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Manual Scavenging In India

Manual Scavenging in India

Manual Scavenging is a job that is highly dangerous Act. It is the act of cleaning sewers or removal of waste from toilets without the use of safety equipment. The untreated human excreta is removed from pit latrines or bucket toilets using buckets or shovels by hand. There are mainly three forms of scavenging as defined by the International Labor Organization, that is septic tanks cleaning, removal of human excreta from dry latrines and gutters and sewer cleaning. The manual scavengers use basic tools such as a bucket lined with a sack and a handle. The manual scavenger then carries the waste manually and takes it to the disposal sites. This act is regarded as inhuman and a violation of the law. It constitutes problems that encompass domains of health and occupation, human rights and social justice, gender and caste, and human dignity and right to life. This practice is prevalent in many areas that lack proper sewage systems.

Causes of Manual Scavenging

The major latrine used in urban areas and cities are the dry latrines which are a major cause of manual scavenging. In India, for example, there are approximately 26 million insanitary latrines based on a report by the Housing-Listing and Housing Census, 2011.

Moreover, in rural areas, there are no such strategies put forward to convert dry toilets. The countries with scavenging problem lack means of fully rehabilitating the sanitation workers. Lack of employment opportunities is the major concern and a crucial player in the inclusion program. Also one of the reasons is lack of schemes that would help the families whose bread winners are manual scavengers contribute to its existence. Furthermore, most of the organization focus more on the loan based employment.

There are no proper strategies put forward that liberate manual scavengers psychologically. This pushes those in the practice to get even deeper into the practice of manual scavenging. People regard the manual scavengers as untouchable mainly because of their work.

Therefore, the society does not accept and include them in community activities. No one offers them a job and also, landlords bar them from renting their houses. The government and other major private institutions even deny the existence of scavenging despite the deaths reported especially in India. As a result, no measures are taken to solve this problem effectively.

Effects of Manual Scavenging

The manual scavengers are exposed to gases such as hydrogen disulfide, carbon (IV) oxide, ammonia, and methane. Long exposure of humans to the hydrogen disulfide can lead to death by asphyxia. The individual may also experience epileptiform convulsions and may fall unconscious and later die. The gas is also associated with reducing of the eye sight. Another major health concern for the scavangers is the musculoskeletal disorder such as the osteoarthritis.

Exposure to infections in the sewer is also common due to the numerous bacteria residing inside the sewers. One of the common infections is the Leptospirosis which is an occupational disease in people who are in contact with an animal such as the pigs and their refuse. The workers in the sewer also come in contact with discharges from rodents that are found in the sewers and may be infected with leptospirosis. Other health-related problems include dermatitis, Helicobacter pylori infection that is highly responsible for causing gastric cancer, and respiratory problems.

Manual scavengers are exposed to social violence and violence associated with caste discrimination. Caste discrimination and the job conditions can cause them to be exposed to physical violence. Furthermore, the culture in India on caste is used to justify violence against the lower caste people that do these types of jobs.

For instance, most of the upper caste privileged people regard them as illiterate and lazy people who do not to take up manual jobs. They further add to that they opt for manual scavenging because it offers easy money. Such a statement directed to a caste will only force them to continue working in the same inhuman place. This is regarded as structural violence.

Most of the manual scavengers are women and the members of the marginal class. Their caste is regarded as a lower class and is excluded from moving to a better occupation. As a result, the scavenging work is seen as part of their natural occupation through generations. Also, the marginal caste from rural areas moving to urban areas to seek a better livelihood but always end up in the same occupation.

Most manual scavengers are stigmatized by the community only because of the nature of their job. They are regarded as untouchable and are forced to accept their condition. This problem is much deeper as their children are also discriminated and forced to occupy the same work that their parents had.

Solutions of Manual Scavenging

In order to tackle the problem through some initiatives such as Namma toilets in India, it would be necessary to involve all the major skate holders involved in this. They include the District officials, Relations officer, Chief Medical Officer, and District Supply Officer among all other relevant officials. The inclusion of the community around the areas that are most affected by the program is also of equal importance.

Seeking information from the officials and the community will help in coming up with an informed decision on the best way to proceed with the initiative. Workshops should be held to understand how deep the problem is and how to address it. A workshop with the community would help the organization understand the main cause of the locals resulting in the practice. The locals can also make a suggestion on the solutions that they feel comfortable with.

District Nodal Officers, NGOs and health officers should educate the community on devastating effect caused by the dry latrines. They should also educate the mass on the health issues, hygiene practices, and sanitation. Government officials should inform about the legal implications that are related to engaging in scavenging and having dry toilets. The public should be made aware of the penalties they will face once they are arrested.

The awareness campaigns should not only address the dangers of scavenging but also give the community affected an alternative method of making an earning. On the other end, the sanitation workers should also be informed about their rights and the laws that protect them from abuse by their employers.

Creation of more employment opportunities is one of the most important rehabilitation processes. The jobs then created would aim to offer equal opportunities to the locals. The jobs created would also act as a means to assimilate manual scavengers into the community. Other areas that are associated with the social inclusion should also be established for instance the loaning schemes. Offering them employment and lending them some money gives them the needed confidence to step into the community.

Major loaning schemes in India that would help manual scavengers are Special component Plan, MGNREG Act (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), scholarships, pension schemes, rural housing schemes among others.

The same old model of pit latrine that is used by the community can be used to construct small pit toilets in a cost-effective manner. In order to ensure that the villagers fully participate in the activity, they can be provided with all building materials and shown how to construct the latrines. The demonstration can be done in different areas within the given region. They can thereafter use the materials given to them too build the toilets themselves.

Children whose families are involved in scavenging experience face a lot of social stigmatization that may affect their education. In addition, the scavenging work generates very little money that is not enough to educate a child. The child then ends up dropping out and joining their parents in the same line of work. Implementation of schemes that would help these children to finish their studies would be an effective strategy in discarding the theories and myth associated with manual scavenging.

By Written: Shashank Shekhar Singh - Amity Law School, Amity University Lucknow.

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