Manual Scavenging | The Hidden Economy of Poverty

For those of us who live in developed countries with adequate plumbing and sanitation facilities, this economy doesn’t even exist. And even in developing countries, this economy doesn’t exist for most.

But for caste societies — such as those we work with at DFN — manual scavenging is a very real issue of social injustice perpetuated generation after generation.

Manual scavenging is the degrading practice of cleaning human excreta in dry latrines with bare hands and carrying it for disposal in dumps, lakes, or rivers. It also includes cleaning sewers, septic tanks, open drains into which excreta flows, and railway lines.

Sadly, because of the caste system in India, the most vulnerable individuals of the population are subjected to this occupation. This plight has only furthered their discrimination, exclusion, ostracization, and victimization in society.

Social activists Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and Jan Sahas are fighting to abolish this abhorrent economy.

Over the years they have conducted a study about those affected by manual scavenging. They recently released their report, “Justice Denied” and a documentary, “The Cost of Cleanliness” at Deputy Speaker Hall in The Constitution Club of India, Rafi Marg, New Delhi. Four hundred members of the survivor families participated in the event to share about their experiences.

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The results of their study were shocking.

The focus of the study “was to understand the progress on implementation of the MS Act 2013, socio economic condition of the families after the death of the deceased and to analyze legal course of actions in the incidents in which (First Information Reports) FIR was registered. The survey was carried out in 11 states of India in which the families of the deceased from the respective states were interviewed.”

The MS Act 2013 (Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation) prohibits manual scavenging. However, they found that the practice still persisted, illegally at times.

They found that 300 individuals have lost their lives from 1992 to 2018 due to manual scavenging. But this practiced has affected many more over the years.

They also reported: The highest death rate of 37 percent was recorded in the age group of 15-25 followed by 35 percent and 23 percent in the age group of 25-35 and 35-45 respectively.

The report also includes legal action, prevention and rehabilitation for families and individuals.

Watch their documentary to learn more and read the full report and its findings here.

The manual scavenging economy is one of the many ways marginalized societies are oppressed and cast out from society. At DFN, we are committed to standing up for their rights — rights to education, health, and economic opportunity.

When you support our work, you’re helping these individuals to break the cycle of poverty and discrimination in their lives — for years to come.

Join us as we stand with India’s people.

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