalits).
  • 33% of the population uses dry latrines and another 33% do not have toilets in their houses leaving them to defecate in open spaces.

THE EMPLOYMENT OF MANUAL SCAVENGERS AND CONSTRUCTION OF DRY LATRINES (PROHIBITION) ACT 1993-entails punishment of up to 1 year imprisonment or a fine of Rs.2000 or both, for the employment and /or construction of dry latrines.

· All the Union Territories and States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal have adopted this Act.

· In its 15 years of existence, there has not been a single prosecution, despite the fact that an estimated13 lakh people continue to manually remove excreta.

SAFAI KARAMCHARI ANDOLAN (SKA) – is an Andhra Pradesh based group dedicated to the cause of manual scavengers.

  • It was started in 1986
  • It is headed by Bezwada Wilson (who belongs to a backward community himself) and S.R. Sankaran, an IAS officer.
  • It conducts surveys, files petitions, works with scavengers, creates and spreads awareness about the plight of manual scavengers.

Let’s start with the lesson:

Ø ‘SHAMEFUL’, ‘DEGRADING’ and ‘DISGUSTING’ are just some of the words the writer uses to describe manual scavenging. It is a practice which de-humanizes not only the scavenger but the person employing him/her.

Ø Some States (like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Nagaland) refuse to even acknowledge the existence of manual scavengers despite evidence to the contrary.

Ø When such is the attitude of the government, the problem becomes difficult to solve as there is no acknowledgement of the problem in the first place.

Capital Falsehood

It comes as a shock that a city as forward and prosperous as Delhi has manual scavengers but the fact remains that they do exist and in a pitiable condition at that: Take the accounts of Meena (Pg.281, 3rd para) and Sharada (Pg.282, 2nd and 3rd para).

Moving from Delhi to Gujarat, an emerging industrial State, about which Ratan Tata once said, “If you are not in Gujarat, you’re stupid.” It is one of the most vibrant States where progress is quick but even it is not free from the menace of manual scavenging. There exists in Gujarat, according to the Navsarjan Trust, 55,000 scavengers.

Though Haryana has declared itself ‘scavenger-free’, we come across Bhagwati (Pg.283, 2nd para) and Bala (Pg.283, 3rd para).Punjab, where the Green Revolution took place is the last place one would expect to find manual scavenging. From denying the existence of manual scavengers, Punjab has acknowledged the presence of 500 odd scavengers---- a grossly underestimated number.

The Railways are the biggest culprits. The construction of the railway tracks using ‘sleepers’ (wooden planks) creates an uneven surface. Therefore when excreta is dropped by the open discharge system of passenger bogies, it cannot be washed away instead it must be cleaned manually.

It is ironic that a department of the government is not only violating but is the biggest violator of the Act. The Railways claim that there is a lack of money or that “various technologies shall be tried out.” Neither have they set a deadline for themselves nor have they taken any action. None of the Railway Ministers so far have allocated funds in the Railway Budget to implement the Act.

Challenges Ahead

Ø Section 17(2) of the Act stipulates that no prosecution for any offence under the Act shall be instituted except by or with the previous sanction of the executive authority. In many cases the executive authority is the violator of the Act and it makes no sense to make its sanction mandatory for prosecution.

Ø The government set up the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis and the National Safai Karamchari Financing and Development, both of which failed to produce the desired result.

Ø The National Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers (Pg.283, 5th para) too failed because of a misappropriation of funds to the tune of 600 crores.

Ø Sanitation is a State subject and the Centre can do little about it.

Ø It is not a ‘vote issue’ therefore is not of much importance to the government or the public.

Ø Health concerns: Majority of the scavengers fall prey to anaemia, diarrhea and vomiting. Quite a few suffer from skin and respiratory diseases. Continued exposure to septic tanks and open gutters makes them more vulnerable to malaria, dengue and so on.

Ø Manual scavenging also takes a toll on their psychological well-being----they feel helpless, have a lowered sense of self-worth and are unhappy with their profession. Thus it is not surprising to note that a huge number of manual scavengers suffer from alcoholism.

At the end of the article, the only solution indicated to end scavenging is the destruction of all existing dry latrines. It is not as simple as that. The commissions or organizations set by the government should be given more power to take appropriate action. Apart from putting pressure on the State governments to take action and training scavengers in alternate professions, what can be done is

* The MEG (Minimum Employment Guarantee) scheme can be introduced, whereby a person is guaranteed 10 months employment in a year.

* A twin-pit latrine system can be introduced. It consists of a simple toilet, which empties into a composting pit. When the sewage has composted, it is used as fertilizer, removing the need for manual collection and disposal.

* The government should convert all existing dry latrines into low-cost flush latrines.

It should be noted that the above mentioned are a means to an end and not the end itself.


Anjan Behera said...

thanks nitya...presentation was good...and so r ur notes!

tintin said...

great work