Manual Scavenging in India


Myself .

 By T.V. Antony Raj

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The images I have used in this article are real. I accept the fact that they are nauseating. If you too feel so, then I have made my point. Manual scavenging is in vogue not only in India but is rampant all over South Asia. For us Asians, this is life. We have to live with it.

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It was a hot afternoon. I was waiting for the bus in Kodambakkam – the home of Kollywood in Chennai. Like others, I too pressed my handkerchief to my face to ward off the stench emanating from the heap of reeking night soil lying nearby.

Then I saw this old man around 70, with only a loincloth to cover his body, his right hand groping into the clogged drain of a septic tank.

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Source: Anonymous

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My heart bled for him. I drew out a ten rupee note from my shirt pocket and stretched it towards him.

He looked up at me. His face glowed with anger. He murmured a few loathsome phrases from his gutter language. Clenching his fist, he shouted, “Hey man, who did you think I am? I’m not a beggar!

Before I could apologize, the old man started ranting:

Ayyaa [Sir], I am an old man and I don’t know when I was born. I do an honest job. My work is clean. My father too was a scavenger. I don’t remember doing any other work. I have three girls and one boy. Two girls are married, the third is a widow, and she lives with us. My son is a useless fellow. He steals at home and loafs around with his good-for-nothing friends. I don’t know how; he sniffs my liquor wherever I hide it. I had an eye operation only two weeks ago. If I sit at home, who will feed my wife, daughter, and son?

This is only one story of the terrible plight of athe manual scavengers in Chennai.

This made me think of the caste system in India. While there are just four main castes, and more than 20,000 sub-castes. Then what about the sub-sub-castes, clans, and a multitude of other mutations?

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Manual Scavenging - 01

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The above photo is a still from the documentary movie titled “MANUAL SCAVENGING CONTINUES” that appeared along with the article “The inhuman practice of manual scavenging lives on” published in ibnlive.in.com on August 14, 2011.

Here is another story of the terrible plight of manual scavengers in Pandharpur, Maharashtra.

Gurunath works all day amidst the extremely unbearable stench of night soil. He often stays dead drunk to do his work. At times, he finds it difficult to eat when he thinks about the human waste he has wallowed in. He has asthma. Many of these cleaners succumb to asthma and the life expectancy of many in their community is just 30 years.

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Source: Anonymous

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In Punjab, men belonging to lower castes, particularly from the Chuhar, Mehathar, Halalkhor, Lalbaghi, Bangi, Thotti and Jamadar castes, are widely employed as manual scavengers and sewage cleaners. These caste subgroups generally called Valmikis, are the lowest of the low in the caste hierarchy.

Jaikumar, who runs a public primary school in Punjab, says:

“A lot of children in the school come from migrant families. Everyone thinks that Punjab is a prosperous state but the truth is that we have our own problems. There are a lot of people who can’t afford to have two meals a day and especially the dalits, the migrants and the people who are surviving on less than minimum wage …  Members of my community are poor and there are high levels of illiteracy. They aren’t aware of the dangers attached to these jobs or of other opportunities available. It is crucial that they be educated about the risks involved. Only then will they be empowered to demand safety equipment and even an end to this practice altogether.”

Here is a video made by Jaikumar that highlights the dangers of this work. This video shows two manual scavengers killed while working without any safety masks or gloves which necessarily have to be provided by the government.

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In India, 90 to 95 percent of people belonging to the scavenger communities engage in this abominable undignified work. The drains often contain an abnormally high percentage of carbon monoxide, methane, hydrogen sulphide and other toxic gasses. When cleaners are directly exposed to these gasses they fall sick and even, as the above video shows, die immediately. But most manual cleaners do not know that on every waking day their lives are under threat.

Why should human beings, citizens of democratic India work day after day surrounded by the unbearable conditions and stench of human waste?

What happened to the 1993 law banning the practice?

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Earthquake Rocks Iran’s Northwestern Province of East Azarbaijan


At least 300 people have been killed and over 1,400 others injured in two powerful earthquakes and subsequent aftershocks that rocked Iran’s northwestern province of East Azarbaijan.

On Saturday, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Ahar, near the provincial capital Tabriz, at 15:53 local time (1123 GMT). The quake struck 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 miles).

Another quake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale jolted Varzaqan and Haris, which are located near Ahar, 11 minutes later at a similar depth. The epicenter of the quake was 49 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz.

According to unconfirmed reports, four villages have been completely destroyed by the earthquake and about 60 others have been partially destroyed.

Thousands of people were forced to remain outdoors as at least 20 aftershocks have rocked the area so far.

Reza Sedighi, a relief official in the area, told Fars that at least 300 people were killed Saturday, and other officials reported more than 4,500 injured, some severely. Doctors on the scene predicted that more people would be found under destroyed houses, mosques and farms. In total, 133 villages were damaged. Shortages of water and food are being reported throughout the quake zone, a mountainous region near the border with Azerbaijan.

The official, Hassan Ghadami, Iran’s deputy interior minister, said that “all those under debris have been rescued and those affected are now being provided with their basic needs,” the semiofficial Fars news agency reported. The head of Iran’s Relief and Emergency Organization said that rescue operations were continuing.

The head of East Azarbaijan’s Crisis Management Khalil Saei confirmed the death toll and the number of injured people.

He said rescue operation teams are deployed in the area to help the victims of the quakes. Iranian relief workers saved more than 200 people from the rubble of dozens of villages.

Of the 538 villages in East Azerbaijan, 110 villages sustained about 40 to 100 percent damage. About 5000 buildings have been damaged.

Rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the quake-stricken areas, and the people affected by the earthquakes have been provided with temporary shelters and food supplies.

Tabriz is the center of Iran’s Turkish-speaking Azeri region and one of Iran’s largest cities. Here tens of thousands spent the night on the streets, fearing further earthquakes.

People in Tabriz, the capital of East Azarbaijan Province, stood in line to donate blood to those suffered injuries in the quakes.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes, experiencing at least one small tremor per day on average.

In December 2003, about 27,000 people were killed and 30,000 others injured when a 6.6-magnitude earthquake shook the historic city of Bam in southeastern Iran.

The deadliest earthquake in modern Iranian history was a 7.4-magnitude tremor that occurred on June 21, 1990 and affected Gilan and Zanjan provinces. About 40,000 people were killed, 60,000 others were injured, and around 100,000 adobe houses sustained major damage or collapsed.

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