January 19, 2010
New report from WaterAid uncovers the dirty truth about manual scavenging in India
Worst job in the world?
A manual scavenger with a cart in Gujurat, India.
In a hard-hitting new report, Burden of inheritance
(PDF 1.16MB), WaterAid is calling for strong action to eradicate
manual scavenging — the job of physically removing human excrement from
A violation of human rights, this discriminatory and demeaning practice was
outlawed by the Indian Parliament in 1993 yet still continues today. India has
missed three deadlines to make the country 'manual-scavenger free.' As recently
as November 2009, President Pratibha Patil expressed anguish at the continuing
The vibrant face of modern India has an ugly stain – the practice of manual scavenging.Burden of inheritance
Indira Khurana, WaterAid's Head of Policy in India
outlines how over one million people in the country
continue to scrape an existence through manual scavenging, forced largely by
According to Indira Khurana, the report's co-author and WaterAid's head of
policy in India:
"India takes pride in a constitution which guarantees a free and dignified
existence to all its citizens. However, the vibrant face of modern India has an
ugly stain – the practice of manual scavenging. A section of society continues
to be forced to work in stinking sub-human conditions by a centuries-old
India's booming cities help keep the practice alive, as there is often little
infrastructure for sanitary sewerage and waste disposal systems, but the report
points to caste prejudice as a key reason for why so little progress has been
made to stamp out manual scavenging.
Almost all manual scavengers are Dalits, meaning they come from the bottom of
the caste order, and 80 percent are women. They will often have inherited their
'scavenging rights' and been tasked from an early age with removing human waste
from public or private toilets, which have no flushing system, to dispose of
elsewhere. Men who are scavengers usually have to manually clean out sewers and
septic tanks. Scavengers are paid a pittance and treated with disdain and social
Ninety percent of scavengers are given no protective equipment, working only
with basic tools such as broomsticks and buckets. As a result poor health is
common and they are at a much greater risk of diseases such as dysentery,
malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. Men often have diminished vision or hearing
from inhaling toxic fumes in the sewers and septic tanks.
"Caste discrimination and social taboos chain manual scavengers to this
inhumane occupation." said Khurana. "Their untouchabilty forces manual
scavengers into living a life of indignity."
In 1993, the Indian Parliament made the employment of manual scavengers and
the construction of dry, non-flushing latrines illegal, yet the practice
continues despite legislation and viable alternatives to dry toilets.
states deny the existence of manual scavengers and have not adopted the Act,
despite accepting money designed to help manual scavengers into other
employment. To date nobody has been convicted of employing manual scavengers.
"Manual scavenging violates the fundamental right to earn and live with
liberty and dignity," added Khurana. "The government needs to work with urgency
and conviction in ensuring all dry toilets are replaced and manual scavengers
are supported into other employment, otherwise this degrading practice will
continue to be a black mark on India's constitution and public health."
WaterAid in India is supporting local partner Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA)
to eradicate the deplorable practice of manual scavenging and identify
alternative livelihoods for scavengers. WaterAid already works throughout India
to help some of the poorest and most marginalized people gain access to safe
water and sanitation.
In India over 70% of people live without access to a
toilet and every year 386,000 Indian children die before their fifth birthday
from entirely preventable diarrheal diseases.
Download the report Burden of inheritance (PDF 1.16MB).