The camera exposes a dirty untruth

‘Kakkoos,’ a documentary made by a woman film-maker, says manual scavenging never disappeared

Updated - February 27, 2017 11:00 am IST

Published - February 27, 2017 01:02 am IST - CHENNAI:

Inconvenient truth: Despite the Supreme Court banning manual scavenging, the practice remains prevalent across the country.

Inconvenient truth: Despite the Supreme Court banning manual scavenging, the practice remains prevalent across the country.

A public toilet comes sharply into view. Around the human waste there, sanitary napkins lie scattered, along with dead rats and other animals. A woman sanitary worker, using two sticks as tongs, collects them. At times, she is forced to pick them up by hand and make a heap before setting it on fire. Coughing constantly as smoke and fire emerges from the heap, she leaves the spot.

This scene from Kakkoos , a documentary released on Sunday, portrays the miserable lives and working conditions of conservancy workers who are forced to do manual scavenging in almost every part of Tamil Nadu.

There are many such scenes, including those of workers wearing just flip flops and cleaning public toilets and open drains overflowing with faeces. There are also instances where the human waste is cleared with bare hands.

“The government reels out statistics to deny the existence of manual scavenging and claims that machines have replaced human beings when it comes to entering manholes and removing other hazardous wastes. But the reality in the film completely proves that the government is lying,” said Divya, a law graduate, who has made the film.

The documentary, shot in 25 districts for over a year, conveys the message that even though manual scavenging was banned in India in 2013 it continues to exist and conservancy workers are involved in removing human waste. The film is dedicated to those who maintain a “false silence on manual scavenging.”

“I decided to name the film Kakkoos as it will carry the message directly,” said Ms. Divya.

She said she came to see their plight while fighting on behalf of the families of workers who were fatally asphyxiated in Madurai.

“How could a person like me wedded to the Marxist-Leninist ideology throw a blind eye to the people living on the margins of society,” said Ms. Divya, when asked what prompted her to make the film.

The documentary-maker said the definition of “manual scavenger” in the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, was inadequate and the film drives home the point.

A woman worker in the film says, “As a sweeper, my work is only to remove the garbage. But the streets are littered with human waste and I cannot refuse to clean them.”

The film emphasises that cleaning toilets covered by walls is far more hazardous and inhumane, than removing human waste from open areas.

“I throw up constantly. What I see haunts me throughout the day,” says a worker. “My daughter refuses to take anything from my hand,” laments another woman.

The film explains that it is not just members of the Arundathiyar community who are involved in manual scavenging. Kaatu Naicker, various sub-sects of Dalits, Chakiliyar, Irular, Kuravar and many other communities are also forced to do it.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.