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Archive for March, 2013


Practice of manual scavenging was banned in 1993 by the enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines Prohibition Act, 1993. Now the truth is that this practice of manual scavenging is still a forced occupation for several Dalit families after a law being passed 18 yrs ago. Members of scavenging community always wondered that what constitutional and legal rights are for them, except a broom in one hand and night soil on the head. People still threaten them from sharing the temple, common water well and their children are denied of education. Apart from facing caste discrimination, scavengers are at risk of contracting diseases.

Manual scavenging still persists because it derives “traditional legitimacy” from the patron-client system, which is firmly entrenched in the psyche of those who perform this degrading job. According to a scholar the patron-client system provides security of employment, given the nature of this job as there is no one to compete with.

It is in persistence due to failure of the rehabilitation programme such as Self-Employment Scheme for the Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS). Scheme envisaged the rehabilitation of manual scavengers by assisting them in finding alternative employment through term loans and micro financing. However, the rehabilitation schemes concentrated only on the financial aspect and ignored the social aspect, causing several “rehabilitated” people to eventually fall back to the practice.

Earlier act of 1993 recognised this as a sanitation problem. It is now that the centre government has looked into this as social issue (under union list) and have come up with new bill (The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavenger and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012). This may force state governments to implement it in a better manner as compared to the 1993 Act, which was enacted under the state list. Second, it widens the ambit of the law by encompassing the sewage system, railway tracks, septic tanks etc. under the definition of manual scavenging. Finally, it also addresses labour welfare and rehabilitation. Yet, scepticism arose because the 2012 bill failed to define rehabilitation in the context of manual scavenging.

Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International says that it is a deep-rooted problem with social and attitudinal aspects and also found it gender biased as females are more engaged in such activities. It can be effectively addressed only by a comprehensive package plan, which includes education, job training, rehabilitation and social mainstreaming. Sulabh International’s Nai Disha initiative in Alwar district (Rajasthan) has really proved a great success. Thus I believe that involvement of such non state institutions with government willingness to implement the law will really be handy in realising the concept ramrajya of valmiki’s, where valmiki gave us a vision of classless society by a tale portraying Lord Rama as a model for Hindu virtue. Lord Rama knew no caste — he ate the fruits tasted by Sabari, an elderly woman from an oppressed caste.

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