Manual scavenging refers to the removal of human waste/excreta (night soil) from unsanitary, "dry" toilets, “dry toilets”, i.e., toilets without the modern flush system. Manual scavenging involves the removal of human excreta using brooms and tin plates. The excreta are piled into baskets which scavengers carry on their heads to locations sometimes several kilometers from the latrines. Manual scavenging is said to have started in 1214 in Europe when the first public toilets appeared. The water closet was invented by John Harrington in 1596. In 1870, S.S. Helior invented the flush type toilet, and it became common in the Western world.
There is evidence of existence of wet toilets in the civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. These cities had toilets, which were connected to underground drainage system lined with burnt clay bricks. and in later stage manual scavenging became a caste-based occupation and the vast majority of workers involved are women.
In India, the Mughal ruler Jahangir built a public toilet at Alwar, 120 km away from Delhi for 100 families in 1556 AD. Not much documentary evidence exists about its maintenance. Scholars have suggested that the Mughal women with purdah required enclosed toilets that needed to be scavenged. They point out that the bhangis share some of the clan names with Rajputs, and propose that the bhangis are descendants of those captured in wars.There are many legends about the origin of bhangis, who have traditionally served as manual scavengers. One of them, associated with Lal Begi bhangis describes the origin of bhangis from Mehtar Ilias. Municipal records from 1870 show that the British organized municipalities in India which built roads, parks, public toilets etc. The British administrators organized systems for removing the night soil and employed bhangis.
Views on Manual Scavenging
In his book "What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables" Dr.B R Ambedkar quotes
The system of Untouchability is a gold mine to the Hindus...In it the 240 millions of Hindus have 60 millions of Untouchables to be used as forced labour and because of their state of complete destitution and helplessness can be compelled to work on a mere pittance and sometimes on nothing at all. In it the 240 millions of Hindus have 60 millions of Untouchables to do the dirty work of scavengers and sweepers which the Hindu is debarred by his religion to do and which must be done for the Hindus by non-Hindus who could be no others than Untouchables.
Manual scavenging still survives in parts of India without proper sewage systems. It is thought to be most prevalent in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Some municipalities in India still run public dry-toilets.The biggest violator of this law in India is the Indian Railways which has toilets dropping all the excreta from trains on the tracks and they employ scavengers to clean it manually.
According to the official statistics, there are about 340,000 people who work as manual scavengers in India. Manual scavenging is done with basic tools like thin boards and either buckets or baskets lined with sacking and carried on the head. Due to the nature of the job, many of the workers have related health problems.
The International Dalit Solidarity Network estimates that around 1.3 million Dalits in India, mostly women, are involved in manual scavenging. It links the job to "forced labour or slavery", stating that the Dalits are rarely able to take up another occupation due to caste-based discrimination and debt bondage. There are an estimated that 700 million people do not have access to sanitary toilets.
Initiatives to Eradicate Manual Scavenging
Sanitation is a State subject as per entry 6 of the Constitution .Under this, in February 2013 Delhi announced that they are banning manual scavenging, making them the first state in India to do so. District magistrates are responsible for ensuring that there are no manual scavengers working in their district. Within 3 years time municipalities, railways and cantonments must make sufficient sanitary latrines available. The government of the state of Maharashtra has planned to abolish the menace of manual scavenging completely from the state soon.But by using Article 252 of the constitution which empowers Parliament to legislate for two or more States by consent and adoption of such legislation by any other State, the Government of India has enacted various laws . The continuance of such discriminatory practice is violation of ILO’s Convention 111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation)
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 After six states passed resolutions requesting the Central Government to frame a law, The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993,drafted by the Ministry of Urban Development under the Narasimha Rao government, was passed by Parliament in 1993.
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 punishes the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000. No convictions were obtained under the law during the 20 years it was in force.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 or M.S. Act 2013
Government has passed the new legislation in September 2013 and issued Government notification for the same. In December,2013 Government has also formulated Rules-2013 called as "The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules 2013" or "M.S. Rules 2013". The details about Act and Rules are available on the website of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, GOI.
The Act prohibits manual scavenging and manual cleaning of septic tanks and sewers. The Act also prohibits unsanitary toilets and will offer assistance in the form of loans and one-time grants to former manual scavengers to aid in their search for alternate employment.
Further, the hearing on 27 March 2014 was held on Manual Scavenging of writ petition number 583 of 2003, and supreme Court has issued final orders and case is disposed of with various directions to the Government.
In India in 1970s, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak introduced his "Sulabh" concept for building and managing public toilets in India, which has introduced hygienic and well-managed public toilet system. Activist bewada wilson founded a group in 1994, Safai Karmachari Andolan, to campaign for the demolition of then newly illegal 'dry latrines' and the abolition of manual scavenging. Despite the efforts of Wilson and other activists, the practice persists two decades later.
In July 2008 "MissionSanitation" was a fashion show held by the United Nations as part of its International Year of Sanitation. On the runway were 36 previous workers, called scavengers, and top models to help bring awareness of the issue of manual scavenging. It is the UN's goal to by the year 2015 reduce the current rate of inadequate access to sanitary services by 50%.
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