BENEATH THE SCENES
No one will understand it better than the person himself who goes into a man hole to clean shit of others. How ironical it is to see countries making plans to land on moon but lack in developing machines which could deal with the sewage of the nation. Despite of the laws made in India for Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 which states that manual scavenging, cleaning of dry latrines and all kind of manual cleaning of excrement as well as cleaning gutters, sewers and septic tank is a prohibited act in India. Yet prevalence of manual scavenging is not at all affected. According to a nationwide survey in 2018, over 42,000 manual scavengers exist in our country (precise numbers – 42,302) with UP excelling the charts (19,712) followed by Maharashtra (7,378) and Uttarakhand (6,033). This is what the survey conveys which is usually a manipulated number which we all are familiar with.
The core purpose of the prohibition of this act was to abolish the caste system or “jaati vaad” which was prevailing amongst the sanitation workers. Since the varna system the “Shudhras” or the “Dalits” were considered the ones accountable for the cleanliness of toilets and sewages in the society. To keep a check on the basic human rights i.e., Article 15 which ensures Social equality and equal access to public areas and Article 17 which states abolition of untouchability, government made laws for abolition of scavenging. But the scenario reveals that government itself is the biggest violator of its own laws. It is seen that the Indian Railways employ scavengers and sanitation workers for manual cleaning of the tracks.
Sanitation is an important issue in India which can just not be ignored so are the problems of the sanitation workers who deal with it. It is the demand to understand the problems at the same level at which they are faced. Assuming the depth of problems will generate no remedies.
As the definition itself says, scavenging refers to the unsafe removal of raw untreated human excreta manually hence; it is an urging demand of the society for the development of machineries which could be used instead of humans for the purpose of sanitation cleaning.
It is often seen that the workers employed for the purpose of sanitation cleaning are not trained and are just enrolled for the job due to the already facing shortage of workers which comes as a major drawback in their working. According to the survey of 2018 only 2,660 got skilled training so far out of 42,302 workers. Skilled development and training of at least a year is must for such works along with proper guidance to use equipments. This will reduce the risks of accidents during the working. Once the training is completed a license shall be allotted to them which could prove that the person is trained and is eligible to work in any circumstance.
Equipments are the companions of sanitation workers which have always been used when there is any inspection or the tenders are being given to the in charge. Seriousness of the body suits, mask, boots and gloves is always overlooked which need to be told to the workers. Present conditions shows how the workers themselves are disgusted by the work they do as they work bare body without any caution and equipments. Therefore they indulge themselves in alcohol and drugs to forget about their social and working status. Nobody on duty pays attention to the state of workers before they are landed into a man hole. Several workers get drunk before going into a man hole to tolerate the disgust they feel in it and after they get out of it. Several deaths are recorded due to the drunken state of the workers.
There are no safety measures provided to these workers. Canister masks are provided with warnings which states that these should not be used in oxygen deficit areas but inside the chambers there are poisonous gases such as methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon mono-oxide and ammonia which leads to decrease in oxygen level in the chambers and causes Hypoxia which can lead to immediate deaths. Hence, having a compatible suit with oxygen cylinders is must for sanitation workers working inside chambers. This will not only save them with the physical health issues but also the mental stigma they face after they get out of those chambers filled with filth of all kinds.
Average life expectancy of Indians is nearly 69 years but these hazardous works make the life expectancy of these workers below 60 if they do not die of any accident. Unexpected and sudden deaths due to lack of caution are yet to mention. Stats reveal that one manual scavenger die in every 5 days due to accidents and mishaps. There is a strict need of paying attention towards the working conditions of the sanitation workers and these should imply right from the start.
Nobody seems bothered after the task is once done but behind the scenes are often left unseen and beneath the scenes are even beyond one’s imagination.