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Odisha: Manual scavengers yet to make a clean start


Posted Wednesday July 06, 2016

Odisha, Manual Scavenging, Slum Dwellers, Cuttack  

The slum dwellers living in Odisha's Cuttack city allege that the facilities provided in the slums are too little. A visit to the slums where the retrenched manual scavengers have been rehabilitated will give you a complete picture about the poor condition in which they are living. Over flowing drains, littered garbage and foul smell rules the slums. The lack of drinking water facility, toilet facility and absence of a clean environment adds to the woes of the slum dwellers. The kind of life the manual scavengers had imagined for them has turned a distant dream.

Binita Jaiswal  

In 1993, when the Supreme Court prohibited the inhuman practice of manual scavenging by framing “The employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrine prohibition Act 1993” Rebati Sahoo in Cuttack thought her life would change for better and she would be able to lead a happy and dignified life.  But even after two decades nothing much has changed in her life.

Rebati, who works as a manual scavenger, claims that life is still the same for her. She still earns her living by cleaning toilets in private hospitals. Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC), as per the orders of the apex court, has rehabilitated the retrenched manual scavengers in six big slums in the city. But the condition of the slums is abysmal and the rehabilitation provided by the civic body has not been much helpful in stopping the evil practice of manual scavenging, claim the dwellers of the slums.


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 receiving end.

“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 manual scavenging.

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 programme]


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