More than expanding toilet coverage Modi should focus on abolishing manual scavengers

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Editorial

Thomas Lim
The Japanese firm- Lixil group, which works with Swachh Bharat Mission at district level is seeking to expand its Sato toilets products to nine more states by next year, after launching its Japanese hygiene and sanitation product maker in five states last year, which primarily focuses on the rural and semi-urban population, the company for its expansion plans has joined hands with UNICEF, and is working in collaboration with the SBM at the district level.
According to the head of Public Affairs Asia Pacific, Lixil, eighty per cent of the sanitation challenge is in the rural part. There, it is still more community based promotion of a product.

Since last year, the firm has already covered states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra and a few parts of Rajasthan. These states, being densely populated, will remain in their focus while they have plans to expand to nine more states in next one year.
Chief Public Affairs Officer, Lixil Group, Jin Song Montesano, while talking about expansion plans in India, said they are looking for more partners especially those who can collaborate with Lixil for work in rural areas.
However, according to the political pundits even after its fourth anniversary, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) campaign, which was launched on October 2, 2014 at Rajghat, New Delhi, by Prime Minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi is yet to show positive transformation in the society. It has been attributed to the traditional old habit of apathy towards society. Worse so, the practice of manually cleaning excrement from private and public dry toilets and open drains still persists in most parts of the society, particularly in urban sectors. Shamelessly, the high society continues to organize cleaning drives only as photo-shoot opportunities to be featured in media headlines.
The essence of community services, mainly locality cleaning have always been the priority in Meghalaya on national holidays or before the festive season, but it ends immediately after the function, where it is sometimes seen that the filth accumulated will remain for days before the Municipality staff can remove it. Meanwhile most media houses highlight these events while focusing on the Chief Guests of the functions – meaning purpose served, while the impact is not at all considered the issue any longer.
Like other states, Meghalaya too is greatly dependent on the Municipality Board staff for cleaning up the city on a day to day basis. The state has also witnessed the accumulation of waste for days, once the staff goes on strike, and in some lanes and by-lanes not covered by the Municipality, one can see the accumulation of household waste and others debris, not to mention the foul smell.
In parts of the state, the practice of manual scavengers for collecting the human waste on a daily basis still continues and even in the cleaning up of the rivers Wahumkhrah and Umshyrpi, people were used to physically remove all the unwanted waste. The point to ponder here is whether the campaign of clean India has violated the Human Rights of the cleaners or the workers.
It may be mentioned that independent India still sees manual scavengers who are usually from caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and confined to livelihood tasks viewed as deplorable or deemed too menial by higher caste groups. Their caste-designated occupation reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or “untouchable” and perpetuates widespread discrimination. Mahatma Gandhi has fought so long to eradicate such cast system.
Also, on September 6, 2013, the Indian Parliament passed The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (the 2013 Act), committing itself yet again to ending manual scavenging. Seven months later, on March 27, 2014, the Indian Supreme Court held that India’s constitution requires state intervention to end manual scavenging and “rehabilitate” all people engaged in the practice. This meant not only ending the practice but also ending the abuses faced by communities engaged in manual scavenging.
The government’s recognition in the 2013 Act of the historically rooted and ongoing injustice faced by communities engaged in manual scavenging is important, but also points to failures in implementing previous laws and policies to address the problem. Recent examples from communities engaged in manual scavenging in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh highlight the failures of previous government attempts to end manual scavenging and eliminate the entrenched attitudes and discriminatory practices that still bind members of affected communities to this degrading and unnecessary occupation.
The official campaign of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan should focus on abolishing manual scavengers without delay as it is a violation of the Act and also the Supreme Court Order. The fund allocation and the cess collected should focus on modernizing the civic cleaning system, either to equip the workers with proper equipment so they do not directly come into contact with human waste, and need not physically go to the sewage line. Once this is achieved, none of the VVIPs will come forward only for photo shoots, and the true meaning of the campaign can be achieved.


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