Amid swachhata abhiyan, manual scavenging thrives

Manual scavengers from Sulabh International cleaning toilets at Saadatganj in Lucknow on Sunday. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Manual scavengers from Sulabh International cleaning toilets at Saadatganj in Lucknow on Sunday. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt  


Authorities are in denial, says activist who has documented workers who still clean homes with dry toilets

Over a year ago when Parliament passed a stringent anti-manual scavenging legislation, the husband-wife duo of Krishna and Ratna had hoped that government help would come and they would be able to shun the “horrific” job of cleaning night soil with their hands.

But at a time when the Centre and the State governments are engaged in carrying out their own versions of swachhata abhiyan (cleanliness drive), every day at the strike of dawn the couple, with their little girl child, go from one home to another with a basket and a broom cleaning dry toilets in the bylanes right in the heart of the state capital.

Krishna and Ratna are not the only ones engaged in manual scavenging. Dry toilets exist in around 1,000 homes in at least a dozen localities in the older part of the city. This is despite the fact that forcing people to clean dry toilets can attract stringent punishment, including up to five years of imprisonment.

Though the district authorities officially “liberated” 57 manual scavengers last year, NGOs working in this area claim that there are still over 125 people engaged in cleaning dry toilets in the city.

“Each person cleans at least 25 – 30 homes...We have been doing this for the past 10 – 15 years. Last year, after the stricter anti-manual scavenging law was passed, a lot of buzz was created by local authorities and surveys were done, but nothing changed for us,” says Mr. Krishna, a worker at Sadatganj area. Asked why he continued to do the cleaning although he took up other odd jobs during the day, he explains: “It is about two hours of early morning work every day. I make Rs.3,000 per month...I want to quit this job but house owners whom we have been serving for decades and with whom we have developed close ties, plead with us not to quit. I took over this job from my parents, but I would not pass it on to my kids.”

The dilemma is the same for his other colleagues, be it Sanjay and his wife Sunita or high-school educated Rohit who took over the work from his parents. Enter the narrow streets of Billozpura, Hussainabad, Bhadeva, Ghanta Gharaiya, Kachcha Bagh, Lakadmandi, Tudiaganj, Asharfabad, Victoriaganj, Shahganj, Nakkhas and Akbari Gate, and you will find people carrying baskets and brooms cleaning dry toilets.

Ajay, the son of a former manual scavenger who now works as a social activist, asks what one could do when the authorities responsible for removing the social evil live in denial. “I have approached every authority in the state, right up to the Chief Minister, but no one is ready to listen,” he rues as he shows elaborate document with data on manual scavengers as well the numbers of homes where dry toilets still exist.

“Last year, when the civic authorities conducted a survey of the city to identify manual scavengers, our team went along to identify them and also identifying homes with dry toilets.

But authorities refused to believe our figures and helped only around 50 people against the real figure of over 150 and did nothing to demolish those dry toilets. So the problem remains,” Mr. Ajay adds.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 8:38:39 AM |

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