Rebati narrates that even her sons are still doing the same work. Two of her
sons work with the CMC as sweepers. They de-silt the drains and also clean
the clogged drains by entering the manholes, the work that Rebati hates.
“I wanted my sons to be well-educated so
that they could earn their living by doing some decent job. But nothing
of that sort happened. They inherited the work of cleaning excreta,
which I genuinely hate. But I am so helpless that I can’t do anything
about it,” said the widow Rebati. This is not the reaction of a single
retrenched manual scavenger. Majority of the manual scavengers who have
been rehabilitated in the slums in the city shares a similar plight.
“The government makes tall claims that
manual scavenging is no more prevalent in the city. But it is absolutely
false. In some way or other we are still doing the dirty job of cleaning
excreta. While women folk have been employed in hospitals and other
institutions to clean the toilets, the men folk work as sweepers and
clean filth from urban sewer lines," stated Deepa, another sweeper.
The slum dwellers allege that the
facilities provided in the slums are too little. A visit to the slums
where the retrenched manual scavengers have been rehabilitated gives you
a complete picture about the poor condition in which they are
living. Over flowing drains, littered garbage and foul smell rule the
slums. Lack of drinking water provision, toilet facility and absence of
a clean environment add to the woes of the slum dwellers. The kind of
life dreamt by these manual scavengers has become a distant dream.
“We felt after abolition of manual
scavenging system we would be able to lead a clean and litter free life,
but it was a myth. We are still surrounded by excreta and dirty drains,"
said a 64 year old Babaji. The slum dwellers of the Harijan Sahi,
sweepers’ colony, in Rajabagicha claim that gambling and drinking has
turned a common feature in their slum. Whatever the men earn they spend
it on alcohol and gambling and, as always, women are still at the
“My husband is frustrated of doing this
dirty job but he can’t leave it and it is the best thing he can do to
earn a livelihood. In order to minimize his pain and sufferings, he
drinks lots of alcohol everyday and beats me," said Ranjita, wife of a
sweeper. She further added, "though tall claims are being made by State
and Union governments that manual scavenging has disappeared from the
society, it still prevails in the mind of the people.
“Manual scavenging as an occupation is
entrenched in caste discrimination. We find that this is practiced as a
form of untouchability in many places. We are forced to sweep roads and
clean drains as people still consider us as untouchables and hesitate to
employ us as domestic help or cook. But they happily provide us the job
of cleaning their latrines," said Sukanti, another resident of the slum.
The slum dwellers demand better facilities
for them. The women folk demand a clean and hygienic environment in
their dwellings and a dignified job to earn a livelihood. Those working
for the rights of manual scavengers claim that a lot needs to be done to
ensure a healthy and dignified life to these people.
“Lot of thing has to be done to ensure a
better life to the manual scavengers and to completely ban this inhuman
practice in the society. The authorities have to allocate special funds
for development of this deprived section. Measures should also be taken
to educate the community and to provide various vocational courses to
them so that they can earn their livelihood by doing some decent job,"
said Amiya Das , a social worker.
Asserting that the major problem is with
flush toilets, Das urged that the modern sewage system also needs
adequate attention and technological advancement. Almost all small towns
and small cities have open drain systems, which require constant
maintenance and, thus, involves manual scavenging. Similarly, closed
drain systems where garbage enters the drain systems and causes
blockages also require the same. This is mainly due to inefficient solid
waste management systems. These are some inherent problems with the
current policy initiative of promoting flush toilets as a method to end
However, the Civic body has claimed that
measures are being taken to resolve the issues of the slum dwellers.
"Measures are being taken to improve
sanitary condition in the slums . We have chalked out special projects
to construct new toilets in the slums and to provide safe drinking water
to the dwellers. The project is to be implemented very soon," said
Saumendra Ghose, Mayor of Cuttack city.
[Binita Jaiswal is a
Journalist from Odisha and is a media fellow with National Foundation for
India (NFI). This article is written as part of the NFI fellowship