Jalaun's Manual Scavengers- Fighting for Right to Life with Dignity

Jalaun's Manual Scavengers- Fighting for Right to Life with Dignity

Phoolan Devi from Mangraul Village in Uttar Pradesh has a regular morning routine for the past many years, which includes waking up, performing household chores and then visiting houses in her locality collecting human excreta or 'Maila' in Hindi. Later in the evening, she visits the same houses begging for a meagre meal. Like Phoolan Devi, others from her village are compelled into manual scavenging- a practice which is not only against human rights but also against Article 21 of the Indian constitution which guarantees Right to Life with Human Dignity

Manual scavenging in Uttar Pradesh 
Kuldeep Kumar Baudh, chief functionary, Prayas Jan Utthan Samiti and convenor, Bundelkhand Dalit Adhikar Manch has partnered with Oxfam India in helping the Dalit community of Jalaun district who are socially ostracized due to the hierarchy of the oppressive Indian social caste system.

The Government of India defines Scavenging as a practice of manually cleaning human excreta from dry latrines. The scavengers crawl into the dry latrines and collect the human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose it off. Reports in the national capital recorded 11 deaths of people cleaning septic sewage tanks without any safety gear.

Oxfam India is working on addressing dalit rights in India through their project on social inclusion
Kuldeep Kumar Baudh (right)

Numbers Speak Louder Than Words
A survey by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in across 18 states for a headcount of manual scavengers with the help of nodal agency National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) showed 20,596 people identified as manual scavengers. This number is likely to rise as there are more than 700 districts in the country but the survey was carried out only in 163 districts. Out of this, complete information has been received only from 100 districts. For instance, 28,796 people registered as manual scavengers in Uttar Pradesh, but only 6,126 people have been recognized by the state. Source.

The main cause of manual scavenging in these states is because of the presence of dry toilets in which Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of dry toilets whereas Section 5 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 bans the construction of dry toilets but the practice still persists. The government has purportedly been very sincere in its efforts to promote the nationwide cleanliness campaign. But if you look beyond the endorsements from celebrities and the photo-ops of ministers cleaning areas which have been cleaned before, you can see the plight of thousands of manual scavengers, who clean gutters, dry toilets, sewers and septic tanks, often without any protective gear, every day. These are the people who are cleaning India’s shit and dying while doing it.

“Manual scavenging”, Caste and Discrimination in India 
Manual scavengers include mostly Dalits, acknowledging the fact how this profession is kept for the people of the community considered to be of the lowest at birth. They often face threats of violence, eviction and employers withhold wages if they attempt to leave the trade. They have to come back to the same job as they fail to secure an alternate livelihood for basic survival.  Dalits face the worst form of caste-based discrimination even after 70 years of independence in the largest democracy of the world. The first step to outlaw anything – and implement rehabilitation measures – needs a recognition that it exists in the first place. In large parts of the country, that recognition was missing. The first law which outlawed manual scavenging was implemented in 1933 but it is saddening to see how this practice still exists in many parts of the nation out of which 86% is in Uttar Pradesh.  Kuldeep Kumar works on eradicating the practice of “Untouchability” to end the existence of manual scavengers in the district. In the process, he empowered women and raised voice against the practice to seek aid from the government by protests in front of Vidhan Sabha in New Delhi. This forced government to take strict steps and they accepted the existence of 649 manual scavengers in the Jalaun district. This is a victory for the women and people of Jalaun district who were a part of this practice. Each one was compensated with Rs 40,000 to the 649 identified. 
Kuldeep Kumar Baudh with the help of Oxfam India proves that a law from the government is not enough to bring change. For a practice to end completely takes time to be eliminated from the roots of the society. Communities must be made aware of their rights. 


Oxfam India’s project for empowering Dalits, Tribal and Muslims 
The social inclusion project ‘By the People’ supported by the European Union seeks to advocate for an inclusive and equitable society through enhancement of leadership capacity of civil society organizations led by motivated members from three marginalized communities—Dalits, Tribal and Muslims. The target organisations have been challenging a long history of oppression on the lines of caste, ethnicity and religion. However, lack of an adequate support system has restricted their reach and impact. 

Oxfam India in partnership with Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion and Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices supports 55 Community Led Organisations (CLOs) across six states of India (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh). They are being supported to play a more influential role in development and governance processes within a regular capacity building framework.


Almost 8 lakh Indians clean human excreta with bare hands, for a living*. We must act now  and end this inhumane practice, so our people can live with dignity. SUPPORT NOW.

Photos by Shailendra Yashwant 

Source- Dalberg Advisors study, 2017


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