UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay applauds Indian movement to eradicate ‘manual scavenging’


GENEVA (31 January 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today welcomed the strong movement that has been developing over the past few months in India to eradicate the practice known as ‘manual scavenging’ which, because of the stigma attached to it, has traditionally been carried out by Dalit women in a clear manifestation of discrimination based on caste and gender.

The focus on manual scavenging – essentially the manual removal of human excreta from dry latrines and sewers – has recently been significantly heightened in India by a National March for the Eradication of Manual Scavenging (also known as “Maila Mukti Yatra”). The March, which in addition to advocating the eradication of manual scavenging has called for the comprehensive rehabilitation of those who have been conducting it, took place over a period of 63 days, starting on 30 November 2012 and crossed a total of 200 districts in 18 states. It will be formally concluded on Thursday in New Delhi.

“I congratulate the strenuous efforts and commitment of the organizers, and of all the participants — especially the thousands of liberated manual scavenger women — who marched across the country in support of the many others who are still being forced to carry out this dreadful practice,” the High Commissioner said.

“An estimated 90 percent of manual scavengers are Dalit women who face multiple inequalities and discrimination based on their caste and gender, and who are often exposed to violence and exploitation,” she added.

“Because of the nature of the work, manual scavenging has contributed to a self-perpetuating cycle of stigma and untouchability,” Pillay said. “Manual scavenging is not a career chosen voluntarily by workers, but is instead a deeply unhealthy, unsavoury and undignified job forced upon these people because of the stigma attached to their caste. The nature of the work itself then reinforces that stigma.”

The High Commissioner met two years ago in Geneva some of those campaigning against manual scavenging “I was deeply moved when they presented me with a brick they had broken off a dry latrine,” she said.  “I keep it by my office to this day as a reminder of their struggle.”

“I am encouraged to hear that the march has been supported by a wide cross-section of society, who have come together to energize the growing movement to abolish this degrading form of work, which should have no place in 21st century India,” Pillay said.

In September 2012, a new bill on The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation was submitted to the Indian Parliament by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. The bill builds on the strong legislative framework already in place prohibiting untouchability and bonded labour, and adds a comprehensive definition of manual scavenging.

“The new bill provides a solid framework for the prohibition of manual scavenging,” Pillay said. “India already has strong legal prohibitions on caste discrimination, so the key to the new law will be effective accountability and enforcement. It is also crucial that adequate resources are provided to enable the comprehensive rehabilitation of liberated manual scavengers. This is the only way these grossly exploited people will be able to successfully reintegrate into a healthier and much more dignified work environment, and finally have a real opportunity to improve the quality of their own lives and those of their children and subsequent generations.”

 

The Disgusting Stench of Incredible India


Nupur Sonar, Tehelka Magazine, January 24, 2013, Issue: 5, Volume: 10

Clean-up or cover-up? A ‘safai karmachari’ at the Old Delhi Railway Station

 

Clean-up or cover-up? A ‘safai karmachari’ at the Old Delhi Railway Station

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

The railways still engages manual labourers to clean human excreta from its tracks. Does this shock you enough, asks Nupur Sonar

 

 

THE INDIAN Railways runs 50,000 coaches, of which 43,000 are for passengers. Each day, 1,72,000 open toilets dot one the world’s most complex rail networks with human excreta. After a 2005 Supreme Court order directed the Ministry of Railways to prepare a time-bound scheme for the total eradication of manual scavenging, the railways tabled a plan that targets the total elimination of direct discharge toilets from passenger coach system by 2021-22. In this “green initiative”, they proposed the introduction of bio-toilets to replace the existing direct discharge toilets. Seven years later, bio-toilets have been fitted in only 436 coaches.

 

On 22 January, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal wrote to general managers of all zonal railways to ensure cleanliness at 100 stations of religious and tourist importance, with more than 10 lakh population. He also said that more coaches would be provided with bio-toilets.

