The Government of India put in force an Act in 1993 which prohibited the employment of manual scavengers for the obvious purpose of manually cleaning dry pit toilets. The Act also prohibited the construction of such toilets. This Act was called the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act.
In 2013, 10 years later, the said Act was followed by another Act; The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which is more comprehensive and emphasizes on the urgent rehabilitation of people who were employed as manual scavengers.
Now, 23 years hence, the Census of India (2011) tells us that there are still an estimated 182,505 manual scavengers in rural India. Out of the PACS (Poorest Areas Civil Society) States, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are where the highest number of manual scavengers live.
It is a pity that in this age of our modern comforts there are people who are compelled to carry shitloads over their heads or their body. These people are victim to caste based ostracism wherein the so called upper caste puts them to work in socially unacceptable working environments and pay them a pittance in the name of remuneration. Under such circumstances, the ‘dalit‘ people find it hard to break the vicious circle of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment.
High time someone takes notice. The current government sure did. Now, there’s a group of about 500 women, from the scheduled castes in Madhya Pradesh, who are hopefully looking at a brighter future. Thanks to the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, or national cleanliness mission, whose aim is to make the country open-defecation free by the year 2019.
The group of women in M.P is being instructed by Mamtha Sangte of Ujjain. She herself was once a scavenger and was fortunate enough to break free from the shackles of caste and poverty. This 34 years old Tae Kwon Do black belt master is determined to give the first batch of ‘dalit’ women the skills and self-assurance to take on the roads of metro cities as taxi drivers. They are being trained in self-defence before they get employed by cab service providers Ola, Uber and Meru, along with airport taxi service providers.
These women have already been trained to drive in the past months. Some of them were mocked at by their families, but, defeating all odds they mastered the clutch, break and gears and are now even being trained on their soft skills so as to be better able to handle customers efficiently.
As per an article in the Economic times, talks have been finalized to get some 5,100 e-rickshaws to be driven by school dropouts who hail from families where all or some members have been involved in manual scavenging. These e-rickshaws are proposed to be operative in Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida and Faridabad.
This is a daunting task. We wish the government and all its agencies fall true to their words and achieve their target of a manual scavenger free India by the stipulated timeline.
14 Apr 2016