Eradicate problem

It is a matter of serious concern almost 18 years after the outlawing of manual scavenging in the country it continues to be widely practised. In 1993, the government enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, which bans manual scavenging and punishes the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry latrines with a jail term of up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000. Offenders are also liable for prosecution under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Yet manual scavenging not only continues but the number of people engaged in it has increased over the years  to over a million today.  What is more, it is the state that is the biggest violator of this law. Although it makes a big show of the large amount of money it sets aside for rehabilitation of manual scavengers, it is keeping manual scavenging alive by continuing to construct dry latrines.  Besides, the Indian Railways has been brazenly violating the ban. Its safai karmacharis are expected to lift human excrement off railway tracks with their bare hands or at best shovels.

Manual scavenging refers to the cleaning and removal of human faeces from dry latrines. It is a dehumanising task that certain Dalit subcastes have been forced to perform for centuries. Not only is it inhuman to expect people to work amidst human excrement, but also, it is hazardous to their health.  Recommendations made by the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority to eliminate manual scavenging in the state merit attention and action. The Karnataka high court has done well to direct the government to come out with an action plan to implement these recommendations. The court order will hopefully push the government to act. Beyond announcing deadlines for eradicating manual scavenging – the latest in a string of deadlines has come from the prime minister who has promised to end its practice in six months - governments at the centre and in the various states have done little. That not a single person or municipal body has been punished under the law shows the government’s superficial commitment to ending this inhuman practice. This has to change. People deserve to be treated with dignity.

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