Parties fail to address manual scavenging

There are possibly over a million of them, but they hardly matter to our politicians and manual scavenging, though being banned, was never an election issue.

Even after the law has been enacted by the government, to ban the inhuman practice and the Supreme Court too, has awarded compensation for people who have died doing such jobs, the number of manual scavengers working all over India is startling.

The 2011 census has put the number of manual scavengers at 750,000, but activists feels the figure is closer to 1.2 million, which includes those cleaning manholes and septic tanks. There could be some truth in the figure, with the Bombay High Court last week stating that it is shocking that manual scavenging is still practised.

 But for our politicians, they perhaps don’t exist. “Sanitation facilities and removal of untouchability has always remained the lowest priority for political parties. The issue on scavengers not only fails to appear in political manifesto, their existence is also not acknowledged”, Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, said on Wednesday.
 “Ending manual scavenging in our country is difficult, as there are many towns where the practice still occurs and the law is yet to be notified,” added Pathak.

 It is important to note that manual scavenging was banned in 1993, through the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, that also mandated the demolition of dry latrines. With no concrete results, parliament in 2013 again passed an act, that criminalised manual scavenging by prescribing stringent punishment, including imprisonment up to five years, to those employing such labour.
This was followed by a Supreme Court judgment on March 27 that talked about proper rehabilitation of scavengers and granting compensation of 10 lakh rupees, for the families of those, who have died doing such work since 1993.

Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, said, “Manual scavengers have never been vocal about their rights. Most of those employed in this inhuman practice are women, who are anyway weak. So it is easy for the politicians to overlook their needs and their rights.”

The activist stressed, that it is important to end the practice and not just focus on rehabilitation. And this, should be the priority of the next government.

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