Tag Archives: Manual Scavenging in India

November 19, is World Toilet Day!

Myself By T.V. Antony Raj


“Sanitation is more important than independence.”
– Mahatma Gandhi (in 1925).


World Toilet Day


If you find the images used in this article nauseating, then I have made my point. For us, Indians and other Asians, this is life. We have to live with it.

In 2001, World Toilet Organization (WTO) declared November 19 as World Toilet Day (WTD). Today, over 19 countries observe WTD with events hosted by various
water and sanitation advocates.

In developing countries in Asia and Africa, poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually.

India has more mobiles than toilets

Though a majority of the world’s population has access to mobile phones, one third of humanity do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines, affecting the environment, human health, dignity and security, and social and economic development.

We all like food. We spend most of our income on food. We look forward eagerly to what we would eat today for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, do we ever give thought to what happens as a result of all that food we consume?

In our society and community, it is a taboo and not polite to talk about toilets. We do not want others to see the cleaning and sanitation products we use. So, we hide them. We even hide the sewer system beneath the ground.


Because one third of humanity (2.5 billion people), or one in three people living in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to clean, safe, and functioning hygienic toilets. Therefore, they do not bother to discuss the problem of sanitation. As such, sanitation remains a neglected issue with meager financial investments in water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.

In the developing countries, the cost of inaction on sanitation is high. Due to lack of toilets, men, women, the young, the sick and the elderly have to defecate in the open, in fields, in vacant lots, and even by the roadside during the day and at night. Almost 1 billion people continue to defecate in the open.

Excreting in India

Lack of access to clean bathrooms in schools deters many girls from pursuing their education after they reach puberty. In some regions, due to lack of toilets, girls do not go to school when they are menstruating. Improved sanitation facilities can have a particularly positive impact on the education opportunities of young girls, affected by the lack of privacy and cleanliness during their menstrual period. Also, lack of toilets in schools affect all learners from concentrating in the classrooms, as they have to wait for longer periods before being able to relieve themselves in privacy in a dignified manner.

Without toilets and proper sanitation the environment around homes, workplaces, markets, and hospitals, become sources of infection and diarrhoeal diseases due to millions of tonnes of human excretion.

Due to lack of improved sanitation almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, the second leading cause of child deaths in the world. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by inadequate sanitation, and unhygienic conditions put children at multiple risks leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high morbidity, malnutrition, stunted growth and death. Every year 0.85 million children die from diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and unimproved water cause 88% of these deaths. Studies reveal that improved sanitation can help reduce diarrhoeal diseases by about 33%.

Despite the scale of the crisis, sanitation remains a low priority for many governments.

How can we mitigate this situation?

Now, many organisations have started to discuss toilets. Investment in sanitation is becoming a priority in many international communities. Yet, because the topic of sanitation has until now been neglected to a vast extent, they wait for good solutions to the problem. New solutions and approaches to sanitation that should have been tried and tested a long time back, are starting to find support only now.

Progress depends on adequate investment and collaborative action by civil societies, multilateral agencies, academia and the private sector in developing countries by supporting national efforts to improve sanitation for all strata of their society.

To address these issues, in July 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Sanitation for All” Resolution (A/RES/67/291) designating November 19 as World Toilet Day, aims to change both behaviour and policy on issues ranging from ending open-air defection (which 1.1 billion people practice worldwide) to enhancing water management.

 Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

On July 24, 2013, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a statement on adoption of the General Assembly resolution ‘Sanitation for All.’

I am delighted and grateful that Member States have adopted a resolution officially designating November 19th as World Toilet Day. I thank the Government of Singapore for its leadership on a crucially important global issue. This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.

Despite progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, one in three people do not have a basic toilet. Almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases. Poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually in developing countries.

Proper sanitation is also a question of basic dignity. It is unacceptable that women have to risk being the victims of rape and abuse, just to do something that most of us take for granted. It is also unacceptable that many girls are pushed out of school for lack of basic sanitation facilities.

This new resolution builds on the General Assembly’s “Sustainable sanitation: the drive to 2015”, agreed in 2010, and adds momentum to the Call to Action on Sanitation that I, on behalf of the Secretary-General, launched in March this year.

I urge every country to accelerate progress towards a world in which everyone enjoys this most basic of rights. I look forward to working with all partners to make Sanitation for All a reality.



The lack of access to decent toilet is no joke for a third of the world’s people, but a matter of life and death. No other invention has saved more lives than a toilet. Without access to toilets, many women and girls are too embarrassed to go in the open to defecate during daytime and so deny themselves relief until darkness sets in. But, trips to fields or roadside at night, however, puts them at risk of physical attack and sexual violence. So, having a toilet in or near the home lowers the risk of women and girls getting subjected to violence and rape.

Toilets mean safety.



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Manual Scavenging in India

Myself .

 By T.V. Antony Raj


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.



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.


Source: Anonymous


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?


Manual Scavenging - 01


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.


Source: Anonymous


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.



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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