We didn't chose this life, say scavengers

Last Updated 31 October 2010, 15:36 IST

The Samajik Parivartan Yatra, a nation-wide rally organised by Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), an organisation formed by former manual scavengers, culminated in a rally in the capital.

“The bus rally initated by us in September, covered 160 districts across 20 states. On the way, many volunteers spoke to the manual scavengers,” Bezwada Wilson, president of SKA, said.

He also said the scavengers should not wait for some organisation to rehabilitate them, but try to find jobs for themselves.

Sumitra Bai from Kanpur, a widow who was working as a scavenger for the past ten years, said: “Every day, after dumping the human waste, I used to collect some food in the same hand and feed my three children, I used to be paid Rs.30 a month. During rains, it was worse as the contents would cover me in filth. Now giving up the job and working as a sweeper looks like I have been reborn.”

“We didn't chose to do this. We're born into it because we are at the absolute bottom of society, the job came as a legacy. But I made sure my children never touched those baskets,” said A.Rameswari from Theni village in Tamil Nadu.

“In the last two years, through various SKA initiatives, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Haryana have been freed of the scourge of manual scavenging. We are hoping to add Punjab and Rajasthan to the list soon,” Wilson added.

The National Advisory Council, headed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Oct 23 asked the government to abolish human scavenging in the country by 2012.

Parliament passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act in 1993, declaring the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines to be an offence punishable with imprisonment and a fine. But no one has been punished so far, the association said.

There are an estimated 1.3 million people employed in the practice in India.

(Published 31 October 2010, 15:36 IST)

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