Sunday, September 08, 2013

India bans human waste scavenging

Mail and Guardian
September 7, 2013. 

Lawmakers have passed a bill to ban manual scavenging; the clearing of human waste from toilets, by workers known as the "ultimate untouchables".

Already illegal under a largely ineffective 1993 law, the Congress-led government promised to have another go at stamping out the practice with the new legislation, which was cleared late Friday.

The new legislation modifies the 1993 law that criminalised the scavengers who clean out primitive toilets by hand, collect the faecal matter in baskets and take it away in handcarts to dump elsewhere. "This dehumanising practice (of manual scavenging) is inconsistent with the right to live with dignity," social justice minister Kumari Selja said after passage of the bill.

The measure, passed by the decision-making lower house of parliament, aims to outlaw employment of manual scavengers and provide retraining and help for their families, Selja said.

"We want to remove the stigma and blot on the society," the minister said. Selja called for a "change of mindset" to end discrimination against scavengers, who are treated as pariahs even by others at the bottom of Hinduism's hereditary caste hierarchy.

The measure prohibits construction of non-flushing toilets that must be emptied by hand and sets out a one-year jail term or a fine of up to 50 000 rupees – or both – for anyone employing a manual scavenger. It also requires authorities to monitor implementation of the law and contains tough sanctions for municipalities employing sewer cleaners without protective gear.

Workers stripped down to their underpants and equipped with just a hoe and a wooden bar can still routinely be seen clambering into the stinky depths of septic tanks and sewers. Manual scavenging points to a lack of sufficient investment in modern sewerage systems by a government that struggles to provide basic services, social activists say.

A 2011 survey by the Central Pollution Control Board showed that 160 out of nearly 8 000 towns had sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants. More than 600-million Indians lack even primitive toilet facilities and practise what is known as "open defecation" in roadways, ditches and fields.

"Sanitation is a single most important need in India," rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said last year. He raised a stir in the deeply religious country when he noted "there are more temples in the country than toilets" and that "India has a godliness surplus and cleanliness deficit". – AFP

Read the original article here.
Comment: If you have traveled through India or even parts of it then you know the issue of effective sewerage is a huge problem.

During my time in India I would be amazed watching talking heads on television pontificate on aspects of "India Shining" - the attempt at branding India's supposed trajectory into first-world-like development - while basic utilities like clean running water and sewerage remained a national dilemma.

Somewhere in Bangalore in 2007 I said in frustration to The Guru that it was amazing that India's political elite were talking about putting a man on the moon while so many impoverished were selling peanuts on the street to make a living.

One of the first methodological techniques that is taught to graduate students embarking on writing a thesis is the concept of levels of analysis.

Using the concept it is easy to see that creating a law - the Constitution, for example - to ban human waste scavenging is not nearly enough.  Laws need enforcement but there is even a more basic and intrinsic level of analysis that needs address.

Here I am thinking about the issue of caste which is also banned by the Indian constitution.

Caste allows for the socio-political and psychological bedrock upon which the economic activity of scavenging is predicated; and keep in mind that lower cast people are also largely the ones employed in collecting trash, cleaning toilets, etc.

The larger problem is then not nearly a matter of law even though it is a necessary ingredient.  The larger problem is that of caste and its degradation(s) that continue to hold India captive.

As long as there are folks in power - the elite - who think that there is a divine right to live above others who are being punished through cycles of life then the matter of law is a moot point.

The problem, therefore, is one that lies deeper and it requires a more consistent commitment to humanitarian values based on human rights conceptualizations to draw effective redress.



Kimberly said...

My first thought is now what will these people do for work? I wonder if this was even discussed. So make it illegal but don't implement a plan to change the process. Maybe offer equipment and protective gear to these people or a licensing program so they can continue to make money for their livelihood.

Bad planning and this law does not address the issue in it's whole.


Ridwan said...

Hola Kimster!

You raise an excellent point. The government should have a plan to help those who will lose jobs.

The previous law in fact punished the worker for scavenging human waste.

Now it seems the punishment may not be direct but rather about being without work.

My feeling is that the law will be useless on its own. Maybe in the beginning there will be some oversight but in time things will return as they are now.

Very sad.

Miss ya,