Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh has termed as shocking the figures about the number of manual scavengers highlighted by the Census this year but also accepted that the Government had not yet discussed the issue in Parliament. According to the Census data, there are 7.5 lakh families involved in manual scavenging in the country.

Mr. Ramesh was speaking at the release of a book on manual scavenging, Adrishya Bharat (Invisible India: A narrative of manual scavenging), here over the weekend. The book was released by four women -- Narayanamma from Andhra Pradesh, Mahjabeen from Jammu and Kashmir, Saroj from Haryana and Maya Gautam from Uttar Pradesh -- engaged in eliminating manual scavenging.

Mr. Ramesh said earlier he was under the false impression about the status of manual scavenging in the country due to the stands of different States that they had abolished it. “The Census figures this year were shocking. It is a serious issue….but we have not been able to discuss this in Parliament yet.”

Legislation

He was surprised that the problem of manual scavenging existed even in States which are otherwise considered progressive like Kerala. He said the proposed Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, is being drafted but added that the problem would not be rooted out by legislation alone and needed campaigns and social transformation.

Journalist Bhasha Singh, author of the book, said: “The issue of manual scavenging is deeply related to the larger issues of caste and untouchability in India. After exploring manual scavenging being practiced in the country, I can say this practice still continues all because of the casteist mindset of the political leaders and policy makers”.

“It is such a shame that in the last budget Rs.100 crore was allocated, but not even a single rupee was spent for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. What kind of ‘rehabilitation' is this when their children who have stopped being one, do not get scholarship. Do you want them to continue with the practice of carrying human excreta?” asked Ms. Singh.

She said the plight of manual scavengers in States like Uttar Pradesh, J&K and Gujarat was worse.

More In: NEW DELHI | NATIONAL