The narrow village street is lined with gutters, dotted with excreta flushed out from latrines inside upper caste homes. Santa Devi pulls a corner of her sari over her mouth and begins to push the morning quota of waste into her metal basin using only a makeshift shovel and broom. Once she has thrown the waste onto a nearby dump, she can come back and collect the roti or two, which is her only “payment” for the job.
This is how Santa Devi has started every morning of her life for the last 60 years. In Behnara village in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district, this is “sanitation” by the barter system.
Little has changed today, despite the fact that her village, and all of rural Rajasthan were declared open defecation-free – which includes the removal of all dry latrines – by the Centre’s flagship Swachh Bharat mission over a year ago. Manual scavenging is a crime under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
No money for this
“My sister Munni, her husband Rambhu and I – we do the maila dhoni (scavenging) work every day. It takes us about five to six hours, and we come back stinking,” says the 65-year-old grandmother. “For other cleaning work, we get paid a little money, but for removing night-soil, only one roti.”
There are five families in the basti occupied by the Mehtar community, which has traditionally been forced to clean the excreta of the upper castes. In this village of about 250 households, split between Jats and Jatavs, Santa Devi and her family say they remove faeces directly from dry latrines in 10 Jat homes, and clean excreta from the gutters of several upper caste streets. Santa and Munni’s sons do this work occasionally, but also earn a living from daily labour, including the cleaning of regular toilets and septic tanks, collecting solid waste, and removing bodies.