The caste of those doing manual scavenging has changed, but the exploitation remains.
Despite manual scavenging being officially banned, the practice is still alive and widespread in many parts of India. Traditionally performed by ‘untouchable’ castes, because of the pollution and impurity attached to these tasks, manual scavenging is now done by other impoverished groups as well who have no other option for livelihood.
Varsha, our Community Correspondent in Bihar, has discovered that in Danapur Gola many of the manual scavengers are young men (sometimes minors) belonging to the Baskodh community, a scheduled caste that used to be bamboo makers. These young men generally originate from rural Bihar, belonging to large families that they have to support. With the prices of bamboo items falling dramatically because of plastic, they had to quit their traditional occupation and migrate to the city in search of opportunity. There, they have no choice but to take up manual scavenging, for wages ranging from Rs 70 to Rs 120 a day.
Besides being degrading, manual scavenging also puts the workers’ lives at risk. In the long term, they fall victim to various skin diseases and respiratory problems. While working, accidents – sometimes lethal – are frequent. For Varsha, “you cannot talk about accidents when everyone know what the risks are and that no protections are given. Accidents are simply bound to happen.”
“There are so many laws banning manual scavenging, and granting provisions to workers… I wanted to show that none of these are implemented,” explained Varsha. Indeed, videos like hers are precious, because the survival of manual scavenging is widely denied by politicians. Varsha hopes that people will gain awareness on the issue, and start raising their voice to put the ban into practice.