 

However, on the issue of manual scavenging, the railways denies the practice outright. “All new trains are being fitted with bio-toilets and since installing them in old trains isn’t feasible, washable aprons have been installed at most stations,” says Anil Saxena, public relations officer with the Ministry of Railways. With the washable apron type of tracks, workers use a hose pipe to rinse the platforms and the waste flows into the drains. “All safai karmacharis are provided with masks, coats, boots, gloves, etc. They don’t clean anything with their hands,” adds Saxena.

 

The reality is something else. On visiting several stations in New Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, members of the NGO Safai Karmachari Andolan saw workers cleaning the waste without any protection. “This can be seen at Ajmer and Panipat stations,” says Bezwada Wilson, convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan. “In places where the drain to carry the washed away human excreta from the aprons does not cover the complete length of the platform, they have to be cleaned manually.” Both the New Delhi and Old Delhi Railway Stations have this problem. Moreover,safai karmacharis are also seen working in hazardous conditions without any protective gear.

 

“We don’t have gloves or masks,” says 24-year-old Jabbar (name changed) who works at the Old Delhi Railway Station. “We get them only when an official visits the station. Otherwise we clean with just brooms.”

 

The railways’ denial of the practice makes it difficult to get access to actual figures for manual scavenging. However, independent surveys by various organisations reveal that manual scavenging is an existing practice in the railways.

 

Studies conducted by the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and Safai Karmachari Andolan show how the railways have managed the cover-up for over two decades. “The railways have managed to keep manual scavengers working for them closely wrapped under a cloak of invisibility by outsourcing the jobs to contractors,” says Ashif Shaikh, convener of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan. These employees are hired as sanitation workers but they clean more than just dry garbage.

 

To make matters worse, in the past two decades, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has not included the railways in any of its surveys on manual scavenging. Even the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, tabled in Parliament in September 2012, leaves a lot to be desired. A clause states that a person who engages in “hazardous” cleaning with protective gear shall not be deemed a “manual scavenger”. This will not only dilute the definition of manual scavenging but will also provide a window for the practice to be perpetuated.

 

 

#Inda- Burying democracy in human waste


January 8, 2013

Prabha Sridevan, The Hindu

Every day that the practice of manual scavenging continues is another day that negates the right to a life of dignity for those still forced to engage in this demeaning work

The Supreme Court had recently admonished a District Magistrate for filing a “wrong” affidavit stating that there was no manual scavenging in his district. Just a day earlier, Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh had publicly apologised for the continuance of the practice of manual scavenging. And I thought of a documentary on manual scavenging that has haunted me ever since I saw it.

It is really what is described as an “in your face” documentary. A scene is of a small girl in a blue frock, and with liquid eyes — what in Tamil we would call “Neerottam.” She answers the questions about her experience in school (what I give below is not a verbatim reproduction of the script, but an imperfect one).

“Did you like school?”

“Yes.” (A shy smile)

“What happened?”

“I stopped.”

“Why?”

“I used to sit in the front row. Then my classmates did not want me to sit next to them. So the teacher asked me to move to the last row. I went for some days. Then I stopped.”

This did not happen decades ago, but in this day and age. It must have been a government school. Where else will a poor Bhangi’s child go? Article 17 of the Constitution states: “Untouchability is abolished.” If a government schoolteacher can ask a child to go to the back row because her classmates do not want any contact with her, when was it abolished?

Let us all feel on our skin the sandpaper-rub of exclusion. We are not done with that little girl yet. The camera stays on her face, while she looks back at us. Slowly those deep eyes, which have known a pain that no eight-year-old should, well up with tears and she whispers:

“I wanted to become a nurse or a teacher.”

Fraternity, we promised ourselves; fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. What does fraternity mean? Dr. Ambedkar said, when the Constitution was in the making, that: “Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians — of Indians being one people. It is the principle which gives unity and solidarity to social life. It is a difficult thing to achieve. Castes are anti-national, in the first place, because, they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.” The truth must be told, we have not overcome. Why else did the teacher ask that child to sit away from her classmates?

