Moni will never forget July 13, the last day she spent with her father Ashok. The following noon he went inside a drain sewer in the basement of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi and did not return.
Hit by the poisonous rush of gases, Ashok and two of his colleagues died on the spot. Till date there has not been any official explanation as to how the three were engaged for the job after the Delhi Government banned manual scavenging in February 2013. There was no explanation either as to why in violation of several court orders, no safety gear, including gas masks, were provided to them.
But many campaigners for rehabilitation of manual scavengers believe that it was not just asphyxia that ended the life of Ashok and his two colleagues. National convener of Safai Karmchari Andolan (SKA) Bejwada Wilson said: “The culprit was the utter and contemptuous failure of the State and Central government to heed to the High Court and Supreme Court orders and their failure to implement the ban on manual scavenging by passing and implementing the comprehensive legislation on the issue – the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill 2012 – currently pending with Parliament.”
To demand rehabilitation and immediate passage of the pending Bill, hundreds of manual scavengers from across the country burnt their baskets at Jantar Mantar here on Wednesday. Moni, a Class IX student, explained why she travelled from her Trilokpuri house to Jantar Mantar. “I do not want another child to lose her father due to manual scavenging. I only know how much I miss my dad. It is very hard for us without him,” she said with moist but determined eyes. Mr. Wilson also said that at present the rehabilitation of scavengers was being done in a “slow and tardy manner without any conviction and commitment”.
The manual scavengers demanded an apology from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on behalf of the nation for all the “indignities that safai karamcharis have suffered due to the failure of the State to rehabilitate them”. Among other things, SKA demanded that the compensation for sewage workers, who have lost their lives while cleaning the sewers, should be enhanced to Rs.10 lakh and at least one member of their family should be employed by the government.