Relentless warrior against manual scavenging

Our next move is to demolish dry latrines, says Bezwada Wilson

Published - January 30, 2017 07:58 am IST - VISAKHAPATNAM:

Bezwada Wilson

Bezwada Wilson

Nothing can be more degrading and dehumanising than clearing up the mess made by others. Waging a relentless campaign to put an end to manual scavenging, national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) Bezwada Wilson describes his 35-year-long battle as ‘chakravyuha’ wherein he knows only to enter the ‘vyuha’ but does not know how to break out of it.

After liberating more than 3 lakh scavengers and making Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Haryana and Punjab dry-latrine-free zones, the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner said his mission would be accomplished when he liberates all the manual scavengers across India.

“However, in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and some parts of Jammu and Kashmir, dry latrines continue to exist even though it is illegal. Our next move is to demolish these toilets after serving a 90-day notice,” Mr. Wilson told The Hindu during his recent visit to the port city. According to him, India still engages 1.60 lakh manual scavengers and his nation-wide crusade against the social evil is to help them opt for alternative income sources. “The statistics clearly indicate that out of 40 per cent of the poor, only two per cent is confined to manual scavenging. Our fight is largely against the caste-based discrimination wherein the Dalit community is engaged in undignified occupations such as manual scavenging,” said Mr. Wilson, indicating that an action plan is in place to help rehabilitate manual scavengers.

Born and raised in Kolar, the activist says his long-drawn battle to reduce the number of manual scavengers began in 1980. “Convincing them to switch to a decent job turned out to be quite challenging then as the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act came into existence only in 1993,” said Mr. Wilson.

Besides spreading awareness about the law against manual scavenging, SKA with its 6,000-plus volunteers plans to intensify his campaign by demanding the government and policy makers to modernise the UGD system and septic tanks.

“This unsafe practice of cleaning septic tanks manually has to be stopped as more than 1,300 people have lost their lives in the process,” he said.

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