Human waste scavenging is a socio-economic problem that plagues a caste-based society. Across India, manual scavenging and its allied forms the manual cleaning of manholes and septic tanks, removal of debris from sewage canals and any interaction with excreta are openly prevalent, defined as a "cultural occupation" attached to a few so-called lower castes. Manual scavengers are usually from caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and confined to livelihood tasks viewed as deplorable or too menial by higher caste groups.
The manual scavenging has been a necessity in India because of the under-privileged people's economic and social conditions. Some of them have taken up this profession because of the hierarchy and the responsibility to feed mouths at home. With time, the government has started taking precautions for the manual scavengers in India, but it still needs better conditions to survive.
How caste plays a role in Manual Scavenging in India
Dr Ambedkar very rightly said, "In India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth, irrespective of the question of whether he does scavenge or not."Manual scavenging in India has microscopically connected with the centuries-old caste system with profound roots in most parts of the country. This work cannot be referred to as employment because it's inhuman. People who carry it out either do it in fear of authorities or incapable of finding any other work opportunities because of being born in the caste system's bottom levels. The thought of a person in this modern and advanced world entering a pool of human excreta without any protective gear and is forced to clean it with just bare-naked body, a bucket and broom are his only tools.
It's very evident that the government is well aware and kind of accepted the situation and, in some cases, made these people do this job irrespective of them being educated. The reason behind it is the lack of resources and infrastructure to get this cleaning work done on a day to day basis. All other upper communities won't ever do such kind of inhuman work and can't be forced too as they have a stable social and economic background. Most importantly, they even have their political representatives.
Current Situation of the People conducting Scavenging in India
In India, this occupation is hazardous, unsafe, unsanitary, undignified and above all, legally banned by Parliament a few years ago.A large number of manual scavengers continue to be employed in cleaning human waste manually from public and private toilets, open defecation areas, gutters, sewers, and septic tanks.
This is one of India's open secrets and law enforcement communities that is loud yet unheard of. The growth of manual scavenging cannot be ignored in India because to find jobs and stay alive. In India, the rate of death of people from manual scavenging is threatening. It is shocking to mention that in India, a manual scavenger dies, every five days, in a sewer, a septic tank, or a manhole.
As per the official data, there have been 376 deaths by manual scavenging in India in a span of five years to 2019, even after a law being passed on the ban of this profession. This is the ear where robots are constructed using technology. Still, the Indian government has failed time and again in fulfilling the claims of implementing the change in the country's cleaning system. Although finance minister, Nirmal Sitharaman, had spoken in favour of bringing in the use of technology for cleaning of sewers and septic tanks and the ban on manual scavenging in the budget speech on 1st February, Bezwada Wilson, the national convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan, had mentioned that three had been no technology found by the government as of yet. Even if they have, there has been no budget allocated to imply the same. The country faces these fatalities and these death rates for the reason that the upper class or even the working class does not bother to do their cleaning or enter the places that need cleaning, the Dalits will never be saved from the unhygienic schedule of work.
The Way Forward
This job of manual scavenging has been a regular practice in India, and as per the reports, the number of manual scavengers will keep increasing with the increase in the number of toilets. The most conspicuous part of this system to acknowledge is how the caste has played an important role in legitimizing this profession and the deaths that happen every five days due to this manual labour in India. On January 31, 2020, there were 48,345 manual scavengers identified in India. Even after the intervention of the WHO, India has been persistent in its requirement of manual scavenging. The lower caste discrimination in India will always prevail until dangerous and hazardous professions like manual labour exist in this country.
While cities after cities are pushing the envelope to emerge as "cleanest cities" in the 'Swachh Sarvekshan,' the unending deaths of sanitation workers still forced to carry out acts of manual scavenging and the lackadaisical approach towards their rehabilitation, are a blot on the entire Swachh Bharat Mission, obliterating much of its loud claims of success.
The caste system has dogged India for centuries. Pushing lower castes into professions that exist but ignored as fringes of society. The day India will leave this approach it will possibly begin moving to a more equitable world.