“My family is very happy. We all sit and learn together. We are no more treated as untouchables and everyone in the village now speaks to us with respect. Now I can go and choose vegetables and goods I want to buy. The girls from the upper castes are now very good friends of mine,” stated Soni Devi, one of the women earlier engaged in manual scavenging.

This change in the lives of 20 women in a small village near Ghaziabad, known as Nekpur, was made possible due to the efforts of some committed college going students. ‘Project Azmat – Repossessing Respect’ started on February 11 last year with a 65-member team led by Enactus, an international non-profit organisation of students and teachers, to liberate and provide an alternate and sustainable source of income to these 20 women engaged in manual scavenging by developing a micro-enterprise and facilitating in the construction of proper toilet systems in the village.

Enactus, a society in Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), identified a community of 20 women manual scavengers with the help of Safai Karamchari Andolan (SFA) and devised a business model wherein they were given basic training in weights and measurements.

Under the training provided by the Chemisynth Group, they learnt to produce detergent.

The detergent is produced and marketed under the name ‘Neki’ meaning goodwill. Apart from making detergents, these women are also being imparted basic literacy and monthly heath check-ups free of cost. Every day these women in the batches of four produce 200 kg of detergent and also attend two classes of two hours to learn basic Mathematics, Hindi and English.

“The community lacks basic amenities such as education, health care and sanitation. Coupled with the indignity attached to their jobs, they are usually paid in kind, in the form of five kg of wheat and a pair of clothes”, said Abhay Kumar, a political science teacher associated with the project.

The project has successfully built 128 two-pit toilets, in collaboration with Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, to attain twin objectives of ensuring that these women don’t go back to the trade again and to ensure water conservation and turn human waste into nutrient-rich manure for its utilisation in the agricultural fields. These toilets require no maintenance costs, require little water and help in protecting the environment by producing rich manure for the crops.

“Now I can read and write fluently both in Hindi and English. I have come miles away from that disgraceful job of manual scavenging. My children no more sit at home and regularly go to school”, added Savitri Devi, who was earlier involved in the profession.