Coming to the point on manual scavengingI have come to the conclusion that it is necessary. Unless of course we are willing to let civilization collapse in on itself and live in the filth they produce. It is necessary till it is no longer necessary. Which will be a long, long time in a country with a shortage of funds and power and an abundance of very poor and unemployed people. What the condemnation of manual scavenging misses is the functuinality of their recommendations. “Stop manual scavenging” is an answer only if you live in a place where the drains don’t clog and don’t crap anywhere else. The fact is that sewage systems can get messed up in complicated ways in India. The need is to reduce problems in the entire chain that leads to the block that requires a skilled human to physically troubleshoot it.
How to “end” manual scavenging?I am not sure it can be completely eliminated. The most developed of countries will need people willing to brave the sewers when something goes wrong. It is exactly what happens in India, except things go wrong more often. The key is to reduce instances where humans are put at risk and provide a dignified and sustainable existence. I have some ideas.
Prevent blockages to avoid sending manual scavengers when things go wrongIt is surprising how little attention robust sewage systems get when it comes to preventing manual scavenging. Manual scavenging has become a function of the system rather than service support and troubleshooting. This is hazardous and unsustainable.
Upgrade sewage systemsCreate improved sewage systems designed to clog less and transport waste more efficiently. Process waste locally rather than transporting it over long distances to dump into rivers and the sea. Use technologies that allow recycling of human waste into fuel or fertilizer. Employ manual scavengers in their production so that they earn a lot more (both fuel and fertilizers are profitable products) and will still troubleshoot the fewer problems that arise.
Implement alternative methods of disposing sewageIf excreta will remain in place to clog the system without adequate water, the system is bound to fail where water availability is a problem. Develop and implement alternative methods of sewage disposal that require less water to maintain. But this will be a time-consuming evolution for the country. Till then, while manual scavenging is inevitable…
Encourage responsible use of the sewage systemsBroadcast public service messages on not introducing objects that could prevent the efficient functioning of the sewage system. Lay stress on not flushing menstrual cloths, sanitary napkins, toilet paper and other non-excreta objects into the system.
Recognize manual scavenging as an important serviceWhen it comes to keeping people healthy and safe, manual scavengers are probably at least, if not more important than healthcare workers. However, they face far more risks and are accorded far less dignity in their profession. This lack of respect exposes them to additional risks that can be avoided.
Manual scavenging is a profession necessary for societyPeople employed in this profession should not be considered any less than the far less life-essential professions like teacher or postman. Their income must reflect that. Their acceptance in society must reflect that.
Offer hazard pay and benefitsManual scavengers face enormous health hazards so that the rest of the society is not forced to face them. Their profession brings with it physical and psychological stress as well as increased health risks. They should be accorded free healthcare (including at least some portion of it in their local private hospitals that they help keep safe as CSR). They should be offered hazard pay to help them address expenses they face because of their profession. They should have life insurance by default.
Treat all deaths on the job where inadequate protection is found as manslaughterManual scavengers who are not offered adequate protective equipment and die on the job should be considered to be killed, not accidentally dead. Just like a soldier shot in combat dead due to a lack of a bulletproof vest would be the responsibility of the government. This must result in convictions that include jail terms. An argument I heard by a pro-government person recently on the subject was that “they will start asking for all kinds of perks or claim to be unprotected at work”. Let me put it like this. If they ask for perfume because of the smell, and the employer isn’t really economically capable of catering to such demands, it isn’t going to result in dead people. Treating deaths due to lack of protection at work as manslaughter will obviously mean life-essential protection, unless anyone thinks people will die for want of perfume to make the government look bad.
Caste and manual scavengingManual scavenging in India is traditionally tied in with specific castes that are considered to be the lowest in the social hierarchy. This is because manual scavenging is not profitable, so they are not rich enough to influence anyone. I believe that improving dignity and income for the profession will automatically have the result of the entry of other castes. In my view, it is a superior way of indirectly detaching specific castes from specific humiliating work as well, without making it explicitly about caste. Please leave your ideas in the comments.
Founder at Aam Janata
Vidyut has a keen interest in mass psychology and using it as a lens to understand contemporary politics, social inequality and other dynamics of power within the country. She is also into Linux and internet applications and servers and has sees technology as an important area India lacks security in.
Latest posts by Vidyut (see all)
- Open letter to the Chief Justice of India - April 13, 2019
- Nationwide Protest by NREGA workers #NREGASangharshMorcha - March 2, 2019
- Repression of Activists cannot stop the second Kisan Long March - February 16, 2019