Public Hearing on Sewer Workers – Hearing the victims and their families

Hearing will highlight the stories of persons employed as manual scavengers, the atrocities they face and the road towards rehabilitation

sewer workers

The Dalit Adivasi Shakti Manch (DASAM), along with other organizations in solidarity with sewer workers, has organized a Public Hearing of the plights of the victims of manual scavenging and their families to bring attention to the violation of the rights of sewer workers. The Public Hearing will be held on October 19, 2019 at Gandhi Peace Foundation, DeenDayalUpadhyayMarg, New Delhi.

Taking a serious view of death of manual scavengers, the Delhi High Court on 12th July 2019, asked the Delhi government and various other authorities to state on affidavit whether they were, directly or indirectly, hiring people to manually clean septic tanks and sewers.

The objective of the Public Hearing to be held on October 19, 2019 is to highlight the plight of the victims and their families and to look into the state’s response in providing them with rehabilitation and support, the existing dangers and loopholes in the work place which still exist even after giving machines for safer sewer work and why it has not reached the “real” worker.

Sewers in India are like gas chambers where manual scavengers are being sent to die, the Supreme Court remarked on September 18, 2019. “In no country, people are sent to gas chambers to die. Every month four to five persons are losing their lives in manual scavenging” the court said.

In 1993, India prohibited the employment of people as manual scavengers. In 2013, a landmark new legislation in the form of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act was passed which reinforced prohibiting manual scavenging in all forms and rehabilitating manual scavengers. Why then is it still in practice?

The Act passed against the practise of manual scavenging has come to be better known for the frequency with which it is violated. Instead of the fundamental question of whether manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks should be permitted or not, what rules public discussions are issues related to lack of safety gear and improper training of workers sent to clean sewers. A report by PUDR investigates this issue to probe what these deaths imply for democratic rights not just for the victims and their families, but also for the inhabitants of the city.

Manual scavengers have anyway been at a double disadvantage. First, they face enormous discrimination for being members of lower castes and second, because they are manual scavengers who clean human excreta.

Isn’t the ignorance of the civic system – in terms of providing basic safety gear to sanitation workers and the ignorance of the legal system – in terms of no criminal proceedings initiated against those deploying sanitation workers to work in hazardous conditions, a form of institutionalized violence against these workers? Do their lives not demand importance just because they are unfortunate victims of a caste system and failed urban planning?

Primary accountability of the sewerage and waste management systems is the State’s primary responsibility. It is urgent to factor in the repeated deaths of sanitation workers in the present and future policies of making India a clean country. It is imperative not only for the system, but also for inhabitants of the country to understand that the right to sanitation cannot be bought at the cost of the rights of sanitation workers.

Manual Scavenging still on: How Swachh is GOI’s conscience?
“No other Country sends People to Gas Chamber”: SC on Sewer Deaths



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