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Human Rights Watch to Modi: Work to rehabilitate manual scavengers, show willingness to support community

Counterview Desk
Welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement that building toilets before building temples as suggesting commitment to develop modern sanitation system, the Human Rights Watch in its new report has insisted the he should simultaneously try to demonstrate “willingness to support communities seeking to leave manual scavenging, including by intervening when communities seeking to do so face discrimination and violence”.
Pointing towards how rehabilitation efforts for manual scavengers have failed, the report states, “In 2007, the central government launched the Self-Employment and Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers Scheme (SRMS) and budgeted Rs. 7,356 million (US$186 million).” Failure to implement the scheme can be gauged from the fact that of “more than 100 Human Rights Watch interviews with members of the manual scavenging community, only three reported applying for a loan under SRMS.”
The study, “Cleaning Human Waste: Manual Scavenging, Caste, and Discrimination in India”, insists, “Government intervention on behalf of manual scavenging communities is not only critical to addressing their longstanding social and economic exclusion, but will also provide impetus to households and local officials who rely upon manual scavenging rather than implementing existing government programmes to modernize sanitation.”
The report notes high-level efforts to end the practice in various ways. “In March 2014, in an effort to resolve this, the Supreme Court of India estimated that there are 9.6 million dry latrines that are still being cleaned manually by people belonging to the Scheduled Castes.” It quotes Social Justice and Empowerment minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot telling Parliament in August 2014: “The practice of manual scavenging, arising from the continuing existence of insanitary latrines, still persists in various parts of the country.”
However, the report, based on spot interviews with manual scavengers in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, regrets, “Neither the Supreme Court estimate, nor Gehlot’s statement take into account manual cleaning of open defecation from roads and other areas, removing excrement flushed into uncovered drains by private households in rural, semi-urban, and underdeveloped urban areas, or manual cleaning of private and government septic tanks.”
Suggesting how indifferent governments have been towards manual scavenging, the report states now nearly all of the affidavits to the Supreme Court have denied the existence of manual scavenging. “While the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had previously reported that Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra had the highest number of manual scavengers in India, the 2006 affidavit submitted by the Madhya Pradesh government claimed that all remaining dry toilets in the state had been converted to sanitary latrines, and rehabilitation of all remaining manual scavengers would be completed by 2007.”
“Similarly”, said the report, “the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments claimed that all dry latrines in their states had been converted into flush latrines or abandoned, and all manual scavengers had been rehabilitated. While Rajasthan did not categorically deny that manual scavenging exists within the state, district-level reporting did not acknowledge the practice.”
“Not only are laws abolishing manual scavenging routinely ignored in practice, people who try to leave can suffer retribution, including community threats of physical violence and displacement”, the report states how the new 2013 law on rehabilitation is “left to be implemented under existing central and state government schemes — the same set of programs that, to date, have not succeeded in ending manual scavenging.” And, “one important reason for past failures to end manual scavenging is that relevant government officials have not been held accountable.”
The 2013 law “entitles at least one adult member of each eligible family to obtain a concessional loan to take up an alternative occupation on a sustainable basis”, the report states, adding, “Previous efforts to provide loans have not been properly implemented.

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