End dry latrines, end manual scavenging: Magsaysay winner

End dry latrines, end manual scavenging: Magsaysay winner

End dry latrines, end manual scavenging: Magsaysay winner

Thirty years ago, Bezwada Wilson complained to local authorities about dry latrines, but they ignored him. Undeterred, he shot off a letter to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi threatening legal action.

The letter had its effect, dry latrines in his locality were converted into water-seal latrines and scavengers were transferred to non-scavenging jobs. Born into a Dalit family who had been engaged in manual scavenging for generations, Wilson was the first to be spared the labour to pursue higher education.

The going was tough, but he channelled his anger to launch a crusade to eradicate manual scavenging through the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) in 1993. Shemin Joy of DH  spoke to Wilson soon after his name was announced among winners of the Magsaysay award. Excerpts:

What does this award mean to you?
This is a recognition for all those women who are courageously fighting against the 5,000-year-old inhuman practice of manual scavenging. This award is for those who fight against the idea of slavery as livelihood. I am just an instrument in their fight. The fight is to ensure that their lives are respected. I hope this award will help in the fight for liberation of all those engaged in manual scavenging due to their caste.

How do you think this award will help you?
Many still think manual scavenging is a thing of the past and this award will be an eye-opener for them. Now the voice of these people will be heard louder. 

Do you think Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will help manual scavengers?
The problem is that eradication of manual scavenging is described as one of the aims, but unfortunately we do not see it in the programme. It is on paper, but not in practice.

What do you want the government to do?
The government should immediately demolish all dry latrines. The main reason for continuation of manual scavenging is the presence of dry latrines. Only people born into a particular Dalit sub-caste engage in manual scavenging and they are forced to do it throughout their lives. The government should ensure the dignity of all its citizens.