“Maila Mukti Yatra”, a campaign by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (RGA) for eradication of manual scavenging which started from Bhopal on November 30 last, culminated in the Capital on Thursday, after covering 200 districts across 18 States. It became an occasion for Union Ministers, activists and people who quit manual scavenging, to question why it still remains in practice across the country.

The Yatra was part of the campaign started by those who suffered the indignity of manual scavenging through generations and have been struggling to bring an end to it.

On the occasion, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Kumari Selja asked the political class to introspect why in spite of several schemes the “blot” of manual scavenging remained. “For a long time the Government has been saying that manual scavenging will be eliminated, but the time has come to ask why it still remains in practice.”

On arguments by different States that manual scavenging did not exist, Ashif Shaikh, who heads RGA, highlighted the contradiction and said over 6-7 lakhs families were involved in the practice across the country and that there still are around 26 lakh dry toilets.

Arguing that the issue of manual scavenging was part of the larger social picture involving untouchability and caste-based discrimination, Mr. Shaikh said that at present the Government has no effective and comprehensive plan for identification, liberation and rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

“Our demands include constitution of a viable and formidable rehabilitation scheme and inclusion of manual scavengers’ families and those who left the practise in the list of the Below Poverty Line,” he added.

While sharing her experiences, Kiran Fatrod, a resident of Devas district in Madhya Pradesh, who quit manual scavenging in 2002 by burning her tokri, said: “On February 21, all women in my district decided to leave the practice but instead of encouraging us and rehabilitating us, the school scholarship of our children has been stopped since then, just because we were no longer carrying the human excreta.”

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