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Highlighting the plight of India's manual scavengers

November 2010

Christian Aid partner organisation Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) aims to eradicate the outlawed and degrading practice of manual scavenging in India by the end of 2010.

It's an occupation carried out by dalits (formerly untouchables) in which safai karmacharis, as manual scavengers are known, clean out human excreta from wealthy households' latrines - toilets that are not connected to the sewage system and are therefore not flushable.

Bharati DeviA manual scavenger cleaning out a latrine

This degrading practice is traditionally imposed upon certain dalit sub-caste groups, especially the women, with the result that 82% of manual scavengers are female.

These women are forced to work in unthinkable conditions, humiliated and discriminated against.

But another shocking scandal of this story is that this practice continues despite the fact that it was outlawed in 1993.

Today, tens of thousands of manual scavengers are still cleaning out other people’s loos by hand with a small brush and basket. Why?

`Because local state authorities seem to tacitly agree with the casteist ideology that assigns unclean occupations to dalits claiming that safai karmacharis are content with their work,’ says a spokesperson from Safai Karmachari Andolon (SKA), a movement supported by Christian Aid.

Today, tens of thousands of manual scavengers are still cleaning out other people’s loos by hand with a small brush and basket.

To coincide with the Commonwealth Games, SKA organised an impressive month-long bus convoy which started from five different states and travelled through dalit villages in 172 districts in 20 states to encourage those still engaged in the practice of manual scavenging to find other work.

Liberated safai karmacharis spoke at the events and ceremoniously burnt the baskets they once used as manual scavengers in a bid to empower others to stop doing this degrading work.

The bus convoy culminated in a mass rally in Delhi earlier this month to demand that the 1993 law is enforced including provision of relief and dignified alternative work for those liberated from this inhumane practice.

These events were part of SKA’s ‘Action 2010’ which aims to eradicate manual scavenging by the end of the year. 

‘Once people realise that it's slavery, they want to stop. The problem is that it's never discussed publicly.’ said Wilson, founder of SKA. ‘If our demands are not met within 60 days, we will come to
Delhi and stay put here until they are.’

Christian Aid has supported the SKA campaign from the outset as part of its wider programme to address the root causes of poverty in India – namely discrimination and exclusion of people because of who they are: because of their caste, ethnicity, religion, gender or disability.

Further links

The BBC's Today programme

The Independent newspaper also covered this issue in October 2010.

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