(NGO in General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations)

What is manual scavenging?

Scavenging is the practice of manual cleaning of human excreta from service/ dry latrines. The scavengers crawl into the dry latrines and collect the human excreta with their bare hands, carry it as head-load in a container to dispose it off.

A caste based and hereditary profession, which is handed down, as a legacy from one generation to the next; “manual scavenging” has been an age-old routine for this community, which is untouched by technological advancement in sanitary practices. Not only does the prevalence of this culture seem antediluvian, but what is worse is the fact that those born in this community are considered agents of pollution due to their background of social hierarchy, based on birth. They are the most oppressed and suppressed class of Indian society - hated, ostracized, vilified and avoided by all other castes and classes. The appalling hardship, humiliation and exploitation they face, have no parallel in human history. The practice started in the Pauranic period continued in the Buddhist, Mauryan, Mughal and British periods.

Scavengers come in direct contact with human excreta and his/her hands are completely soiled. In a congested locality, the scavenger has to crawl through a narrow passage, pushing the basket with one hand, resting his body weight on the other to make his way up to the latrine chamber through a narrow opening.  In the latrine, where the seat is deep inside, he/she has to stretch his hand to the fullest and thrust his/her head into the hole to clean the toilet. The scavenger has to bend forward into the narrow space to clean excreta from the toilet antechambers. In latrines, which have no receptacles, human excreta drops directly on the floor, which, with passage of time, wears the brickwork that becomes patchy and uneven. In most cases, the sidewalls are also without cement plaster; with the result, the excreta get stuck up everywhere on the sidewalls and also on the floor. The scavenger, while cleaning, has to scratch the floor and sidewalls to do maximum cleaning.  It is a common sight to see scavengers, mostly women, moving with excreta on the head, stored in bamboo-baskets, or in leaking drums, with the muck trickling down over face and body. Passers-by avoid such persons. If a scavenger comes in close proximity, he or she is showered with a hail of abuse. In many places, latrines are so constructed that the users do not even see their own excreta. They simply squat, perform, and go away without even caring to know who cleans their toilets. No human degradation could be more cruel and inhuman than the one suffered by scavengers.

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