How do we apologise to her for the insult to her dignity, the vandalism of her dreams, and the destruction of her desire? How do we make amends? Can we, in one lifetime, do it? This was a denial of fraternity, a violation of the basic principle of democracy. We, the units of humanity, are interconnected and respect for each other is a sine qua non of all human interactions. There can be no dilution or compromise on this. It is not dependent on who the one is or who the other. This interconnectedness is fraternity — the spirit that assures and affirms human dignity. That is why it is imperative that fraternity informs all State actions and all social transactions. The dynamics between equality and fraternity work like this: in the absence of substantive equality, there will always be groups whose dignity is not acknowledged resulting in a negation of fraternity. Of the five senses, touch is the least understood. But it is the only sense that establishes fraternity that also establishes kinship. A bridge is built when you touch another in kinship in a way that it is not when you look at, talk to or listen to the other. And “a continent of persons” within India has been denied that “touch,” that kinship. It is because we have not understood the principle of fraternity, that there is no “they” and “us,” there is only “us.”

2010 deadline

That young girl of the broken dreams was born to parents who are manual scavengers. This is a group to which the right to fraternity is consistently and brazenly denied, and the most marginalised of marginalised groups. It is acknowledged in public meetings that manual scavenging is a human rights issue and not about sanitation. We read in the newspapers that this practice would soon be banned and that we would become Nirmal Bharat. But it continues. Even if the winds of change are blowing, for the condemned ones even yesterday is not soon enough, any of the yesterdays. There have been many deadlines for eradicating this practice, one such final deadline was March 31, 2010. Deadlines have come and gone. But manual scavengers continue their work, anaesthetising themselves with drinks and drugs from these assaults on their dignity. Their lives are a daily negation of the right to a life with dignity though they have court orders affirming that right.

When a teacher asks a child — like the one whom we met earlier — what her father does for a living, what would she say? “My father carries all your filth on his head?” She probably remains silent. If she speaks those words, her classmates would not see it just as another job. No, it is a job that has to be done by the “other,” so “our” houses “within” will remain clean, and “the other” after cleaning the house will go outside the margin and remain “unclean.” She would be asked to sit away from the rest. So, she is silent.

‘What do you know?’

I once heard at the National Judicial Academy, an excruciatingly painful experience shared by Bezwada Wilson, who campaigns against manual scavenging. He had seen some persons who were manual scavengers, digging in a pile of excreta.

He asked, “What are you doing?”

“The pail has got buried in the filth; we are trying to retrieve it.”

“So you will dig there with your hands?”

“If we do not get it back, we cannot do our job tomorrow, and we will not get paid. What do you know?”

He said, “I walked and walked for a long time out in the fields and I stood there and cried to the moon, I cried to the wind, I cried to the water, I cried and I asked why?”

In his book “The Strange Alchemy of Law and Life,” Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa writes, “There are some things human beings cannot do to other human beings.” He said it in the context of torture; it is just the same in the context of this abomination. The Supreme Court in State of M.P. vs. Ram Krishna Balothia (1995 SCC (3) 221) rejected the attack on the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, saying that a special legislation to check and deter crimes against them committed by non-Scheduled Castes and non-Scheduled Tribes is necessary, in view of the continued violation of their rights. S.3(1)(ii) of this Act says: “Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe —

i. ………

ii. acts with intent to cause injury, insult or annoyance to any member of a Scheduled Caste, or a Scheduled Tribe by dumping excreta … in his premises or neighbourhood,” is punishable.

But the work of manually lifting and the removal of human excreta is inextricably linked with caste and is another form of “dumping.”

