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Automate scavenging process - stop manual scavenging

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Remember that time when you stepped on a tiny bit of dog poo and grimaced, running to the nearest tap to have it all washed up? The feeling of that stuff touching even the sole of your shoe left you disgusted. What does it take to be bare naked and dive into a pit that is two storeys deep and full of sewage waste? 

Once inside, there is nothing but darkness. The worker could pass out from inhaling some toxic gas, or be carried away in the rush of water and waste.

This is exactly the job of a “conservancy worker” in India.  

What happens after waste leaves your homes (garbage and waste via sewer pipes?

  • About 21 million people live in Mumbai, generating 10,000 tonnes of daily waste.
  • The city has 38,000 “conservancy workers”, which is the innocuous term for those employed in handling waste disposal. Of these, the BMC engages 4,357 labourers to clean 54,600 manholes and open sewage lines.
  • These men climb bare-bodied into drains and manholes sometimes two storeys deep to clean sewage and shit.
  • The toxic fumes they breathe ensure most of them live only till they are about 45.
  • According to the BMC itself, 1,637 workers have died on the job in the last six years.
  • Most drink heavily. There is no other way to enter hell and survive.
  • Across India, there are 12 lakh manual scavengers. Among them, 9,600 deaths are reported each year.
  • Many suffer from jaundice, tuberculosis and acute liver malfunctions.
  • Dead babies, rotting street dogs, road kills, sanitary napkins drenched in blood, glass, needles, medical waste, diapers full of shit - there is nothing that these workers haven't touched with their bare hands.

Another sad aspect: Most of these workers are from the Mahar caste of Dalits. The job has 100% reservation: it has been passed from father to child for centuries. 

We cannot even barely imagine the mental torture these people go through when they go for work.  

Is there anything being done about it?

  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, was passed in 2013.
  • This banned manual scavenging. It mandated workers to be rehabilitated with skill training, a job, housing, and easy loans.
  • The law has not been implemented.
  • State authorities openly ask, who will clean the drains if these men don't? The drains, built in the colonial era, are not designed for machines.
  • An earlier law from 1993 lies similarly defunct.  

Why do I need your help?

For two things:

1.    Government of India needs to stop manual scavenging - these people deserve to lead better lives; and we, the citizens, are not happy that this is what we push them to do every day, till the end of their lives. Please push "The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act" into action - please make sure these workers are rehabilitated with skill training, a job, housing, and easy loans. They are choosing to work. Do not take away their livelihood.

2.    I strongly urge the Government of India see the stumble block in automation of the process and ask the young innovators, with capabilities to make anything possible, to design machines that will clean our drainage system built in the colonial era; with technological advancement there is nothing that is impossible, if are determined.  

Because no one chooses and deserves this life.  

Originally published on | Reported By Shriya Mohan Excerpts taken with permission from Shriya Mohan

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