“Manual scavenging is not employment, it is slavery.” This was the message, loud and clear, at the ‘Maila Mukti Yatra’, a nationwide campaign for eradication of manual scavenging.

The march, which covers 10,000 km across 18 States, reached Bangalore on January 1. It will reach New Delhi on January 31.

Speaking to presspersons here on Wednesday, Ashif Shaikh from the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, which is behind the march, revealed that contrary to popular perception on manual scavenging, the situation was worse in south India than in the north.

Citing 2011 Census data, he said there are still over 7.94 lakh dry toilets in the country, which are cleaned by people. “Around 13,180 dry latrines exist in Karnataka, where human excreta is cleaned by humans. Additionally, there are 26,360 dry toilets serviced by animals (such as pigs) and 65,900 dry toilets where the contents are let into open drains,” he said.

The problem, Mr. Shaikh said, was the usage of the term ‘manual scavenging’, which did not cover all aspects of the issue. “At the end of this march, we intend to meet the Prime Minister and ask for broadening the definition of the term so that all forms of manual scavenging can be abolished,” he explained. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, will have to include this.

A better life

Meanwhile, some women, who had successfully left manual scavenging behind them, were present to share their stories. Lad Kunwar from Madhya Pradesh, who was a manual scavenger about three years ago, said she had regained self respect. “I used to clean some 50 houses every day, only to earn not more than Rs. 5 a month and a rotten roti being thrown at me. Now, I work as a farm labourer and earn Rs. 200 every day,” she said.

However, poor implementation of government rehabilitation programmes was exposed.