Mr. Wilson writes in his Foreword to Gita Ramaswamy’s book “India Stinking …” (2005) that, “(A)n estimated 13,00,000 people from dalit communities continue to be employed as manual scavengers across the length and breadth of this country — in private homes, in community dry latrines managed by the municipality, in the public sector such as railways and by the army.” This is why the heart of a little girl who wanted to become a nurse was broken and she dropped out of school. There are some things one human being does not do to another human being.

(Prabha Sridevan, a former Judge of the Madras High Court, is Chairperson, Intellectual Property Appellate Board.)

#India- Mobile Campaign for Total Eradication of Manual Scavenging


Inline image 1

Dear Friends,

 

Greetings from Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and Jan Sahas!!

 

Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan started national wide march “Maila Mukti Yatra” for total eradication of manual scavenging from 30th November 2012 from Bhopal. It aims at covering 18 states, 200 districts in 63 days. Around 10,000 liberated women will participate in the Yatra to appeal with a target of 50,000 manual scavengers to stop the practice.

 

Under the “Maila Mukti Yatra” Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan launched a Mobile Campaign to demanding the total eradication of inhuman slavery of manual scavenging and support to Maila Mukti Yatra by calling this number 09266638869.

 

Just give a missed call on 09266638869 and register your support for total eradication of manual scavenging and support to Maila Mukti Yatra.

 

Please share this message to your family and friends to call this number for support the campaign.

 

 

 

For more details and updates, please visit:

http://www.mailamukti.org/

http://www.facebook.com/MailaMuktiYatra

https://twitter.com/MailaMuktiYatra

 

 

Thanks,

 

In solidarity,

 

Ashif Shaikh and Lali Bai

Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan

 

States list manual scavengers as “dead”


21 November 2012 , By Priscilla Jebaraj , The Hindu

Geeta Devi’s neat Hindi signature is written below her photograph – a shy-looking woman with a dupatta covering her head – in an affidavit duly notarised in Haridwar last month. Dehradun district resident Manju smiles out of the photograph on her affidavit, where she states she is just 36 years old.

According to the government of Uttarakhand, both Manju and Geeta Devi are dead. After all, both women are manual scavengers, engaged in an occupation that the state does not believe exists.

“There is no data because we simply deny their existence,” admits Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. “It is not kosher to admit that we still have manual scavenging in this country.”

The Uttarakhand government stated that both women – and hundreds of other manual scavengers – were dead in its submission to the Supreme Court in response to a 2003 petition filed by the Safai Karamchari Andolan, an organisation working to end the practice whereby lakhs of people dispose of the excreta of their fellow human beings with their own hands, usually carried on their own heads.

Uttarakhand is not alone. Several state governments have told the court that both the census which found 26 lakh manually cleaned latrines in the country, and the SKA which has documented the profiles and photographs of almost 9,000 scavengers are simply wrong.

For example, in the Dehradun district, the local administration has dismissed the claims of every single one of the 244 profiles documented by SKA. “Retired”, “[in] service”, “death”, “not interested in loan [granted by government]” reads page after page in the government’s submission against the names of people whom SKA has painstakingly profiled.

“Census workers…have drawn wrong inference,” says the Madhya Pradesh government’s submission. “The report of the census of India may be based on old data/figures,” says the submission from Bihar. Similar statements were submitted by Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

“This is why we have gathered photographs, addresses, and notarised affidavits,” says SKA national convenor Bezwada Wilson. “But the government refuses to admit to the truth.”

SKA estimates that over three lakh manual scavengers – mostly women – may be cleaning excreta from dry latrines, open drains and railway tracks across the country. But the government has no accurate figures.

The Rural Development Minister Mr. Ramesh expects the ongoing Socio-Economic Caste Census to document and enumerate manual scavengers, and give women like Manju and Geeta Devi a presence in government records.

In the meanwhile, the Rural Development Ministry has promised to bring every manual scavenger identified by SKA into the net of the National Rural Livelihood Mission, giving the highest priority to providing them with alternative livelihoods, training and skill development.

 

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